On Wednesday, United States President Joe Biden announced the complete withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington that resulted in the US-led military invasion.

The announcement has proven controversial in US policy circles. Some have argued for a conditions-based withdrawal, contingent on securing adequate counterterrorism guarantees and a peace settlement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban. Assessments from US intelligence agencies in recent months found that a withdrawal in the absence of an intra-Afghan peace deal would likely lead to the collapse of the government in Kabul within a couple of years and the potential resurgence of al-Qaeda in the country.

However, Biden's long opposition to "forever wars" has seen him unwilling to extend the exit timeline, as his administration shifts its focus towards emerging security challenges in East Asia. He has limited space for manoeuvre given the ceasefire agreement signed with the Taliban under President Donald Trump last year that committed the US to complete withdrawal by May 1, 2021. The Taliban has repeatedly asserted that a failure to pull out by this deadline would lead to war.

Disaster can still be averted if the Taliban opts for a reasonable response to this announcement, the Afghan government manages to come up with a unified position on a peace settlement and the international community extends the necessary political guarantees to both sides.

A transatlantic withdrawal

Biden's announcement of a new withdrawal date intends to undo the damage the Afghanistan strategy of his predecessor had caused. While it has been seen as an attempt to buy more time to counteract the poor sequencing of the 2020 peace deal, first and foremost, the objective of this delay is to repair relations with NATO, which had been damaged under Trump.

The transatlantic relationship suffered from Trump's accusations that NATO members were not paying their dues to the alliance and his threats to sanction Germany, the top contributing nation in Afghanistan after the US. The negotiation of the troop withdrawal agreement with the Taliban last year also took place without sufficient consideration of the needs of NATO members, who are dependent on the US military for airlift support...

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