US officials told The Associated Press on Thursday that the Pentagon plans to leave about 650 troops in Afghanistan to guard the US embassy in Kabul after most US combat forces in the country leave.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said an additional few hundred US troops might also remain at the Kabul airport until at least September, while the bulk of US forces are expected to be out of Afghanistan by July 4th.
The US sees securing the Kabul airport as critical to the plan to maintain a diplomatic presence. Approximately 500 Turkish troops are currently guarding the airport, and the US wants them to stay after other foreign forces leave. Turkey has agreed, and the two countries are expected to work out the details over the coming week. The AP report said the 650 troops that will stay to guard the embassy would also provide “some ongoing support at the airport.”
The report reads: “Officials said the US has agreed to leave a C-RAM — or Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar system — at the airport, as well as troops to operate it, as part of an agreement with Turkey. The US also plans to leave aircrew for helicopter support at the airport.”
The issue with this plan is that the Taliban views a continued Turkish presence at the Kabul airport as a violation of the US-Taliban peace deal that was signed in Doha in February 2020. The Taliban will also be against any US troops staying to guard the airport. Since the Doha agreement was signed, no US troops have died in combat in Afghanistan. If US troops stay, that means the Taliban could target them again.
Besides putting US troops at risk, this plan could also fuel more fighting between the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government. While there is little chance the two sides will reach a diplomatic solution, by violating the Doha agreement again, the US is guaranteeing more violence.
President Biden already delayed potential intra-Afghan peace talks by pushing back the original May 1st withdrawal deadline to September 11th. Before May, violence was raging, but the Taliban was not making the significant territorial gains it is now.
The optics of the Taliban making advancements while US troops are leaving look horrible for Biden. Western media is full of stories about how the Afghan government is ready to fall once the US leaves. Hawks use what they see as Kabul’s inevitable collapse as a reason to stay. But it is really an example of the futility of the war and why the US must leave instead of staying to fuel a brutal proxy war that could go on indefinitely.