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Here’s What Biden Must Do Before We Leave Afghanistan

New York Times - Tue May 4 09:00

Opinion|Here’s What Biden Must Do Before We Leave Afghanistan

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/04/opinion/biden-afghanistan-withdrawal.html

Guest Essay

United States troops in Helmand province, Afghanistan. A complete withdrawal, based on an arbitrary deadline rather than conditions on the ground, threatens America’s long-term national security.
Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Michael McCaul and Ryan C. Crocker

Mr. McCaul is a U.S. representative and the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr. Crocker served as ambassador to Afghanistan under President Barack Obama.

Last month, President Biden announced a complete withdrawal of all United States troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the day terrorists killed almost 3,000 Americans.

Many in the defense and intelligence communities oppose the move. 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 rapidly pull out of Iraq, creating a power vacuum that allowed the Islamic State to grow, that ultimately forced our return to Iraq, prolonging the war.

We cannot allow history to repeat itself.

It’s foolish to think the Taliban will engage in good faith with the Afghan government or abide by the commitments made to the previous administration after we’ve departed. In response to the withdrawal announcement, the Taliban tellingly announced they would not participate in a peace conference planned to start late last month in Turkey and refused to commit to a date in the future, effectively ending the already fragile peace process. The Taliban clearly does not want peace.

In fact, after America withdraws, it’s very likely the Taliban will try to take control of the country, once again giving our enemies a place from which to conduct external attacks against us and our allies. Without a military presence in country, the United States will be giving the green light to the Taliban to roam and conquer.

As William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, told the Senate Intelligence Committee in April, there is “significant risk” associated with withdrawal. “The U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish,” he said. “That’s simply a fact.”

The decision, however, has been made. But before the pullout is complete, the Biden administration must mitigate its dangers. As our sources on the ground will soon go dark, the gaps in our intelligence collection and counterterrorism networks must be remedied so we retain the ability to identify and eliminate threats before they reach our shores. To do so, we must urgently set up agreements with neighboring countries to provide us with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Mr. Biden promised that America’s humanitarian and development assistance to the country would continue. To enable our personnel and the countless nongovernmental organizations we work with to provide that help, we must keep them safe. If the country slides back into civil war or once again falls under Taliban rule, maintaining an embassy presence and distributing assistance will become close to impossible. The administration must develop a clear strategy for protecting our embassy, diplomatic staff and aid workers.

The president must also acknowledge that the withdrawal will have dire consequences for Afghan women and girls — and work hard to prevent it. For the past 20 years, we have encouraged Afghan women to step forward, as students, teachers and professionals. Encouraged by our presence, they did just that. But without our presence in the country, it will be difficult to safeguard the gains women have made in Afghan society and to ensure women’s rights are protected.

Lastly, we have obligations to the thousands of Afghans who supported us, mainly as interpreters for our military. They were promised special immigrant visas to get them out of harm’s way, but many have yet to materialize. The Taliban view 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 doesn’t take immediate steps to speed up the process to get them out safely.

These are vital issues Mr. Biden and his team must address — before we pull out on Sept. 11.

Yet so far they have offered no clarity on what counterterrorism agreements, if any, have been reached with other countries. They have provided only minimal assurances for how they will secure the safety of our embassy and personnel. They appear to have no plans for protecting Afghan women. And they have announced no strategy to address the visa backlog that could endanger thousands of our Afghan partners’ lives.

When America pulls out of a conflict zone at the wrong time, it creates a vacuum in which the terrorist threat grows again. That, in turn, eventually requires a re-entry of forces to keep Americans safe. So begins yet another forever war.

The ill-advised decision to pull out of Afghanistan may do just that. But by ensuring proper guardrails are in place, we have a chance to limit the fallout.

Michael McCaul (@RepMcCaul) is a member of the Republican Party who has represented Texas’ 10th Congressional District since 2005. Ryan Crocker was a United States ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations.

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