The best case against withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan

“The last option — and this is the option that I would support — would be using US leverage with the Taliban to greater effect to get a real, genuine peace process in place, which would mean keeping US forces in the country until that peace process is further along and shows more signs of progress.

This would mean more costs and resources for something that admittedly may not work, but it would allow the peace process to continue, preserve US credibility, and reduce risks to Americans from terrorism.

I think that the question really is this: Is the US willing to spend $5 billion annually, which means a small US force presence of about 2,500? Is that worth it, as an insurance policy to prevent another 9/11-style attack?”

“Our combat role ended back in 2014. Since then we’ve really been focusing on the counterterrorism mission, which does involve backstopping the Afghans by assisting and advising. But it’s not as if we’re going at it hand in hand with the Taliban.

But remember also that if the Taliban came back to power, you’ll see terrorists from all over the world — not just al Qaeda — you’ll see a convergence of extremists and terrorists back in Afghanistan. It’s likely to be a worse terrorist safe haven than it was before 9/11.”

“We are obviously much more equipped to prevent that 9/11-style attack from happening on US soil, no doubt. The argument that I’m making is that if we withdraw to zero, the Taliban comes back, and terrorist groups and extremists pour back into Afghanistan.

That gives the Taliban a dangerous narrative to propagate, which is they were able to kick out the US and its NATO partners. “We succeeded,” they could say. That is the real danger, that we lose to terrorists and extremists and we provide an opportunity for them to regather strength.

And yes, you’re right, we do have the ability to stop terrorism much more than we did 20 years ago at our border. But it’s still a high cost for us to pay when we could continue to support partners that we’ve been supporting for 20 years. There’s no indication the Taliban feels pressure to break with al-Qaeda. Even the UN has said the Taliban has not changed its relationship with al-Qaeda.” 

“we’re down to 2,500 troops. We had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at one point. We really have right-sized our engagement there. We’re not looking for quick, easy solutions. We’re trying to manage threats and being able to manage the threat at roughly $5 billion a year, that seems like a good investment from a national security perspective.”

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