Last month, President Biden announced the complete withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the day terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
Many in the defense and intelligence communities oppose this decision. A complete withdrawal based on an arbitrary deadline, rather than conditions on the ground, threatens our long-term national security. After all, it was the decision to quickly withdraw from Iraq, creating a power vacuum that allowed the Islamic State to develop, that ultimately forced our return to Iraq, prolonging the war.
We cannot allow history to repeat itself.
It makes no sense to think that the Taliban will engage in good faith with the Afghan government or honor commitments made to the previous administration after we leave. In response to the announcement of the pullout, the Taliban revealingly announced that they would not attend a peace conference scheduled for late last month in Turkey and declined to commit to a date in the future, thus putting an end to the already fragile peace process. The Taliban clearly do not want peace.
In fact, after the withdrawal from America, it is very likely that the Taliban will try to take control of the country, once again giving our enemies a place from which to carry out external attacks against us and our allies. Without a military presence in the country, the United States will give the Taliban the green light to wander and conquer.
As William J. Burns, the director of the CIA, told the Senate Intelligence Committee in April, there is a “significant risk” associated with the withdrawal. “The ability of the US government to collect and respond to threats will decrease,” he said. “It is simply a fact.”
The decision, however, has been made. But before the withdrawal is complete, the Biden administration must mitigate its dangers. As our sources on the ground will soon fade into obscurity, deficiencies in our intelligence gathering and counterterrorism networks must be addressed so that we retain the ability to identify and eliminate threats before they are met. they don’t reach our shores. To do this, we urgently need to conclude agreements with neighboring countries in order to equip ourselves with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
Mr. Biden pledged that America’s humanitarian and development assistance to the country will continue. To enable our staff and the countless non-governmental organizations we work with to provide this assistance, we must ensure their safety. If the country falls back into civil war or falls under Taliban rule again, maintaining an embassy presence and distributing aid will become almost impossible. The administration must develop a clear strategy to protect our embassy, diplomatic staff and aid workers.
The president must also recognize that the pullout will have dire consequences for Afghan women and girls – and work hard to prevent it. Over the past 20 years, we have encouraged Afghan women to move forward, as students, teachers and professionals. Encouraged by our presence, that is exactly what they did. But without our presence in the country, it will be difficult to safeguard the gains of women in Afghan society and ensure the protection of women’s rights.
Finally, we have obligations to the thousands of Afghans who have supported us, mainly as interpreters for our military. They have been promised special immigrant visas to put them out of harm’s way, but many have yet to materialize. The Taliban see them as traitors: since 2014, there have been at least 300 targeted killings of people who worked with us. Many more will die if the administration does not take immediate action to speed up the process to get them out safely.
These are vital issues that Mr Biden and his team must address – before we step down on 9/11.
Yet so far they have not clarified what counterterrorism deals, if any, have been made with other countries. They have provided only minimal guarantees on how they will ensure the security of our embassy and staff. They seem to have no plan to protect Afghan women. And they have not announced any strategy to address the visa backlog that could endanger the lives of thousands of our Afghan partners.
When America pulls out of a conflict zone at the wrong time, it creates a vacuum in which the terrorist threat grows again. This, in turn, ultimately necessitates a re-entry of forces to keep Americans safe. So begins another war forever.
The ill-advised decision to withdraw from Afghanistan can do just that. But by ensuring that proper guardrails are in place, we have a chance to limit the fallout.
Michael McCaul (@RepMcCaul) has been a member of the Republican Party which has represented the 10th congressional district of Texas since 2005. Ryan Crocker was the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon, serving in the Republican administrations and democrat.
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