EXPLAINER – When is the US war on Afghanistan truly over?

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The question is: When will the war end?

The answer for Afghans is simple but not optimistic: No time soon. A weakened Taliban insurgency has made battlefield gains and potential peace talks have been stalled. Many fear that Afghanistan could plunge deeper into civil war once the foreign forces leave. Although it is in decline, there is still an Afghan affiliate to the Islamic State extremist network.

The endgame for the United States and its allies is uncertain. The endgame for the United States and its coalition partners is murky. All combat troops and 20 years worth of war materiel will be extinct soon, but Gen. Frank McKenzie will still have the authority to protect Afghan forces from the Taliban until September. According to defense officials, he can order strikes with U.S. warplanes not based in Afghanistan.

Officials from the United States announced Friday that the U.S. military had left Bagram Airfield, almost 20 years after it was founded. Although the facility was at the heart of the conflict, its transfer to Afghanistan did not signal the end of the U.S. military’s presence in the country. Two officials claim that the airport was transferred in all its entirety. They spoke under the condition that they not be identified as they weren’t authorized to reveal the handover to media.

An overview of the end to the war

WHAT’S LEFT OF COMBAT MISSION?

The U.S. has not been involved in any ground combat in Afghanistan since 2014. However, counterterrorism troops have been following and hitting extremists ever since 2014, even with Afghanistan-based aircraft. These strike aircraft have been destroyed and all logistical support to Afghan forces will now be provided from outside.

U.S. troops won’t be able to provide advice or training for Afghan forces in Afghanistan. A U.S. security force of 650 troops will be stationed at the U.S. Embassy compound. They will provide protection for American diplomats as well as help to secure Kabul’s international airport. Turkey will continue its airport security mission, although McKenzie may authorize 300 additional troops to support that mission until September.

The U.S. military could be requested to help with large-scale evacuations of Afghans in need of Special Immigrant Visas. However, the State Department may not require military airlifts. The White House is concerned about Afghans who have helped the U.S. in war efforts and are therefore vulnerable to Taliban retribution.

In April, when he made the decision to end the U.S. War in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden gave the Pentagon until September 11th to complete the withdrawal. Scott Miller, the Army general in Kabul, has completed it almost entirely. There are very few troops left and most of the military equipment is gone.

Miller was still in the country on Friday, but is expected to leave in the coming days. Will Miller’s departure mean the end of the U.S. War? The answer is likely no, with as many as 950 U.S. soldiers in the country up to September and the possibility of continued airstrikes.

HOW DO WARS END?

Some wars end with a flourish, unlike Afghanistan. World War I ended with the signing of an armistice with Germany on November 11, 1918, a day that is now a federal holiday in America.

World War II was marked by two celebrations in 1945. Germany’s surrender was celebrated as Victory in Europe (V-E Day), and Japan’s surrender was celebrated as Victory Over Japan (V-J Day), a few months later after the U.S. nuclear bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The fighting was ended in Korea by an armistice that was signed in July 1953. However, technically, the war was not suspended as no peace treaty was ever signed.

Others endings were less clear-cut. In 1973, the U.S. pulled out troops from Vietnam. This was in what many considered a failed war which ended with Saigon’s fall two years later. A ceremony was held to mark the end of American troops’ presence in Iraq when they drove out of it in 2011. Three years later, American troops returned to rebuild the Iraqi forces that were destroyed by Islamic State militants.

VICTORY or DEFEAT

As America’s war on Afghanistan comes to an end, there will not be surrender or peace treaty, no final victory, and no decisive loss. Biden states that it was sufficient that U.S. forces killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida, and dismantled the terrorist group responsible for the September 11th attacks.

Recently, violence has increased in Afghanistan. Taliban attacks on Afghan civilians and forces have increased and they now control more than 100 districts centers. According to Pentagon officials, there is a “medium” chance that the Afghan government will collapse and its security forces will be destroyed within the next two-years.

The U.S. leaders insist that a negotiated solution is the only way to achieve peace in Afghanistan. In February 2020, the Trump administration reached a deal to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by May 2021. This was in return for promises from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks.

Officials from the United States claim that the Taliban are not adhering fully to the terms of the agreement, even though the U.S. continues to withdraw.

NATO MISSION

NATO Resolute Support was established to assist, train, and advise the Afghan security forces. It began in 2015 after the U.S.-led conflict mission was ended. The Afghans took full responsibility for their security but they still depended on billions of dollars in U.S. aid every year.

There were over 130,000 troops from NATO and 50 partner countries in Afghanistan at the height of the war. This number has fallen to approximately 10,000 troops from 36 countries for the Resolute Support mission. As of this week, most of them had withdrawn their troops.

Some people may think that the war will end when NATO’s mission has been completed. However, this may not be the case for several months.

Officials claim that Turkey is currently negotiating a bilateral agreement with Afghan leaders to allow them to stay at the airport and provide security. The Resolute Support mission is responsible for the legal authority to allow Turkish troops to remain in Afghanistan until that agreement is reached.

COUNTERTERROR MISSION

The U.S. troop withdraw does not mean that the war against terrorism is over. The U.S. has stated that it still holds the authority to strike against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan, if necessary.

The U.S. has pulled out its surveillance and fighter aircraft from Afghanistan. It must now rely upon manned and unmanned flights from ships at Sea and Air Bases in the Gulf, such as Al-Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates. The Pentagon is currently looking at alternative bases for surveillance aircraft and other assets that could be based in Afghanistan. No agreements have been reached.