At pivotal moment in Afghanistan war, Biden weighs a dilemma

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WASHINGTON (AP) – America’s longest war is approaching a crossroads.

President Joe Biden’s choices in Afghanistan come down to this: withdraw all troops by May, as promised by his predecessor, and risk a resurgence of extremist dangers, or stay and possibly prolong the war in the hope of obliging the Taliban to make peace with a weak and fractured government.

The second option may be the most likely, but officials say no decision has been made.

Afghanistan presents one of the toughest and most urgent decisions of the new administration. The American public is weary of an almost 20-year-old war, but withdrawing now could be seen as giving too much weight to the Taliban and casting a shadow over the sacrifices made by US and coalition troops and Afghan civilians .

Biden hasn’t commented in detail on Afghanistan since coming to power, but he has a long history with war. In 2009, as vice president, he lost an internal administration debate at a crucial time in the war; he argued for reducing the US military commitment to focus primarily on combating extremist groups, but President Barack Obama instead decided to dramatically increase the number of troops to 100,000.

Obama’s strategy failed to force the Taliban to seek peace, and by the time Donald Trump entered the White House in January 2017, Obama had reduced the troop total to around 8,500 troops. Trump increased it by several thousand later that year, and after his administration reached a conditional peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020, he began a pullout, including a reduction last month to the current total. from 2500.

Biden said during the 2020 campaign that he could keep a counterterrorism force in Afghanistan, but that he would also “end the war responsibly” to ensure that US forces never have to come back.

“I would bring home American combat troops to Afghanistan during my first term,” he wrote last summer in response to written questions from the Council on Foreign Relations, although the US mission there is already moved from combat to consulting in Afghanistan a few years ago. security forces. “Any residual US military presence in Afghanistan would be focused solely on counterterrorism operations.”

The administration says it is studying the so-called February 2020 Doha deal in which the Taliban agreed to stop attacking US and coalition forces and start peace talks with the government in Kabul, among other things, in exchange for a complete withdrawal of foreign troops by May 1, 2021.

Senior U.S. officials have been claiming for months that the Taliban have failed to live up to their Doha commitments, and although the administration’s review is underway, arguments for extending a troop presence beyond May 1st are considerable.

U.S. NATO allies have not challenged the U.S. complaint that the Taliban has failed to honor its Doha commitments, nor have they called for a swift troop withdrawal. Some seem to be bracing for a US decision to stay beyond May 1.

The deadline, in just two months, is itself a factor, as it will soon be too late to get the 10,000 US and NATO troops out in an orderly fashion by May 1. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week he had assured the American allies. and for partners in Afghanistan, there will be no “hasty” withdrawal and that Washington focus on diplomacy.

“Obviously, the violence is too high at the moment, and further progress needs to be made in the Afghan-led negotiations, and I therefore urge all parties to choose the path to peace,” he said. he told reporters.

Another clue to the administration’s thinking may be its repeated reference to examining “compliance” with the Doha agreement, suggesting the possibility that the administration will end up arguing …

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