Anticipating a rise in violence in Afghanistan following complete withdrawal of its troops, the US administration issued an order on Wednesday, April 28, asking all “unnecessary staff” to leave the country from its embassy in Kabul. Ross Wilson, the acting US ambassador in Kabul, said that the US state department took the decision “in light of increasing violence and threat reports in Kabul,” Al Jazeera reported.
The action comes following president Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all remaining forces to end its two-decade long military presence in the country by September 11, 2021. The presence will be limited to essential staff necessary to oversee the process of withdrawal.
US special representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, in a hearing before the Senate on Tuesday, said that diplomats “who are not necessary to be there” in Afghanistan should leave as they “can do their jobs from elsewhere.”
The US government also issued advisory asking its citizens to not travel to Afghanistan saying that it “is unsafe because of critical levels of kidnappings, hostage taking, suicide bombings, widespread military combat operations, landmines, and terrorist and insurgent attacks.”
Meanwhile, addressing the joint session of the US congress for the first time after assuming power as president, Biden on Wednesday claimed that “American leadership means ending the forever war in Afghanistan” and US troops have achieved their objectives in the country.
Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan has been supported by progressive sections in the US congress such as Bernie Sanders and anti-war groups such as CODEPINK.
A prolonged and arduous negotiation
In 2020, the Donald Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban according to which all US forces would withdraw from the country by May 1 in return for the latter participating in the intra-Afghan peace talks and curbing the activities of al-Qaeda and ISIS. It has been more than a year since the deal, known as the Doha agreement, but the intra-Afghan peace talks have not progressed. Earlier this month, Turkey postponed one such round of discussions between the Afghan government and Taliban due to the latter’s reluctance to participate despite appeals made by Khalilzad, Pakistan and Turkey.
Khalilzad warned Taliban of isolation if they don’t change their position towards violence saying that future American assistance will depend on how Taliban treats citizens, including women and children.
The Taliban has so far given conflicting signals. On Wednesday, some of the leaders in the Afghanistan government such as the office of the High Council of National Reconciliation headed by Abdullah Abdullah, received letters from the Taliban asking them to participate in direct talks. Earlier, it had said that no talks will be held until all foreign troops are withdrawn from the country.
It has carried out several attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians in the last few months with civilian casualties rising by 29% in the first quarter of the year, as per UN data.
The number of foreign troops in Afghanistan has gradually gone down from its peak in 2011 of over 130,000 to around 7,000 at present. The number of the US troops is 3,500 now. All of the remaining foreign forces are expected to leave by September.
Withdrawal will lead to increase in violence
The impact of the withdrawal on the domestic situation in Afghanistan remains to be seen, especially considering the Afghan government dependence on foreign support. The US decision was taken to reduce the financial burden of the “forever war” even as there remains no clear path to peace in the country. It is possible that the clashes between the Afghan government and the Taliban will escalate.
The Pentagon itself is not sure about the security of its troops in Afghanistan, a fact apparent by the decision to send an additional 650 troops to oversee the safe withdrawal of its military presence as it fears further attacks from terrorist groups, including the Taliban.
Meanwhile, multiple reports have emerged that US personnel will stay on in different capacities, as will mercenaries.
Former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar noted that “Suffice to say, even as the US and NATO are preparing to formally withdraw forces from Afghanistan, Pentagon and CIA are calibrating their future operations in the country, notionally to assist Afghan security forces but in reality, in pursuit of the larger regional interests of Washington, which today narrow down principally to the containment of Russia and China. The Afghan state structure is in meltdown and the US special forces and CIA operatives would have operational freedom to do they want.” He added that the CIA is pushing ahead with its blueprint to use Afghanistan as a staging post to destabilise Russia, Iran and China.