A year after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, estimates of its impact are divided largely along party lines within the United States.
Critics attack the August 2021 evacuation of more than 120,000 American, Afghan and other citizens as poorly planned and executed, according to an Associated Press analysis.
They said that the complete withdrawal of US forces opened the door for the return of ISIS and al-Qaeda militants to the country, noting that the exit indicated the United States’ lack of commitment to its allies and its unwillingness to stand by a partner in time of need, according to the same source.
While supporters of withdrawal argue that it is time to end America’s longest war, leaving troops in the country would put their lives at risk and achieve little.
They said it was time for Afghans to take charge of their country and their security so that the United States could focus on other threats, and on vital issues such as climate change and the pandemic.
What is certain is that the Afghan government collapsed at the hands of the Taliban, that hundreds of Afghans who supported the United States during the war were left afraid of reprisals, and that the al-Qaeda leader found refuge in Kabul, according to the US agency.
On the political front, the withdrawal represented a turning point for President Joe Biden; His popularity ratings plummeted as Americans saw horrific images of desperate Afghans massing at the airport, the killing of American troops and Afghan civilians during a suicide attack, and the targeting of an innocent Afghan family in a US drone strike.
Now, with the last troops out of Afghanistan – and the midterm elections approaching – Congressional Republicans and analysts are offering their opinion of the withdrawal and its impact.
When Biden came to office, the United States was already committed to the withdrawal agreement reached between the Taliban and his predecessor, Donald Trump.
While many GOP leaders — such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — hailed the deal, others — including then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — criticized it as parochial.
Biden then preferred to withdraw and continued to defend him. He said the United States had achieved its goal in Afghanistan – to prevent al-Qaeda from planning and carrying out attacks against the United States from within the country again.
Today, the administration and its Department of Defense hail the implementation of the withdrawal — the largest air evacuation in American history — as largely successful in extremely dangerous and dynamic conditions. But the United States also called the drone strike on Afghan civilians a tragic mistake.
The White House released portions of a summary of an unclassified intelligence assessment that concluded that al-Qaeda was no longer building its ranks, and had no ability to launch attacks against the United States from Afghanistan.
The Republican minority on the House Foreign Affairs Committee released an interim report this week that criticized the evacuation, saying it was poorly planned and marred by delays. He said poor organization had left many of the evacuees unable to reach the airport and board the departing planes.
He noted that outside groups, including ex-military forces, Afghan translators and others, have begun coordinating their networks to get people out.
Although the report contained few new details, it highlighted the chaos of the withdrawal and complaints that the State Department had waited too long to request military assistance in the exit process.
Retired Gen. Frank McKenzie, who oversaw the withdrawal as commander of US Central Command in the Middle East, said he had “deep remorse” for the people the United States could not get out, including Afghans who worked with US forces there.
“I think we got all the Americans who wanted out. If someone stays, there’s a reason they want to stay,” he added.
But he noted that his biggest fear is that al-Qaeda militants, ISIS and other associated insurgent groups will be able to launch attacks against the United States from haven in Afghanistan.
The CIA strike that killed al-Zawahiri demonstrates that the United States can pursue and monitor threats, but also highlights that it is a very rare and difficult task.
In turn, Ryan Crocker, the former US ambassador to Afghanistan, said on Tuesday that many had warned “from the beginning that if the Taliban managed to return to power, they would bring al-Qaeda with them.” So, despite Taliban promises never to harbor terrorists again, they “returned al-Qaeda.”
Crocker, McKenzie, and others also pointed to what they said was an expected erosion of women’s rights, widespread hunger, and other Taliban problems in running government.
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