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U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan – What Does It Mean?

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By James Hess, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Security and Global Studies

Last Wednesday, April 14, President Biden announced that the U.S. will withdrawal from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Biden stated that the U.S. “met its objective 10 years ago,” referring to the operations that killed Osama bin Laden, founder of the militant organization al-Qae’da and mastermind behind of the 9/11 attacks.

In the coming months, there will be considerable debate over the timing of the withdrawal and how the U.S. departure will affect the current government in Kabul, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, or GIRoA.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Afghan Taliban is still a considerable presence in the country. They have announced that this timeline is in violation of the Doha Agreement, which calls for U.S. withdrawal by May 1. Of note, the U.S. disputes the May 1 deadline. A State Department spokesperson told ABC News, “We have not agreed to any timeline for a possible drawdown of troops and are not going to get into any other specific details of diplomatic conversations.”

The immediate impact of the withdrawal date dispute is that the Afghan Taliban is refusing to meet in a new round of peace talks with GIRoA. Turkey is set to host the talks between GIRoA and the Taliban on April 24. Given Biden’s recent announcement, those peace talks could either be postponed or cancelled altogether.

After the U.S. withdrawal, one needs to keep an eye long-term on whether the Taliban will recognize and respect GIRoA’s authority. The Afghan Taliban has declared that it is no longer associated with al Qae’da, or any other foreign fighters (But this statement probably does not recognize Pakistani Pashtun, the predominate tribe of the Afghan Taliban). The Afghan Taliban, who essentially control about half of the country, needs international recognition in any future governance role. Therefore, they will need to meet with GIRoA and at least present an appearance of cooperation.

Ultimately, a peaceful Afghanistan will depend on the ability of the Afghan Taliban to accept other Islamic traditions. In the 1990s, when the Afghan Taliban came to power they instituted Deobandi, a violent version of their form of jurisprudence. Prior to 9/11, while the Afghan Taliban was in power, laws were reestablished based on this strand of Deobandism, and many Afghans were forced to convert from other forms of Sunni or Sufi Islam. This time around, the Afghan Taliban will probably find that imposing their version of Shari’a will be more challenging given the global focus on advancing human rights during the past 20 years.

Dr. James Hess is a professor at American Military University. Dr. Hess received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, where he studied improving analytical methodologies in counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism environments.

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