Opinion: US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq is irresponsible
Donald Trump's plan to reduce US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 each by mid-January is a slap in the face of US allies and strengthens extremism.
The hope that the erratic and selfish Trump administration would come to an end after Joe Biden's clear election win was quashed once again. Current President Donald Trump will hold the reins of power for nine more weeks — and he is willing to use that power until the very last minute.
His latest announcement to reduce US troops in Afghanistan from an estimated 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 is a case in point. The withdrawal is scheduled to be completed by January 15 — just five days before handing over the presidency to Biden.
This hasty and irresponsible decision will have major ramifications for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, who should be considered in any measures taken.
The wars in those countries were started without any well-thought-out strategies. In Iraq, it was the false claim that it harbored weapons of mass destruction. In Afghanistan, the US — supported by NATO and other allies — invaded after the September 11 attacks. The US-led intervention took sides in an active conflict without a clear strategy.
US troops provide a certain predictability
The decades-long wars have left both countries with deep scars. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have managed to establish stable governments and institutions capable of protecting their citizens from violence. The current situation is, without a doubt, utterly unsatisfactory in many ways.
However, the presence of US troops does provide a certain degree of predictability. In Afghanistan, they allow negotiators to pressure the Taliban in the ongoing peace talks. Should US troops now start to withdraw in a somewhat disorganized fashion, radical forces are likely to be strengthened.
In Iraq, we have seen how a similar move played into the hands of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). Syria, too, is proof that the ensuing power vacuum is likely to be filled with those who only pursue their own interests.
That would be dangerous for the rest of the world — and deadly for Afghans fighting for a democratic state in which human rights are respected.
No future for NATO?
Trump's uncoordinated withdrawal is also a slap in the face for international allies, especially for NATO, which had invoked Article 5 on collective defense for the first time following the September 11 attacks.
Now, however, it is none other than the US president breaking the cardinal rule: go in together, withdraw together. NATO member states depend on US logistical support in Afghanistan.
I think it was right that Trump demanded of Europe and Germany, in particular, to spend more on the alliance and work towards boosting their defense capabilities.
However, changing complex agreements on a joint military presence in Afghanistan and drastically reducing troops at such short notice is a different ballgame. If the most important NATO member state does not stick to agreements, the alliance has no future.
Biden will have his hands full
Trump plans to withdraw the troops against the advice of his generals and leading Republicans. Biden will have to put a lot of effort into reversing those plans. Plus, a lot can happen between now and January 20.
Trump's latest announcement leaves no doubt that he will stop at nothing to keep his supporters on board and in thrall to him — and it's a move that will extend far beyond his tenure as president.