Withdrawal From Afghanistan Because of Coronavirus Would Be A Strategic Blunder: Former US Diplomats

Five former US diplomats have warned that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan because of coronavirus concerns would be a strategic blunder.

It comes after a report on NBC News suggested that US President Donald Trump is seriously considering withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan because of concerns relating to the novel coronavirus.

“There are arguments for the United States to stay and to go, but this is a bad one on every count. Our troops will be exposed to COVID-19 wherever they are. In Afghanistan, our military presence is key to the strategy the Trump administration has been laboring to implement to foment peace,” the former diplomats who served in Afghanistan said in an article published by the Atlantic Council.

They are James B Cunningham, Hugo Llorens, Richard Olson, Ronald E. Neumann, and Earl Anthony Wayne.

They said that the United States recognized several years ago that a negotiated peace was the only way to preserve the gains made in Afghanistan. “The United States has invested great effort to get to the point where negotiations between Afghans might be possible. At this point, the Taliban has signed a troop withdrawal agreement with the United States but have so far avoided starting negotiations with the Afghan government. In fact, in recent weeks the Taliban has intensified their military operations and unleashed a wave of violence that has killed Afghan security personnel and civilians alike.”

According to the former diplomats, the Taliban leadership’s unwillingness to engage in good faith talks with the government in Kabul appears linked to their view that the United States and its allies are hell-bent on withdrawing and so they need make no concessions. “Succeeding in actually getting to peace in Afghanistan will be very difficult in the best of circumstances, but to run for the door would be a serious tactical error and unravel the progress already achieved and whatever opportunity there is for the future.”

“Worse, it would be strategic blunder undercutting the US position and investment in Afghanistan and the entire South Asia region, as well as sending a terrible signal to our partners, allies, and adversaries. Each of these aspects threatens to potentially undermine the security of the American people. Such a decision deserves serious consideration, not a spur of the moment decision.”

They said that the US is not alone in Afghanistan, but with a large coalition of our allies. “None of our NATO and non-NATO partners with forces in Afghanistan have signaled any desire to cut and run in the face of the threat of the virus. A sudden US withdrawal would come on the back of our departure from Syria that began without consultation with or warning to our allies. While the Syrian decision was modified to leave some US forces, the message of a second sudden pull out would be clear: the United States cannot be trusted to keep commitments on which other nations have risked the lives of their own forces.”

The report on NBC News also said that US troops were leaving Afghanistan faster than originally planned.

“In Afghanistan, a sudden departure that ignores even the withdrawal timeline to which we have just committed in our agreement with the Taliban risks creating a variety of disasters. The impact on morale and unity of the Afghan military is likely to be debilitating. It could easily spark a massive shift in power balances in Afghanistan and provoke a split among non-Taliban Afghans along ethnic, political, and religious lines that divide the population—leading to a return to civil war as seen in 1990s. This would open space for terrorist networks like al-Qaeda to once again grow in Afghanistan and for the Islamic State (ISIS) to expand its already dangerous presence. Iran and Russia are already flirting with the Taliban. A sudden power vacuum could prompt expanded regional meddling and accelerate the descent into renewed civil war,” the former US diplomats said.

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