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A rushed and flawed Afghanistan withdrawal plan assured a tragic outcome

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board (TNS)
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden stand with their hands over their hearts as a carry team moves a transfer case with the remains of Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana, during a casualty return at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Sunday for the 13 service members killed in the suicide bombing Thursday in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Before Thursday’s suicide bombings outside the Kabul airport, President Joe Biden justified his rushed withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by saying the United States would maintain “over the horizon” capabilities to detect and interdict terrorist activity in Afghanistan. In other words, the United States would ensure, even without a U.S. troop presence on the ground, that Afghanistan would not return to its pre-9/11 status as a terrorist safe haven.

Thursday’s deadly attacks, in which 13 U.S. service members died, laid waste to any notion of America’s ability to influence events on the ground in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence resources are gone. Forward operating bases are gone. It’s as if the United States cut off its eyes and ears to spite its own face, and now it is blind and deaf to the future threats brewing in Afghanistan.

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The group calling itself Islamic State-Khorasan is known for its brutality and utter disregard for civilian lives — not unlike the Taliban itself. Yet the United States now relies on the latter group for security assistance during the withdrawal.

The Taliban has invited the Haqqani network into its new hard-line Islamist government. The network has been on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations since 2012, with multimillion-dollar bounties on the heads of its top leaders. Haqqani militiamen were the Taliban’s choice to deploy outside the Kabul airport, putting them in close proximity to their sworn enemies — U.S. troops.

Somehow, this was the security formula Biden accepted in his haste to leave before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The deadline was artificially set and had zero strategic value in terms of ensuring a safe and orderly withdrawal. But Biden insisted on it.

He inherited the withdrawal framework from former President Donald Trump, who defied logic by engaging in peace talks with the Taliban while excluding the elected government in Kabul. Everything about Trump’s formula ensured a disastrous outcome, imposing minimal Taliban concessions in exchange for a full U.S. withdrawal. Taliban officials spoke as if they were doing a favor to the most powerful military in the world by agreeing not to attack U.S. forces while they were withdrawing.

Biden felt it was more important to keep Trump’s word than to rethink this badly flawed deal and come up with a more measured and sensible plan that protected American — not Taliban — interests. Biden now says the United States will retaliate “at the place we choose, and the moment of our choosing.” Those are the kinds of tough-sounding words he also should have spoken from the beginning regarding the withdrawal: U.S. forces leave at “the moment of our choosing,” not the Taliban’s.

By putting the Taliban and Haqqani network in such an undeserved position of power over the United States, a tragic outcome was virtually assured. Sadly on Thursday, that’s what Biden got.

— From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board (TNS).