National Security & Defense

Bring Our Troops Home — the Right Way

Soldiers attached to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, Iowa National Guard, and Tenth Mountain, 2-14 Infantry Battalion, load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out on a mission in Afghanistan, January 15, 2019. (First Lieutenant Verniccia Ford/US Army)
The U.S. Armed Forces can’t stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, but we must be wary of a premature and hasty withdrawal.

The continued presence of U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan cannot persist forever.

Our 5,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan constitute less than 5 percent of the Obama-era surge. As that number continues to come down, it must be done the right way.

Trump administration officials have announced that, within the next two months, the number of troops we have there will drop to 2,500.

The threats facing our nation and our allies from those who wish to do us harm are real. If we prematurely pull our U.S. forces out from Afghanistan — or if we conduct the process too quickly — we risk putting our servicemembers in harm’s way, and the actual Afghan government will collapse in short order. They are already struggling to hold on as it is, given the threat and challenge from the Taliban.

Another serious concern is that if U.S. forces are pulled out without proper planning, American weapons and other equipment will make it into the hands of the Taliban or another enemy of our nation, putting everyone at even more risk. I don’t want to read a headline six months from now that the Taliban or al-Qaeda are driving around in armored vehicles that we left behind because we exited in a hurry.

Finally, there must be a plan for continuing to pursue al-Qaeda leaders hiding in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region. No withdrawal plan will be sufficient if we do not retain the ability to go get them, stop them, disrupt them, capture them, or eliminate them. No matter what happens in Afghanistan, we cannot sacrifice that capacity.

America’s involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan will come to an end. But a hasty exit risks putting American and Afghan lives alike in danger, which could draw us back into yet another prolonged engagement. We need to bring our troops home, but we need to do it the right way.

Marco Rubio is the senior U.S. senator from Florida. He is the acting chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.