While the Pentagon says the Afghanistan withdrawal is over 50 percent complete, details remain unclear on what the US footprint in the country and the region will look like after the pullout is done.
The US plans to keep supporting the Afghan military financially. Biden earmarked $3.3 billion for this effort for the 2022 military budget. The issue is, no matter how much money the US throws at them, the Afghan military is expected to fold in the face of Taliban pressure without support from Pentagon contractors.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said the contractors are leaving as part of the withdrawal plan. It’s not yet clear if the US will try to leave some contractors or if some contracts will be transferred over to Kabul, so the US isn’t directly paying them.
Western media outlets are full of articles suggesting the Afghan military’s inevitable collapse is a reason for the US to stay. But the fact the Afghan government is ready to crumble after almost 20 years of the US funneling money into building it up demonstrates the futility of the war and why Washington must get out.
Questions also remain about Washington’s diplomatic presence after the withdrawal. The US wants to maintain its embassy in Kabul. To do this, the US wants Turkish troops who are currently guarding the Kabul airport to stay, so it is secure for US diplomats to travel in and out of the country. The problem is, the Taliban is against the plan and has warned Turkey against staying after other foreign troops leave. Despite the warnings, Turkey is ready to stay and is seeking assistance from Hungary to secure the airport.
The US would also try to leave troops behind if its embassy remains open. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley discussed securing the embassy with Congress last week. “It’s the president’s intent to keep an embassy open, to keep our security forces around the embassy and to continue to work with the Afghan government to continue to fund the Afghan security forces and to keep that situation from devolving into the worst case, and that’s what we’re planning on, and that’s what we’re working toward,” he said.
The US wants to maintain the ability to bomb Afghanistan after the pullout, what the Pentagon has dubbed “over the horizon capabilities.” Both the Pentagon and the CIA were looking to reposition forces in neighboring countries, but the US has no basing agreements in the region. Pakistan has repeatedly ruled out that it would again host a US base, and Washington has made no progress with other central Asian countries. It looks like the US will have to settle for flying surveillance and combat missions in Afghanistan from bases and aircraft carriers in the Gulf region.
As the US is pulling out, the Taliban has been on the offensive and is gaining territory. A Taliban offensive was almost inevitable, but President Biden had a hand in creating the current situation by pushing back the original May 1st withdrawal deadline. Delaying the withdrawal stalled potential intra-Afghan peace talks. If the US tries to leave a small footprint in Afghanistan or continues bombing the country after the pullout, the Taliban would see these moves as a violation of the Doha agreement, making peace even less likely.