June 14, 2021
I had the opportunity this month to visit and thank U.S. troops stationed around the world. Some of our troops are too young to remember 9/11, but that day is etched in my memory and the heart of our nation.
The threat we saw that day is why we went to Afghanistan in 2001. The conditions on the ground had created an incubator for terrorists with international ambitions. Our troops went to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies.
Unfortunately, President Biden chose to ignore the conditions on the ground and withdraw all U.S. troops by Sept. 11 of this year—a purely political decision. The Biden administration pretends there are only two options: unconditional U.S. withdrawal, or a “forever war.” Nobody wants to see U.S. troops in Afghanistan forever. But there is a third option: maintaining a relatively small troop presence until the conditions outlined in the 2020 U.S.-Taliban Agreement are fully implemented.
As we saw after President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, terrorists will exploit a security vacuum. Two and a half years after U.S. troops left Iraq, ISIS captured Mosul. It took five years, tens of thousands of troops and more than 30,000 airstrikes to destroy the physical caliphate.
An expert report to the United Nations Security Council forecasts a similar outcome in Afghanistan now and observes that al Qaeda and other militants are celebrating President Biden’s decision as a “victory . . . for global radicalism.”
Mr. Biden could leave a small force of about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan until at least the spring of 2022. Maintaining a small, tailored troop presence for an additional six months would accomplish critical objectives. It would maintain a quick counterterrorism force as the political and security environment evolves; enable more-effective intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; help protect the U.S. Embassy during what the intelligence community predicts will be a chaotic transition; and allow more time to process visas for Afghans who assisted U.S. troops and now fear for their lives.
This small contingent, for a limited time frame, would preserve air- transport capability in case Kabul International Airport is overrun. The U.S. would be able to conduct a realistic assessment of how the security situation is evolving. It will help us understand whether the Taliban intends to meet its commitments. Having military capability in Afghanistan would also be a deterrent, making our Chinese and Iranian competitors think twice. And it would reassure our regional partners, which might be tempted to form closer relationships with our peer competitors.
Preventing terrorist attacks from coming to American shores is why we have troops in Syria, Iraq and Somalia. Maintaining peace and preventing aggression is why we’ve had troops in Kosovo for more than two decades, on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt for almost five decades and in South Korea for more than seven decades. It is also why our troops are standing sentry in Europe and the Indo-Pacific today.
Two years ago, a bipartisan majority of the Senate warned President Trump against removing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan without establishing the proper conditions on the ground. Mr. Trump listened. Mr. Biden didn’t. Reconsidering pivotal decisions is a sign of wisdom, not weakness, and I urge Mr. Biden to reconsider his choice on Afghanistan.
Mr. Inhofe, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Oklahoma.
This commentary originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.