Biden has just a few weeks left to make key decisions that will shape the future of Afghanistan

(CNN) – With the advance of the Taliban in rural Afghanistan, and criticism for what some consider too hasty a departure, the Joe Biden government has a few weeks to make a handful of critical decisions that it has postponed until the last minute. .

How will you safely evacuate thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families? What policy will you apply regarding drone strikes? How will you secure Kabul’s largest civilian airport? And, perhaps most importantly, what will it do with the hundreds of American contractors in the country who service and maintain the complex and expensive military equipment that Afghans need to fight the Taliban?

The answers to these questions will essentially determine the type of America’s relationship with Afghanistan and, by extension, the country’s likely fate in the foreseeable future.

President Joe Biden declined to address any of these issues on Friday, visibly frustrated when asked by reporters. But you won’t be able to avoid the topic this week. Biden meets with his national security team Thursday before an afternoon speech detailing his plans for US assistance to Afghanistan in the future.

“The war seems to be forcing the government to make some quick decisions,” said Seth Jones, director of the International Threats Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of the book “In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan.”

A US Boeing C-17 Globemaster III takes off from Bagram base in Afghanistan.

Although the Biden government has stressed that it will maintain its commitment to Afghanistan through diplomatic, economic and humanitarian aid, Jones said that “the Afghans have not gotten the message. They essentially see the abandonment. That has many consequences if we see the fragmentation. [de las fuerzas de seguridad afganas]”.

“If we see this fracture, they are not going to care about financial aid from the United States. They are not going to care about this support beyond the horizon,” he added, using the military term to refer to support from outside the country.

Disjointed messages

The orange-red satellite dish near the three-kilometer runway at Bagram Air Force Base was still spinning four days after the last American flight took off early in the morning last Friday, one of the few signs of activity in the sprawling compound that was the heart of the US military presence in Afghanistan for two decades. Empty white trucks sat next to abandoned white buses, a ghost fleet at the height of this newly abandoned ghost town.

The speed of the US withdrawal from Bagram caught many by surprise, including the Afghan military. A senior Afghan official told CNN he had been given less than 24 hours to secure the perimeter of the huge complex before the last of the Americans left.

The Biden administration said last week that it would take up to two more months to withdraw the last remaining troops in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials denied there was a slowdown, but several officials told CNN that the full withdrawal was expected to be completed in mid-July, a faster schedule than now appears to be planned.

A UH-60 Blackhawk medical evacuation helicopter in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on August 22, 2011.

This week, General Scott Miller visited Brussels to brief NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the departure of US forces. But several US officials have voiced to CNN their frustration with Miller in the final steps of the pullout, prompting some disjointed messages about Bagram’s departure and may have damaged US relations with Afghans.

“The way the Bagram airbase handover occurred seems to have been very poorly coordinated and that reality and perception does not help American interests. It is almost a microcosm of what we have seen in general, and that is a bad planning, “said Bradley Bowman, director of the Center for Military and Political Power of the think tank of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“The truth is that your success is our success,” Bowman told CNN. “We want and need them to be successful for our national security interests.”

The fighting is now largely in the hands of the Afghan military, even as they rapidly lose ground to the Taliban, who have advanced with a narrative of inevitable victory, announcing their successes on Twitter as they march into multi-district capitals.

The Taliban have already seized more than 100 districts in Afghanistan, including in the north and northeast, but they have not yet launched attacks on major cities. The Afghan army has retaken some districts, but the continuous fighting speaks of a country that is and will continue to be the scene of fierce battles for territorial control.

Taliban take over parts of Afghanistan, Iran intercedes 3:07

Former US ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann said it remains to be seen whether the people’s militias will join the fight against the Taliban, but “there is no real reason for the Afghan army to lose those battles.”
“They have the forces, they have the team, so it’s a question of morale and Afghan leadership,” Neumann said.


There is also the matter of experience when it comes to the Afghan forces being able to use all the equipment left behind by the United States.

For 20 years, US troops fought al Qaeda and the Taliban, while their contractors trained the Afghan military and maintained their equipment.

A few hundred American contractors remain in Afghanistan, largely to support and maintain the Afghan Air Force’s fleet of Black Hawk helicopters. These powerful but complex helicopters depend on the support of contractors, without which the entire fleet could be grounded in a matter of months.

The Doha Agreement, signed between the Donald Trump administration and the Taliban in February 2020, called for the departure of these contractors, not just troops. Although the Biden government criticized the agreement, it stuck to the terms of the withdrawal, changing only the deadline for its completion.

“The decision to withdraw all contractors at the same time as all troops are withdrawn was not the right decision,” said Lisa Curtis, director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, “but the administration It recognizes it now and the Pentagon has been looking for a way to retain some contractors to help with repairs and maintenance and help with air missions. “

US surrenders military base in Afghanistan 0:55

Curtis, who was director of the National Security Council for South and Central Asia from 2017 to 2021, said it is her understanding that the government intends to retain “about 200 contractors to maintain and repair the US Black Hawks.”

The United States has consistently advocated an end to the fighting and a peaceful resolution between the Taliban and the Afghan government, but that possibility seems increasingly remote as negotiations in Doha between the two sides appear to be stalled.

Final decisions

About 1,000 Afghan soldiers fled to neighboring Tajikistan earlier this week as the Taliban gained ground. Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled their homes in various parts of the country and sought refuge in major cities, and the United States continues to work on plans to relocate 18,000 Afghan interpreters and translators, along with their families, many of them. who fear for their lives in the face of retaliation from the Taliban.

Biden pledged late last month to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to support Afghan forces with attacks on the Taliban, officials told CNN, but it is unclear whether the United States will carry out those attacks, or how often, once the teams have completed their departure. Defense officials were also skeptical that the attacks could slow the Taliban’s advances, although they could give a short-term boost to much-needed Afghan military morale.

Meanwhile, the US continues to develop the framework for much of the defense support and logistical work, as well as counterterrorism operations, which will have to be carried out from outside Afghanistan.

The UAE has emerged as a part of that plan, according to two sources, where the contractors will provide maintenance and logistical support to at least part of the Afghan Air Force’s helicopter fleet.
“We are still working on what the support for that contract will look like,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday. “We are actively working on the ways that contractual support can be done remotely or virtually or even physically outside the country.”

Biden to speak on Afghanistan amid US troop withdrawal and Taliban gains

An Afghan army soldier walks alongside MRAP vehicles left behind by the US military following their withdrawal from the Bagram air base in Afghanistan on July 5.

Defense officials have stressed that they can carry out counterterrorism attacks from outside Afghanistan, but the Joe Biden administration is still in talks with countries in the region to maximize strike capabilities and provide a closer point from which to gather information. Intelligence. Meanwhile, the government and the CIA continue to reconsider the process and scope for authorizing such attacks.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, at a time when both countries have tried to reach a definitive agreement to secure the Kabul airport. The Turks have led the mission, but have asked the United States for financial help and additional capabilities.

The airport is a necessary facility for the US to maintain an embassy in Kabul, as there must be a way to transport diplomats in and out of the country. A senior defense official was “cautiously optimistic” that a deal will be reached, but it is yet another piece of a complex diplomatic, political and military puzzle that has yet to be resolved.

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