What the Afghanistan Study Group final report missed

Last week, the Congressionally-mandated Afghanistan Study Group issued its recommendation that the Biden administration abandon the US-Taliban agreement signed last February in favor of a conditions-based withdrawal without a deadline. But any unilateral decision to ignore the May 2021 withdrawal deadline will sabotage an already beleaguered peace process and drag Washington back into a failed counterinsurgency in Afghanistan yet again.

A valid case can be made that the Taliban have not fully lived up to all conditions within the US-Taliban agreement, including fully cutting all ties with al-Qaida. Taliban-inflicted violence is also surging in Afghanistan, including a campaign of targeted killings. The agreement, however, did result in no US combat deaths over the last year. This was not the case for Afghan security forces, which have reportedly lost 20,000 lives in the last two years. Intra-Afghan negotiations are struggling at best and Afghanistan remains violent, but walking away from the US-Taliban agreement all but guarantees a return to the failed US-led counterinsurgency of the last two decades.

The trouble with conditioning a withdrawal on factors such as violence reduction, a political settlement, or even the Taliban’s willingness to take certain counterterrorism steps, is that it forces Washington to wait idly by for actions outside of its control — and that may never come. Instead, the Biden administration should ask itself whether it can accept the consequences of unilaterally violating the agreement by remaining past May 2021. Unless it is willing to once again accept US combat deaths and spend billions on a counterinsurgency, then the answer is an emphatic no.

So, what are President Joe Biden’s options in Afghanistan?

Read the full article in Inkstick.