Upcoming U.S. Withdrawal: What’s Next for Afghanistan and is it Truly Unconquerable?

America has been stuck in an unwinnable quagmire in Afghanistan for two decades. On Tuesday, President Biden released his plans for the withdrawal of all military personnel in the country by September 11th.

For centuries, the Middle Eastern country has been invaded by the likes of Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the British, the Soviets, and most recently; the United States - with no definitive defeat.

Invaders find the country quite promising because of its location connecting Europe with Asia. Sha Mahmoud Hanifi, professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian history at James Madison University, explains that this key location makes the nation a “kind of policy way station towards a political agenda.” In other words, when a large country or empire invades Afghanistan, they come up against other country’s attempts to exploit their own influence on the region. This concept is still very true when it comes to the United States.

In the ‘80s, the CIA armed the mujahideen that fought against the Soviet Union, Iran was accused of arming the Taliban in the 2000s, and just recently President Donald Trump asked India who has a major economic impact in the country to “help us more” (the United States). All have been opposition factors leading to America’s difficulty gaining much ground in the country.

Unlike previous invaders, the U.S did not enter Afghanistan for land but for other intentions regarding national security. However due to other countries aid of insurgents, keeping and running a U.S. backed democracy became virtually impossible.

Of course, there are other factors that make Afghanistan a difficult place to wage war. There are two that have made the biggest impacts. The first factor is the terrain of Afghanistan. Much of the country is mountains and steep valleys, making it almost impregnable. This is a logistical nightmare for security forces that gives the upper had to insurgents. In Weather, Terrain, and Warfare: Coalition Fatalities in Afghanistan both professors Timothy Carter and Daniel Veale of Wayne State University explain that “physical geography affects the interactions between insurgents and counterinsurgents through a series of limitations it places upon the logistics, intelligence gathering and combat capabilities of conventional armies.” Insurgents have tactical supremacy by their familiarity of the terrain from living in the area.

The second factor is that there are many ethnic groups that belong to different tribes in the country. Many times, U.S. forces have had a hard time recognizing and understanding each group’s unique views, relationships, and cultures making communication difficult. The biggest ethnic group in the country is the Pashtun. Again, Professor Hanifi explains that the Pashtun “are spread across multiethnic and multilingual tribes and the United States’ focus on them as a monolithic group” which clearly is not the case.

Since 2001, America has spent around 2 trillion in Afghanistan. Specifically, $10 billion on counternarcotics, $87 billion to train Afghan military and police forces, $24 billion on economic development, $30 billion on reconstruction programs, $500 billion on interest alone, and $1.4 trillion on veterans. With this, 2,400 American soldiers and more than 38,000 Afghan civilians have died.

On February 29th, 2020 the United States and the Taliban signed the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan (U.S.–Taliban Deal). This treaty includes the eventual withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the region, the end of the insurgent violence against coalition forces, and for the Taliban to prevent Al-Qaeda from operating in the area. Despite these peace agreements, insurgent attacks against Afghan and coalition forces have surged in the country. In the 45 days after the agreement, there was over 4,500 attacks in Afghanistan, an increase of 70% from the previous year.

Unfortunately, the outcome for Afghans, especially their military, seem quite bleak if the U.S. fully withdraws. Unless an operation is backed by American air support, in recent engagements the countries forces are almost always defeated. With up to 8,500 full-time fighters, the Taliban now controls 1/5 of the country.

In an interview, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the top commander in the Middle East stated, “if we withdraw… I think the government of Afghanistan is going to be in for a very stiff fight to retain possession.” With the Taliban already infiltrating more and more of the country, Afghanistan could rapidly descend into more violence, which could quite possibly allow for the Al-Qaeda to return.

Many Afghans especially in the military have come to terms with the U.S. withdrawal.

Mohammad Sediq the commander of an Afghan army outpost stated, “to me, the Americans have already left… the deal between the U.S. and the Taliban are between them… it doesn’t benefit us.”

Can the Afghan Army defend itself from the Taliban and or other factions? Are they the combatants that will finally successfully conquer Afghanistan?

Written by Quincy Williamson