It says something about how long the United States has continued its military presence in Afghanistan that, today, there are servicemen there whose parents served in the same war. Troops were first deployed in 2001 by then President George W. Bush to deal with Al-Qaeda groups sheltering there following the Sept 11 terror attacks on the US mainland that year. Two decades of US boots on the ground have seen 2,488 servicemen lose their lives and almost nine times as many wounded. With US Special Forces having eliminated Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, and the group itself substantially denigrated in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is time for the US to move on and move out.
Difficult as the decision would have been for President Joe Biden and given the many misgivings that persist in the Pentagon and the US intelligence community about the wisdom of an unconditional pullout, this must be seen in context. Military interventions are not only costly – upwards of US$1 trillion (S$1.33 trillion) and mounting in Afghanistan – they cannot also be an endless voyage, especially if the end point is increasingly fuzzy. Besides, rather than announcing a breakout policy, Mr Biden has broadly stuck to the commitment made by the predecessor Trump administration that all US forces would be out by May – except that this is now the date for the withdrawal to commence, and it is unconditional.