If Americans want lasting peace in Afghanistan, we should leave by May 1
The continued presence of U.S. forces hinders prospects for a durable compromise
By Mark Hannah and Adam Weinstein
This article appeared in The Washington Post on April 10, 2021.
Afghan government officials and Taliban representatives are expected to arrive in Turkey this month to try to negotiate a path forward for their country: For two decades, the United States has struggled to gain the upper hand in Afghanistan’s long-running conflict or successfully secure consensus among its factions. In recent days, Afghan and Taliban forces have exchanged strikes, trying to gain leverage ahead of the talks, which may or may not generate an alternative to the agreement reached last year between the Taliban and the Trump administration. That agreement calls for all American forces to leave by May 1 — weeks away. This violence doesn’t bode well for the possibility of intra-Afghan compromise and reconciliation after the U.S. military leaves.
Those in Washington who want to keep American troops in Afghanistan past the May 1 deadline are likely to portray this latest fighting as a prologue to the violence they warn will follow a U.S. forces exit.
But this view’s premise is gravely flawed. Keeping American forces in Afghanistan isn’t helping bring that nation’s opposing factions closer together. Rather, continuing to stay actively harms the prospects for a meaningful and durable peace. As it stands now, the Taliban negotiates at gunpoint, while the Afghan government negotiates from behind a shield that Washington may remove at any moment. Meanwhile, Afghan soldiers and civilians suffer as the months and years pass with no end to the violence in sight.
The United States’ ongoing intervention in Afghanistan distorts the country’s balance of power: As long as U.S. troops are on the ground, the Taliban will try to wait them out, and the Afghan government will deploy alarmist rhetoric, warning of all-out civil war to convince American and coalition leaders to stay. Afghan government officials have equated the Taliban with the Islamic State, and Kabul dismissed a recently circulated U.S. peace plan.
Read more of Mark’s article in The Washington Post.
Written by Mark Hannah
Mark is a senior fellow at the Eurasia Group Foundation’s Independent America project and host of the podcast, None Of The Above.
Written by Adam Weinstein
Adam is a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
Read more from Mark
This post is part of Independent America, a research project led out by EGF senior fellow Mark Hannah, which seeks to explore how U.S. foreign policy could better be tailored to new global realities and to the preferences of American voters.