Biden Wants to "Withdraw" From Afghanistan While Keeping US Forces Involved

The Obama administration had announced withdrawals from both Afghanistan and Iraq, without actually withdrawing. Is Biden's withdrawal real?

As always, it depends on how you define "withdrawal". Remember there were no 'boots on the ground' in Libya, just 'sneakers on the ground'. Obama 'withdrew' from Iraq and Afghanistan by defining the new mission as non-combat. It'll take us a while to find out if we actually withdrew from Afghanistan. And what does the current metric for 'withdrawal' look like?

This comes from an interview with Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who all but comes out and says that he expects the Afghan military and government to collapse, and that Biden's talk of a settlement with the Taliban is a fantasy. And that's what everyone with a half a brain, Biden obviously excluded, knows is going to happen.

Asked whether he believes the Afghan forces can hold up under increased strain, Milley was noncommittal.

“Your question: The Afghan army, do they stay together and remain a cohesive fighting force or do they fall apart? I think there’s a range of scenarios here, a range of outcomes, a range of possibilities,” he said. “On the one hand you get some really dramatic, bad possible outcomes. On the other hand, you get a military that stays together and a government that stays together.”

He said there is “at least still the possibility” of a negotiated political settlement between the government in Kabul and the Taliban. This, he said, would avoid the “massive civil war” that some fear could happen.

You can see the AP sweating to make Milley sound positive.

But what's the US military role in all this?

“But for the most part, there’s no advisers out there anyway,” he said in one of his few interviews since President Joe Biden announced April 14 that all U.S. military personnel will withdraw this summer. Milley said the commonly cited total of 2,500 troops rises to 3,300 if special operations forces are counted. “We’re taking it down to zero,” he said.

After the withdrawal is over, the United States will provide unspecified “capabilities” to the Afghan military from other locations, Milley said. He did not elaborate on this, but other officials have said those “over-the-horizon” arrangements for supporting the Afghan military have yet to be solidified.

That's rather ambiguous. The official numbers are going down to zero. But we'll still be providing some sort of capabilities to the Afghan military. Possibly from outside Afghanistan, but there aren't a lot of great locations for doing that. We're not going to be operating out of Pakistan or Iran, let alone China. Uzbekistan did not prove to be a good choice. But it seems like the Biden admin is going down a familiar road.

The New York Times reported on April 15 that U.S. officials had been in contact with Kazakh, Uzbek, and Tajik authorities about the possibility of using bases in the region.

And U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in tweets that he had spoken on April 22 with the Uzbek and Kazakh foreign ministers, though it's not known if they discussed the possible use of military bases by U.S. or other NATO troops.

The problem with those arrangements are twofold. 

1. The countries in question are unstable. And if the Biden admin decides to go back to the old Obama policy of pointlessly scolding countries over human rights, our bases there won't last long.

2. Russia's expansionist program to reclaim its Cold War possessions means that it will do what it can to push out of any bases in those territories it considers within its sphere of influence. 

Both of these have already happened before. And I doubt the Biden admin will be any better at dealing with the situation than his boss was. 

Bottom line, Biden would like to withdraw on paper while still keeping US forces nearby. That won't work.

As the generals have probably already told him, either withdraw or don't. These halfway measures will only lead to a weaker posture and a bigger mess.

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