Ending the Forever War in Afghanistan
After two decades of war, the pressure in the United States and elsewhere to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is understandable. But, to avoid a new spiral of violence, it is essential first to devise a clear plan for the country's future.
STOCKHOLM – Speaking in Kabul on the 32nd anniversary of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the country’s president, Ashraf Ghani, made an important distinction. The civil war that devastated Afghanistan after the withdrawal was caused not by the departure of Soviet troops, but by the failure to formulate a viable plan for Afghanistan’s future. As the United States considers its own exit from the country, it should heed this lesson.
After withdrawing its troops in 1989, the Soviet Union continued to provide financial support to the communist-nationalist regime, led by President Mohammad Najibullah. But, lacking domestic legitimacy, Najibullah’s regime quickly collapsed when Russia withdrew its financial support in 1992, triggering the civil war. Then, in 1996, the Taliban gained control of Kabul and, ultimately, the country.
The Taliban remained in power until 2001, when a US-led invasion – spurred by the September 11 terrorist attacks – ended its rule. But last February, then-US President Donald Trump’s administration reached a deal with the Taliban intended to end the nearly 20-year-long war: the US and its NATO allies would withdraw all troops by May 2021 if the Taliban fulfilled certain commitments, including cutting ties with terrorist groups and reducing violence.