Why Leaving Afghanistan Affects Far More Than The Fight Against Terrorism

Afghanistan sits at the fulcrum of the Middle East and Asia, says foreign policy expert William Inboden. Not being there will hamper the U.S.’s ability to contain China.

By Jill Ament & Shelly BrisbinJuly 7, 2021 6:50 am,

The United States has been at war in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years. President Joe Biden previously announced that all U.S. troops will leave the country by September 11. This week, the Pentagon announced the withdrawal is 90% complete. But the current pace of troop withdrawals has caused concern among some military and foreign policy leaders. They fear a resurgence of terrorist groups could destabilize the country, potentially plunging Afghanistan into civil war.

William Inboden is executive director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas’ LBJ school of Public Affairs. He was also senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. He told Texas Standard that the problems in Afghanistan were “foreseeable.” Already, the Taliban has begun retaking territory and, Inboden says, the Afghan government is fragile.

“We’re seeing what had been predicted, and what had been foreseen, and what had been warned against,” Inboden said.

The instability in Afghanistan doesn’t represent a new civil war, Inboden says, but the continuation of a conflict that has been going on for 20 years.

“As much as it can be very frustrating when American troops are deployed in a mission that doesn’t seem to be succeeding, sometimes the other alternative, of withdrawing entirely, can be even worse,” Inboden said. “So policy making, as I often tell my students, is… often a choice between a good option, a bad option and a terrible option.”

Afghanistan remains important in large part because of its location – bordered by Iran, India, China and Russia. Inboden calls it the fulcrum of the Middle East and Asia.

“This is where I think the Biden administration didn’t fully calculate that while their priority is rightly confronting China, as our new peer competitor, the way we are withdrawing from Afghanistan is actually strengthening China,” Inboden said.

Bagram Airfield, which the U.S. left this week, was the only U.S. airbase in a country bordering China, he said.

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