A military helicopter is being loaded to a C130 aircraft at the Bagram Air Base near Kabul. Reuters
Robert Burns and Lolita C Baldor, Associated Press
As the last US combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, the question arises: When is the war really over?
For Afghans the answer is clear but grim: no time soon. An emboldened Taliban insurgency is making battlefield gains, and prospective peace talks are stalled. Some fear that once foreign forces are gone, Afghanistan will dive deeper into civil war. Though degraded, an Afghan affiliate of the Daesh extremist network also lurks.
For the United States and its coalition partners, the endgame is murky. Although all combat troops and 20 years of accumulated war material will soon be gone, the head of US Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, will have authority until September to defend Afghan forces against the Taliban. He can do so by ordering strikes with US warplanes based outside of Afghanistan, according to defence officials who discussed details of military planning on condition of anonymity.
US officials said Friday that the US military has left Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years. The facility was the epicenter of the war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. Two officials say the airfield was handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force in its entirety. They spoke on condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to disclose the handover to the media. A look at the end of the war:
What’s left of the combat mission? Technically, US forces haven’t been engaged in ground combat in Afghanistan since 2014. But counterterrorism troops have been pursuing and hitting extremists since then, including with Afghanistan-based aircraft. Those strike aircraft are now gone and those strikes, along with any logistical support for Afghan forces, will be done from outside the country.
Inside Afghanistan, US troops will no longer be there to train or advise Afghan forces. An unusually large US security contingent of 650 troops, based at the US Embassy compound, will protect American diplomats and potentially help secure the Kabul international airport. Turkey is expected to continue its current mission of providing airport security, but McKenzie will have authority to keep as many as 300 more troops to assist that mission until September.
It’s also possible that the US military may be asked to assist any large-scale evacuation of Afghans seeking Special Immigrant Visas, although the State Department-led effort may not require a military airlift. The White House is concerned that Afghans who helped the US war effort, and are thereby vulnerable to Taliban retribution, not be left behind.
When he decided in April to bring the US war to a close, President Joe Biden gave the Pentagon until Sept. 11 to complete the withdrawal. The Army general in charge in Kabul, Scott Miller, has essentially finished it already, with nearly all military equipment gone and few troops left.
Miller himself is expected to depart in coming days. But does that constitute the end of the US war? With as many as 950 US troops in the country until September and the potential for continued airstrikes, the answer is probably not.
How wars end: Unlike Afghanistan, some wars end with a flourish. World War I was over with the armistice signed with Germany on Nov. 11, 1918 - a day now celebrated as a federal holiday in the U.S. - and the later signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
World War II saw dual celebrations in 1945 with Germany’s surrender marking Victory in Europe (V-E Day) and Japan’s surrender a few months later as Victory Over Japan (V-J Day) following the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Korea, an armistice signed in July 1953 ended the fighting, although technically the war was only suspended because no peace treaty was ever signed.
Other endings have been less clear-cut. The US pulled troops out of Vietnam in 1973, in what many consider a failed war that ended with the fall of Saigon two years later. And when convoys of US troops drove out of Iraq in 2011, a ceremony marked their final departure. But just three years later, American troops were back to rebuild Iraqi forces that collapsed under attacks by Daesh militants.
Victory or defeat?: As America’s war in Afghanistan draws to a close, there will be no surrender and no peace treaty, no final victory and no decisive defeat. Biden says it was enough that US forces dismantled al-Qaida and killed Osama bin Laden, the group’s leader considered the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Lately, violence in Afghanistan has escalated. Taliban attacks on Afghan forces and civilians have intensified and the group has taken control of more than 100 district centers. Pentagon leaders have said there is “medium” risk that the Afghan government and its security forces collapse within the next two years, if not sooner.
US leaders insist the only path to peace in Afghanistan is through a negotiated settlement. The Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that said the US would withdraw its troops by May 2021 in exchange for Taliban promises, including that it keep Afghanistan from again being a staging arena for attacks on America.
US officials say the Taliban are not fully adhering to their part of the bargain, even as the US continues its withdrawal.
NATO mission: The NATO Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces began in 2015, when the US-led combat mission was declared over. At that point the Afghans assumed full responsibility for their security, yet they remained dependent on billions of dollars a year in US aid.
At the peak of the war, there were more than 130,000 troops in Afghanistan from 50 NATO nations and partner countries. That dwindled to about 10,000 troops from 36 nations for the Resolute Support mission, and as of this week most had withdrawn their troops.
Some may see the war ending when NATO’s mission is declared over. But that may not happen for months.
Counter terror mission: The US troop withdrawal doesn’t mean the end of the war on terrorism. The US has made it clear that it retains the authority to conduct strikes against al-Qaida or other terrorist groups in Afghanistan if they threaten the US homeland.
Because the US has pulled its fighter and surveillance aircraft out of the country, it must now rely on manned and unmanned flights from ships at sea and air bases in the Gulf region. The Pentagon is looking for basing alternatives for surveillance aircraft and other assets in countries closer to Afghanistan. As yet, no agreements have been reached.
The security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, prompting many to second-guess President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops by Sept. 11. This is an understandable emotional reaction, but it isn’t supported
The withdrawal from Afghanistan could be the worst US debacle of the 21st century. The first was, of course, the war on Iraq, which destabilised the whole of this region. Other debacles could follow as this century is still young. The rapid collapse of Afghanistan
Twenty years after they melted away as the United States-led NATO troops entered Kabul, the Taliban soldiers stood at the gates of power. The elected government of President Ashraf Ghani has surrendered, and the Taliban are negotiating with the government
One of the interesting aspects of Open AI’s flip-flop over CEO Sam Altman is the financial angle. It was Altman who struck a deal with Microsoft and raised Open AI’s market value to $80 billion. When Altman was sacked by the now melted board of directors, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella offered Altman a job,
Boris Johnson is expected to apologise for “unquestionably” making mistakes in his handling of the pandemic during his appearance before the Covid Inquiry. But the former prime minister will argue that his controversial decisions ended up saving “tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives”.
The slow but inexorable pace of social change sometimes leaves political parties stranded. One hundred years ago on Wednesday, Labour won more seats than the Liberals in the general election, and six weeks later Ramsay MacDonald formed the first Labour government after negotiations in a hung parliament.
It’s so unfortunate that the Russia and Ukraine war is still going on despite heavy losses recorded from both sides. There is no solution to any conflict through the use of force and attacks. It’s the need of the hour to start meaningful peace talks so as to avoid any further human and financial losses