President Joe Biden’s announcement that he will begin removing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of the month and complete the withdrawal by Sept. 11 will finally bring to a close direct American military involvement there.

But as the administration has said, it will not end the government’s role in trying to broker a lasting peace and regional stability.

The situation remains dicey. The Trump administration signed an agreement last year to remove the last of U.S. troops by May 1 (which also would precipitate withdrawals by NATO allies), but that date was thrown into doubt after security officials warned that a precipitous departure could add to the instability and increase the chances of the country descending back into civil war.

It’s unclear whether that risk diminishes if the U.S. waits until the end of summer to be gone, or what the Taliban might do in the interim. But the timing of our departure has been problematic ever since President George W. Bush launched the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks two decades ago. His and successive administrations have long struggled to craft an exit plan from a deployment that once peaked at about 100,000 troops.

What is clear is that it is in the best interests of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban and the U.S. to reach a lasting peace accord before the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops.

The original allied goal was to destroy the al-Qaida training bases and oust from power the Taliban regime of Islamist hard-liners who sheltered the terrorist network. Those goals were met, but we’ve had far less success standing up a sustainable, self-sufficient Afghan government. And we’ve been unable to broker a successful conclusion to the molasses-like negotiations between the Afghan government and a resurgent Taliban.

Continuing to risk American lives in Afghanistan has limited appeal to the American public. That doesn’t mean the Biden administration should slip the estimated 3,500 remaining U.S. troops out while Americans are distracted, but that the lack of clear options suggests the president would encounter little significant political opposition from a nation tired of war.

So the president is right to make this move, but he also must make certain that the U.S. and its allies continue to exert whatever diplomatic influence they can to keep the sporadic attacks by each side from escalating into open civil war, and to ensure the region doesn’t become a fresh nest for terrorists.

— Tribune News Service

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