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Will Biden ensure Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorists again?

Will Biden ensure Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorists again?

Joe Biden's return to the White House, this time as the President of the United States ( POTUS,) has given a new glimmer of hope to NATO and Washington's main allies who have been having nightmares since November 17, the day Donald Trump administration announced its decision to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021. Experts believe that there is a strong possibility of the new US President slowing down troop exit from Afghanistan thus retarding the ongoing peace efforts in the war-torn country.

There are currently around 4,500 US service members in Afghanistan. Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced the drawdown of troops to 2,500 during his very first appearance in the Pentagon briefing room. The decision, says the US government, is in keeping with President Trump's promise to get US forces home from the "forever wars."

The announcement had not only set the proverbial alarm bells ringing in the Republican camp but also gave jitters to the US allies and, of course, Afghanistan.

The launch of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations on September 12 – aiming for an inclusive political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive peace, was logical extension of Trump's Afghan policy. But so far, it has not yielded concrete results.

On the contrary, the current level of violence conducted by the Taliban remains high and the withdrawal of US troops may worsen the situation further. According to United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), average daily enemy-initiated attacks in the past few months is 50 per cent higher with overall enemy-initiated attacks also “above seasonal norms.”

The phased withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan was agreed if the Taliban abides by its commitment to prevent the use of Afghan territory by terrorists, works to reduce violence, and enters into Intra-Afghan Negotiations (IAN). The United States' vital national interest in Afghanistan is to ensure that Afghan territory is never again used as a safe haven from which terrorists can attack the United States, its Allies, or interests abroad. None of it can be guaranteed as of now.

Are the local forces strong enough to stop groups like Al-Qaida and ISIS which operate from Afghan soil?

<img class="wp-image-37061 size-large" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/afghan-US-forces-1024×588.jpg" alt="Afghan US forces" width="1024" height="588" /> Afghan national army soldiers take part in their graduation ceremony in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on January 18, 2020 (Arghand/Xinhua/IANS)

"As we continue to assess the situation in Afghanistan, it is clear that we will face a turning point early next year. If we stay, we risk continued fighting. And an even longer-term engagement. If we leave, we risk Afghanistan once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. And the loss of the gains made with such sacrifice. So there is a price for staying longer. But there is also a price for leaving too soon. We will have to take some hard decisions when NATO defence ministers meet next February. But whatever we decide, we must do it in a coordinated and orderly way," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said following the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, last week.

With NATO targeting Trump's move, it is no wonder then that militant groups like Taliban are already calling on Joe Biden to stick to the US troop withdrawal plan.

<img class="wp-image-37062 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/NATO-afghanistan.jpg" alt="NATO afghanistan" width="680" height="577" /> NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani

"The Islamic Emirate would like to stress to the new American president-elect and future administration that implementation of the agreement is the most reasonable and effective tool for ending the conflict between both our countries,” the fundamentalist organization said in a statement last month.

A former Vice President, Joseph Biden had reportedly opposed the Obama Administration’s decision to increase US force levels in 2009. He had expressed his skepticism about both US development assistance and troop levels during the primary presidential election campaign as well, declaring his intention to bring home combat troops if elected, leaving a small force focused solely on counterterrorism operations.

"Look, I opposed the surge in the first place. Number one, I didn't think we should have even the troops we sent there. Now, it's all been made public now that we should have the troops in the first place that we sent there. And I didn't think we should have had the number of troops, which is considerably less than the present- this- this president added. I think we should only have troops there to make sure that it's impossible for the Taliban and excuse me- for ISIS or al-Qaeda to reestablish a foothold there, to be able to go from Afghanistan to the United States to attack the United States. That requires a much smaller footprint. But as I understand it, we're not drawing down to a level that was even as low as it was when we left Afghanistan," Biden had told CBS News in an interview in February.

Things would have changed enormously when Biden enters the White House on January 20. The political settlement that ends the war is still nowhere in sight and the terrorist threats are still emanating from Afghanistan. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains a sanctuary for various groups, posing a threat to regional security, stability and ultimately threatening the US national security interests.

<img class="wp-image-37060 size-large" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Afghan-peace-talks-Taliban-1-1024×652.jpg" alt="Afghan Peace Talks" width="1024" height="652" /> Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and chairman of High Council for National Reconcialtion Abdullah Abdullah

"If US troops all leave, or are drawn down so sharply they are seen to be in retreat, NATO forces will leave, too, and the Taliban will have free rein. Under siege, US diplomats will leave, too. No US aid will stop the Taliban from ending schooling for girls and work for women. Afghanistan’s neighbours, like Pakistan, will support the Taliban. China, which cares not whether Islamists persecute women, will build roads and extract minerals, with payments going to the Taliban. And an endless war will continue, raising security threats that eventually suck the United States back in. So why not invest in an insurance policy and explain the reasons to the US public? No one should want to see a Taliban triumph on Biden’s watch," <a href="https://theindependent.com/opinion/columnists/joe-biden-team-should-not-let-donald-trump-empower-taliban-in-afghanistan/article_1449050c-3687-11eb-8097-874125d2bc42.html">writes Trudy Rubin</a> in Nebraska daily <em>The Grand Island Independent</em>.

Clearly, more instability in Afghanistan would be disastrous for the continent. There are <a href="https://indianarrative.com/world/turkeys-erdogan-sending-terrorists-from-syria-to-kashmir-will-fight-for-pakistan-against-india-says-report-35593.html">reports</a> already of Turkish regime led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now focusing on spreading terror in Kashmir through its gangs in Syria who will fight for Pakistan against India.

An Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled peace process will certainly be President-elect Joe Biden's immediate focus. Hopefully though without the withdrawal of thousands of troops..