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Warnings Six Months Ahead of Afghanistan Withdrawal

Ambassador Mark Green
Afghan Refugees in Plane
Afghan citizens pack inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, as they are transported from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.

Six Months Before the US Withdrawal From Afghanistan, a Congressionally-Created, Nonpartisan Study Group Warned: “A rash and rushed approach could increase the chances of a breakdown of order in Afghanistan.”

In December 2019, Congress officially established the “Afghanistan Peace Process Study Group,” referred to as ASG, and directed it to “consider the implications of a peace settlement, or the failure to reach a settlement, on US policy, resources, and commitments in Afghanistan.” The ASG’s membership included former members of Congress from both major parties, former defense officials from Republican and Democratic administrations, and former foreign policy officials. To fulfill its mandate, the ASG conducted numerous meetings with Afghan officials and civil society representatives, and experts on national security, Afghanistan, and the larger region.

The group’s final report in February 2021 noted that, while the 2020 Doha Agreement with the Taliban committed the US to a withdrawal of all forces, it still provided an opportunity for the Biden administration to “fully align our policies, practices, and messaging across diplomatic, military, and assistance efforts toward the overarching goal of achieving a successful peace in Afghanistan.” In order to achieve a sustainable peace and maintain quality of life gains made during the two-decade presence of US and coalition forces, “the United States should explicitly reinforce the conditionality of final troop withdrawal.” Finally, in its assessment of the Doha Agreement, the ASG noted that [as of February 2021], while “the United States has gone beyond its commitments to withdraw forces… the Taliban have fallen short of their commitments to not cooperate with or host groups seeking to threaten the security of the US and its allies.”

After the Doha Agreement was signed in February 2020, the Trump administration continued to draw down US presence even as the Taliban continued to attack the then-central government’s security forces. The Biden administration continued the draw down even after multiple signs that the Taliban would not meet its Doha commitments.

Several months later, on August 15, the Taliban had entered Kabul, the US evacuated personnel from its embassy by helicopter, and the president of Afghanistan fled the country. Following the Taliban takeover, tens of thousands of Afghans and foreign nationals raced to the airport in their own effort to flee. US allies and their families faced significant danger in this new political climate, leading to an exodus of refugees from Afghanistan to the US. And while Congress created the Special Immigrant Visa program in 2009 for Afghan nationals who assisted the US government, the program has been stimied by processing delays and overwhelmed by the extraordinary need for resettlement resources. Upwards of 76,000 Afghans evacuated to the US in 2021 alone, and thousands more are in hiding and still desperately seeking refuge.

By the end of 2021, according to World Bank reporting, the Afghanistan economy had largely collapsed, just as the ASG had warned. Seventy percent of households lacked sufficient income to meet basic needs, and overall per capita income had fallen by one-third. According to a International Rescue Committee report, more than 40% of Afghans are now living on less than one meal per day and 97% will be “living well below the poverty line by the second half of [2022].”

About the Author

Ambassador Mark Green

Ambassador Mark Green

President, Director, & CEO, Wilson Center
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