The United States decision for exit of US Forces from Afghanistan was inherited by President Joe Biden as a ‘Legacy Issue’ from the outgoing Trump Administration. President Biden opted to pursue the Trump Administration Afghanistan strategic blueprint and even went on to unwisely retain President Trump’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Former US President Trump in his initial Trump Doctrine on Afghanistan had asserted that ‘No Time -lines’ for US Forces exit from Afghanistan will be delineated. President Trump had asserted that exit of US Forces from Afghanistan would be commensurate with the evolving security situation in Afghanistan. The ‘Security & Stability” of Afghanistan was to be paramount deciding factor.
US presidential year politics and some domestic compulsions perceptionaly seem to have prompted then US President Trump to spin on its head his own enunciated Doctrine and place the United States on the track of ill-advised Doha Peace Dialogues with the Afghan Taliban.
US Special Envoy Khalilzad in a bid to meet the compulsions of his President seems to have hurried-up and even temporised with the Afghan Taliban in a hurry to meet election year compulsions. The Taliban besides being given undue political legitimacy by United States also gave leverages to Taliban that United States was ready to do deals behind the back of the legally elected pro-US Kabul Government of President Ashraf Ghani.
For geopolitically unfathomable reasons, newly elected US President Joe Biden went two steps forward to announce exit of US Forces from Afghanistan by September 11 and then pre-poning it to end-August.
Thus two United States Presidents in quick succession have perceptionaly indulged in a “Second US Abandonment of Afghanistan” which not only has created a vacuum for China and Russia to step-in using Pakistan and its protégé Taliban as proxies. (My Paper on this website refers).
At the time of writing, the Afghanistan situation is in ‘critical mass’ with major urban centres having fallen to Taliban offensives and Taliban reported to be only 30 miles from Kabul.
To be fair to Biden Administration, it was asserted that United States was ‘not abandoning’ Afghanistan and that United States “involvement” would continue—initially with US Air Force strikes to aid ANDSF to blunt Taliban offensives.
That seems not to have worked and what stares United States starkly in the face in mid-August 2021is that ‘Strong Geopolitical Imperatives Exist to Roll-Back US Forces Exit from Afghanistan’.
However politically distasteful it may be for US President Biden to reverse his directions but the need of the hour is to uphold United States reputation as the guarantor of global security to ensure that neither Kabul falls to the Taliban nor President Ashraf Ghani made the ‘fall guy’ – demands of Taliban and Afghanistan
With the contextual backdrop laid out let us now examine the geopolitical imperatives that should predominate United States strategic planning on Afghanistan in mid-August 2021.
United States Geopolitical Imperatives for Roll Back of US Forces Exit from Afghanistan
Afghanistan whether viewed from Middle East, Central Asia or South Asia geopolitical perspectives has a geopolitical and strategic centrality and moreso in the context of the evolving global power tussle between the United States and China.
Afghanistan’s significance as the Western Outpost, both figuratively and otherwise, for Indo Pacific Security has been brought out in my writings elsewhere.
Without much amplification, what should strike US Policy establishment in Washington is that can the United States geopolitically and strategically afford to let China sit in dominance or over a large swathe of Asian landmass extending from Chinese Mainland, to China Occupied Tibet & Xingjian to Pakistan and Iran?
Pakistan is today a satellite nation of Communist China and as mentioned in my Book ‘China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives’ has switched from being a ‘Frontline State of the United States’ to now irreversibly emerge as ‘Front line State of China’. Both China and Pakistan have strong convergences on Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. One only has to read media coverage of Afghan Taliban 9-member delegation being feted in Beijing by Chinese Foreign Minister. It would not be a wonder if the Taliban also interacted with Communist China Army PLA.
The Chinese Foreign Minister statements on this visit reflected that China considers Afghan Taliban as credible political and military force.
Iran against reported domestic opposition has signed a 25 Year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement with Iran with all its geopolitical implications for United States and Afghanistan.
When I sit before the Greater South West Asia map I shudder to think that Greater South West Asia stands painted ‘Red ‘or shades of ‘Red’. China has encroached heavily on United States traditional turf. How that Washington policy establishment is oblivious to this menacing trend in favour of China at US expense?
Afghanistan in full control of United States & NATO affords United States an “Eagles Perch” to watch and influence contiguous regions with its military presence. Written many times before by me is that Afghanistan needs a’ Forward US Military Presence’ on the lines of Japan and South Korea.
More significantly, Afghanistan secure and stable under US military umbrella affords the United States a credible “Strategic Pressure Point” against China’s vulnerable Western Regions.
United States image will take a heavy perceptional damage if Afghanistan is allowed to go under and not retrieved from ongoing Taliban clutches. In Asian capitals the US image that will be embedded is one of an ‘Uncertain & Unreliable United States’ and reinforce Chinese propaganda that “United States Power is on the Decline”
Can the United States live with such perceptional losses to its image? More damagingly this loss will certainly impact the template that the United States is forging in the Indo Pacific against an aggressive and revisionist China rampaging all across Asia with the United States powerless to arrest this trend.
The United States must immediately gird up US -power loins and steel its resolve that Afghanistan has to be retrieved from even remotest chances of Kabul’s downfall to Taliban.
United States Immediate Roll-back Measures to be implemented: No Time for Dithering or ‘Risk Aversion’
The United States without dithering and being weighed down by ‘Risk Aversion’ advocates in Washington establishment need to implement the following major steps as first steps towards stabilising Afghanistan’s critical military situation where Taliban feel empowered to extend their sway conscious that the United States would be loath to roll-back the final exit of remainder forces from Afghanistan. At the time of writing nearly 3,000 US Troops have been ordered into Kabul for so-called evacuation of US Embassy staff. They should provide nucleus for a larger US Expeditionary Force.
Kabul Must NOT Fall to Taliban. US & NATO must rush-in Special Forces/ US Marines to provide Perimeter Ring around Kabul to protect against Taliban attacks. Massive US Air Force strikes coupled with NATO Air Forces air strikes are ordered on all main avenues of Taliban offensives to Kabul. Reminiscent of India’s capture of Srinagar Airfield in 1947 in Kashmir in face of enemy fire of Pakistan aided militias stiffened by Regulars, the United States can even do better and ensure that Kabul does not fall.
Reclaim US Bagram Air Base Exited Recently. Earlier US Afghanistan strategy stipulated that four Main Air Bases in Afghanistan will be held even after exit of US Ground Troops. Inexplicably, United States without even informing Kabul Government just upsticked without a trace from Bagram. Bagram Air Base must be reclaimed even by use of disproportionate force
ANDSF Air Force and ANDSF Special Forces Capacity Building are Put on Fast Track Basis These forces are reported to have proved their combat worthiness in recent operations against Taliban offensives. Their capacity-building should be on fast-track basis to provide the spine and morale building of ANDSF
Cruise Missile Strikes against Taliban Concentrations/ Offensives/ Urban Centres Captured Precision strikes against such targets would instil fear and assist in breaking the momentum of present uncontested Taliban offensives.
Afghan Taliban is not a Regular Combat Military Force capable of fighting set-piece battles against superior US Military Forces on the battlefield. Even at this late stage the momentum and tide of Taliban advances towards Kabul can be broken by suitably structured mix of US Ground Troops/Special Forces with massive aerial strikes at their disposal
Washington policy establishment should not panic for plans gone awry. US Military Commanders & US Forces are professionally competent and for 20 years did not permit Afghan Taliban to completely takeover whole of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has recently been ‘h’Handed on a Plate’ to Afghan Taliban by political bungling of Washington establishment. What the Taliban could not achieve on the battlefields of Afghanistan against US Forces the political establishment in Washington gifted away Afghanistan to Taliban at Doha.
US President Biden should ensure that no defeatist statements or reports attributed to senior US officials emerge. Case in point what The New York Times report stating that US Special Envoy entreated Afghan Taliban leaders at Doha that US Embassy must not be attacked in case of Kabul assaults otherwise US would block international assistance to Kabul implying that a Taliban Government would be in power in Kabul. This demeans United States global image and projects the United Sates in a capitulative mode.
President Biden should not allow Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to be made as the “Fall Guy” to concede that any peace talks/ceasefire talks can only be premised by the Taliban with a regime change in Kabul of President Ghani.
President Biden should seriously block out China and Pakistan from any peace initiatives/dialogues on future of Afghanistan. China and Pakistan have NOT applied any of the considerable leverages that they have to stop Afghan Taliban destabilising Afghanistan currently evident. Both China and Pakistan display today adversarial trends against United States.
Finally, the United States must realise that there are no half-way houses in the exercise of global power and predominance which may also involve chastising of adversaries/potential adversaries. China and Pakistan fall into that category.