The approach by Major General Chris Donahue in a C17 transport plane at Kabul airport – the last US military man in his boots on Afghan soil – Monday night closed two decades of war for the US and a chaotic and violent troop withdrawal. That image ends with a difficult and disastrous episode for the presidency of Joe Biden, but opens another that will not be easier. Perhaps, quite the opposite, with a combination of challenges that will mark a good part of what remains of his mandate.
The disorderly and poorly planned evacuation of Afghanistan has an immediate consequence: not all those that the US would have wanted have been able to leave the country. With the Taliban in the
power much faster than the Biden Administration anticipated, the US was forced to evacuate on the terms imposed by its enemies.
Biden now finds that tens of thousands of Afghans who collaborated with the US Army against the Taliban have been stranded in the country. Processing of their visas dragged on and many had no papers by the time the Taliban – from whom they fear reprisals – took control of the country. To many Afghans at risk – women, activists, journalists, officials – the US has also promised to remove them from the country. There are even hundreds of people with American nationality who, either because of problems getting to the airport or because they have preferred to stay in Afghanistan, have not been evacuated either, something that the Republicans use to charge against Biden.
The US defends that, together with its allies, it will pressure the Taliban to allow the departure of anyone who wishes. But without the military or diplomats in the country, everything will depend on the new rulers of Afghanistan.
Mistrust of your international partners
“America is back!” Biden celebrated repeatedly at the beginning of the year, in his first appearances in international forums. It was a way of changing course in the face of the international policy of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who tightened the rope with the traditional allies of the United States, with tariffs and greater demands within NATO.
Biden promised a responsible, coordinated and predictable foreign policy. What happened in Afghanistan is quite the opposite and casts doubt on the relationship with its European partners – the debate on greater strategic autonomy for Europe has gained strength – and in the Middle East, where other US military presences, such as the alliance to defeat Daesh in Syria, are now under question.
A wave of refugees
Evacuation on the run of more than 110,000 Afghans opens a now long and tortuous process, with many political dangers for Biden. His Administration must carry out a scrutiny, accommodation and insertion of thousands of families in which it will have to balance the demands for humanitarian treatment by left-wing activists and the ‘nativist’ pressure of the right closest to Trump, who already He has warned that a massive influx of immigrants is designed to change the nature of the US Any slippage in the management of refugees and any problems they cause in the reception places will fall on Biden.
The new fight against terrorism
The US went to Afghanistan to finish off the terrorists who they attacked him on 9/11 and, twenty years later, leaves the country amid attacks by other terrorist groups. The US wiped out the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and cornered his protectors, the Taliban. But it never ended with one or the other. Now he leaves a country controlled by the Taliban, and with a growing presence of groups such as Islamic State-Khorasan. After last Thursday’s attack, which killed about 170 Afghans and thirteen US military personnel, the US counterattacked with two drone operations. It was a way, above all, of showing the public opinion at home that, despite the military absence, the US counterterrorism capacity is not diminishing. Its strategy will be to operate with tactics ‘beyond the horizon’, with drones and operations launched from its bases in the Gulf countries. It will have to demonstrate the ability to prevent the spread of terrorism and control the threat of attacks in the US itself with these operations.
Biden faces a perfect storm of crisis. The departure from Afghanistan has coincided with a new wave of infections by Covid-19, powered by Delta variant. In addition to the health bill – there are states with saturated hospital infrastructures – the expansion of infections is beginning to cause restrictions that could slow down the economic recovery. Biden promised in the campaign to lead the United States with order and firmness, lift it out of the pandemic and restore trust in institutions and in the Government. It is a long way from achieving it and its valuation ratings, very positive until this summer, have sunk with the confluence of chaos in Kabul and the new wave of covid.