To mark the tenth anniversary of the Afghanistan war, President Obama said on Friday that the United States was “responsibly ending” the war in Afghanistan. “We’ve pushed the Taliban out of its key strongholds, Afghan security forces are growing stronger, and the Afghan people have a new chance to forge their own future.”
In Afghanistan, however, the Taliban marked the anniversary differently. In a statement, they claimed to be defeating and driving out the U.S. and its allies. “The mujahedeen gradually strengthened jihad operations and used different war tactics against the enemy, which resulted in a number of casualties that led the invader enemy to think about withdrawing from this country.”
The insurgents also launched coordinated attacks on several U.S. military outposts near the Pakistani border, which seemed to be timed to mark the anniversary and were the latest in a series of suicide bombings and assassinations by the insurgents that have wreaked havoc on the Afghan population and have renewed the fears of a civil war after the departure of foreign troops by 2014.
Leaders of Northern Alliance, the group that helped the U.S. overthrow the Taliban ten years ago, have already begun mobilizing forces in fear of a Taliban comeback as foreign troops withdraw. Last month’s assassination of their leader Burhanuddin Rabbani, who also chaired Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, has increased their fear and urgency to rearm.
“If the majority of American troops withdraw … the ground will be suitable for the Taliban to return and another civil war will erupt in Afghanistan,” said Ahmad Zia Massoud, Karzai’s former vice president and brother of anti-Soviet resistance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. Ismail Khan, another key Northern Alliance leader and former governor of Herat province, said he warned Karzai of a “new crisis” if political assassinations continue.
Over the past ten years, there has been tremendous progress in Afghanistan in the spheres of education, economic development, democracy, human rights, and women’s participation in socio-political affairs. Al-Qaeda’s operations have been severely degraded in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and many of its leaders, including Osama bin Laden, have been killed. The Taliban regime, which provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda, was ousted from power and the group’s influence today is limited to only small parts of Afghanistan. Despite the Karzai government’s failures, a majority of Afghans continue to support democracy and the current system over the insurgent groups.
But these achievements are fragile and reversible. A premature withdrawal from Afghanistan is a recipe for failure with disastrous consequences for the United States and world security. The endgame in Afghanistan should not be disengagement from the country; it should be to leave behind sufficient, sustainable stability that would prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists yet again.
— Ahmad Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.