Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States is concerned about the stability of her country after the U.S. military pulls out in September, she said Thursday, as President Joe Biden earns praise from some corners for ending America’s two-decade-long war in Afghanistan but draws criticism for withdrawing while the country remains wracked by conflict.
Biden plans to pull all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, ending the military’s presence on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack that initially sparked the war.
In an interview Thursday, NPR asked Afghan ambassador to the U.S. Roya Rahmani whether she’s concerned her country will collapse due to pressure from the Taliban, and she responded, “I am worried about that.”
Rahmani says the Taliban is still waging a deadly conflict in Afghanistan and has not constructively negotiated with the government in Kabul (the insurgent group is refusing to participate in power-sharing peace talks until foreign troops leave the country).
The ambassador was particularly worried about the Taliban’s disdain for women’s rights.
Rahmani said she’s glad Biden plans to keep offering security and humanitarian support to her government, though specifics are still being discussed: “I also hope that the international community does not give up on their own investment,” she said.
“We respect [the United States’] decision, but then we are hoping that with their support, we would be able to continue to protect and defend ourselves,” Rahmani told NPR.
Some members of Congress and foreign policy experts have raised similar concerns about the withdrawal, arguing the United States is leaving the fragile Afghan government — which depends on foreign support — vulnerable to an emboldened Taliban. In February, the bipartisan Afghanistan Study Group urged Biden to hold off on withdrawing troops until the government and the Taliban reach a peace deal, predicting the country will fall into a civil war and the Taliban could retake power if the United States pulls out now. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed those worries Wednesday and said Afghanistan could grow chaotic and become a haven for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda again, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) is worried the country will lose its gains in women’s rights if the Taliban becomes ascendant.
2,500. That’s how many U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon, down from a 2011 peak of almost 100,000. For the last six years, troops have largely focused on counterterrorism and training Afghan forces, not combat.
The war in Afghanistan started when the Taliban — which controlled the country until 2001 — refused to turn over Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Taliban was quickly ousted from power after the U.S. invaded but remains active, causing critics to argue a protracted conflict with the group is unwinnable, and Biden believes the war’s purpose is now unclear since the military accomplished its goal of suppressing groups like al-Qaeda years ago. The United States pledged last year to pull out troops by May 1 as long as the Taliban agreed to stop attacking U.S. forces, and Biden extended that deadline until September but committed to ending the war.
Some politicians applauded Biden’s decision. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) argued Thursday that the U.S. military has proven unable to solve Afghanistan’s security problems, so the United States is better off supporting the country through diplomacy instead of prolonging the war. Similarly, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said she’s glad troops are returning home, though she wishes Biden withdrew by May 1.