Withdrawal from Afghanistan was necessary to prep US military for future challenges, says Sullivan

Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, asserts that concluding the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite its undeniable hardships, was necessary to ready American troops for looming challenges, such as Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine.

In an op-ed featured in Foreign Affairs, Sullivan highlights President Joe Biden’s unwavering commitment to adapt to this transition.

Sullivan emphasizes that, for the first time in two decades, Biden effectively liberated the US from the burden of sustaining military forces in active hostilities.

“This transition was unquestionably painful—especially for the people of Afghanistan and for the U.S. troops and other personnel who served there,” he acknowledged. “But it was necessary for preparing the U.S. military for the challenges ahead.”

Sullivan cites Russia’s “invasion of Ukraine” on February 24, 2022, as an illustrative example of these challenges. He argues that had the US still been engaged in the Afghan conflict, it is “highly likely that Russia would be doing everything it could right now to help the Taliban,” aiming to tie down the US in Afghanistan, thus diverting its focus away from aiding Ukraine.

In August 2021, the US concluded its 20-year military presence in Afghanistan, having expended billions of dollars under the guise of counterterrorism. Major General Chris Donahue became the last American soldier in US history to depart Afghanistan on August 31, 2021.

Nasratullah Stanikzai, a university instructor, suggests that the US prioritized addressing tensions in Ukraine over continuing involvement in the Afghan conflict.

“The Americans didn’t want to be engaged in two battlefields. The Ukraine war was important for them. They wanted to keep Russia busy in its neighborhood and prevent it from being a threat to the US and its allies,” he remarked.

President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan encountered sharp criticism from US Congress members as the former Western-backed government fell, and the Taliban reclaimed power on August 15, 2021.

Grave concerns have arisen among regional countries and UN Security Council member states about the presence of terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and Daesh, under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Sullivan indicates that the US has shifted its priorities away from major military interventions but remains prepared to “address the enduring threat of international terrorism” in Afghanistan.

“We have acted over the horizon in Afghanistan—most notably with the operation that killed the head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri,” he wrote.

Ghulam Farooq Alim, a university lecturer, contends that Afghanistan has become a “victim” of the US’s regional and international political maneuvering.

“The changes occurred at a global level, and the intense rivalries the US had with China, Iran, and Russia necessitated the US to address them,” he added.

Alim further observes that the influence of US rivals in Afghanistan and the region posed challenges for Washington.

Following rounds of negotiations between the US and the Taliban, a peace deal was reached on February 29, 2020, outlining the withdrawal of American troops and the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners held by the then-government.

After winning the presidential election, Biden announced an unconditional withdrawal of American service members from Afghanistan.