President Joe Biden announced that the United States troops will leave Afghanistan on 11 September 2021. However, this withdrawal feels nominal. We need to examine the multiple political factors at hand which suggest that it is highly unlikely that the United States will completely leave Afghanistan.

America’s loose ends

Firstly, Biden did not fulfil his promise to leave Afghanistan by 2014 under the Obama administration. Secondly, Biden is already violating the Peace Deal between the United States and the Taliban by not leaving Afghanistan on 1 May 2021, as stipulated in the deal. The violation of the deal calls into question whether all the parties named in it, including the United States’ allies, coalition partners and private security contractors, will leave Afghanistan — and not just conventional troops.

In addition, the Department of Defence made contracts worth nearly a billion dollars with 17 different companies that would work in Afghanistan past the withdrawal date. Some of these contracts terminate as late as 2026. Although the amount of troops has been reduced from approximately 13,000 to 2,500, the 18,000 contractors currently in Afghanistan far outweigh them. Having these companies in the region will arguably prolong American occupation and the military-industrial complex. Interestingly, Biden has requested to inflate the military budget to $753 billion dollars. The appointment of Lloyd Austin, a former board member of the weapons manufacturer Raytheon as Sectary of Defence also raises questions. Surely, this poses a conflict of interest if the goal is to pull out of Afghanistan?

Afghanistan’s strategic use

Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in 2001. This legislation uses the War on Terror rhetoric to justify invading and bombing other counties, including Afghanistan, which is in violation of international law. The act doesn’t mention specific countries. Instead, it stipulates that the president is authorized to use force against those who ‘planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons’. The absence of precise language means that this legislation has been used as a blanket justification for invading 19 countries in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘exporting democracy’. Biden hasn’t mentioned if the AUMF will be abolished.

There is another line of argumentation to support being sceptical about the withdrawal. Destabilising Afghanistan benefits the United States because it destabilises the surrounding countries — Iran, China and Russia. It is a well-known military tactic that if a country cannot get inside the borders of another it will destabilise the surrounding regions and threaten domestic security through sanctions, proxy wars and border destabilisation. Withdrawing from Afghanistan appears to be counterproductive for the United States given that the country has listed countering Russia and China as its top priority. The United States knows that Afghanistan is called the ‘Graveyard of Empires’ for a reason. The country is notoriously difficult to control and has a history of empires and nations such as Britain and Russia failing to do so. However, the purpose of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan is not about winning the war as such. Rather, it’s about having bases and troops in proximity to Iran, China and Russia in one of the most strategic places in the world. From this perspective, it is highly doubtful that the United States will want to completely give that up.

Declining power status

In addition, with 140 countries joining China’s ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative — regions in the Global South which the United States has interests in — the United States’ title as an economic world superpower is under threat. The initiative involves trading with countries around the world and beginning infrastructure projects, such as shipping lanes, railroads, and airports. Strong ties with other countries means that China can increase its global reach. China already has the second-largest economy in the world and is growing at a fast pace. America is surely keeping a close eye on the red giant.

The United States is the largest contributor to the IMF with the largest share of voting power. It wields significant influence in vetoing decisions and determining conditions for countries seeking financial aid.

Once upon a time, the Global South had no choice but to turn to the United States in the absence of an alternative. China’s ascent offers the world an effective multipolar order. Many countries will now be able to choose their business partners and allies. This is particularly appealing to the Global South countries. Having suffered decades of colonialism and subsequent years of instability — largely owing to the IMF’s and World Bank’s restrictions on their budgets, politics and economic policies in exchange for financial aid — the choice of partners will be important.

The fact that China has avoided economic crashes of the kind seen in the United States, as well as its relative non-interference in other countries’ political life in exchange for economic growth, makes it an appealing partner.

If the United States were to let Afghanistan go and allow China to assist countries in the Global South, that would not only threaten its world dominance; it would also undermine its 800 military bases around the world — effectively its empire.

Given the US’ ballooning military-industrial complex, its violation of the Peace Deal and its contracts with private companies that extend beyond 2021, it’s clear that America has ongoing interests in Afghanistan and a history of promising to leave but never doing so. All that is enough to leave one feeling sceptical about the United States’ withdrawal.

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