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Opinion On leaving Afghanistan

President Biden visits Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday after announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
President Biden visits Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday after announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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Regarding the April 14 front-page article “U.S. set to exit Afghanistan by Sept. 11”:

In deciding to pull remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan in five months, I trust the Biden administration considered the points made by the then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a June 2002 hearing on Afghanistan:

“Perhaps the most important question, however, is one of commitment: Will we stay the course and build security in Afghanistan, or will we permit this country to relapse into chaos? . . . Without U.S. or U.N. peacekeepers, we’re left with . . . letting Afghanistan degenerate into the state of lawlessness that made way for the Taliban. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, America turned its back as the country disintegrated. . . . Afghanistan will again become a den of terrorists, narcotics traffickers, and exporters of violent insurgency. . . . Simply put, if we can’t demonstrate long-term commitment in Afghanistan, nobody will trust us to make a long-term commitment in Iraq. . . . The U.S. has power — but do we have staying power?” The chairman was then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). It is hard to square his wise counsel then with the decision he made last week.  

Karl F. Inderfurth, McLean

The writer is a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs.

The April 14 editorial criticizing President Biden’s decision to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, “The likely result: Disaster,” engaged in the kind of magical thinking that has justified spending $2 trillion and tens of thousands of civilian deaths without making Afghans or Americans more secure. After 20 years, the Taliban is stronger than ever, there are four times more Sunni Islamist militants, and Afghanistan is no closer to stable democracy. How can continuing this war lead to a different conclusion? And why be more concerned about “nullification of the sacrifices of the American servicemen who were killed or wounded in that mission” than about the thousands more women, children and men whose deaths can be prevented by ending this terrible war? 

Instead of placing blind faith in the ability of U.S. troops to solve a conflict that cannot be won militarily, let’s support efforts to boost multilateral and regional diplomacy to end not just U.S. military occupation but the war itself.

Diana L. Ohlbaum, Washington

The writer is senior strategist and legislative director with the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The editorial “The likely result: Disaster” asserted that “Mr. Biden has chosen the easy way out of Afghanistan.” What is easy about acknowledging that after 20 years of military operations costing thousands of U.S. and NATO casualties and trillions of dollars, the objective — a stable, democratic Afghan government capable of containing the Taliban — has not been achieved?  

The editorial was right that the reestablishment of Taliban rule and oppression, particularly of women, and the return of al-Qaeda, are likely. But the alternative is a permanent U.S. military presence. Even the editorial agreed “a strategy of leaving troops in the country in an effort to force the Taliban to compromise could extend the U.S. commitment for years without achieving a durable peace.”

President Biden has learned that it is not possible to build stable democracies in corrupt, authoritarian societies riven by warring ethnic and religious hostilities and facing disciplined, ideologically driven insurgencies. Mr. Biden recognizes that our limited U.S. military and diplomatic resources must now be invested in the greater priorities of confronting Russian and Chinese expansionism and Iranian nuclear ambitions. He has made the hard but right decision.

David M. Cohen, Chevy Chase

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