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Opinion | Why Biden Is Right to Leave Afghanistan

Mr. Biden has made clear he is reserving the option to go back into Afghanistan if he determines it is in America’s interest. The Pentagon, which refers to the withdrawal as a “strategic retrograde,” said it intends to continue “over the horizon” operations in Afghanistan as the conventional withdrawal moves forward. In plain terms, this can mean anything from drone strikes and targeted counterterrorism missions to logistical support of Afghan military forces. In recent weeks, senior U.S. military commanders spoke of plans to keep Special Operations strike forces in the region to conduct find-fix-and-finish operations in Afghanistan against the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Taliban if they create problems and threaten U.S. interests and to redeploy if ordered.

Opinion Debate
What should the Biden administration prioritize?

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In the early 1980s, Mr. Biden supported opening the spigot for American aid to Pakistan to combat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was this conflict that helped incubate the rise of the Taliban and, to an extent, Al Qaeda. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Biden was a passionate supporter of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. “Was ever a war more justified than us going into Afghanistan?” he said in 2006. “I can’t think of any war since World War II more justified.”

But as vice president in 2009, Mr. Biden argued against a large-scale surge in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He wanted the United States to move away from a nation-building enterprise and to use C.I.A., Special Operations forces and drones to conduct targeted operations.

He argued that such actions were more in line with the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force than an occupation. That measure, which was passed by Congress days after the 9/11 attacks, was intended to support the targeting of the perpetrators of the attacks. It has since been stretched by successive administrations to justify military actions outside declared war zones.

In the end, Mr. Obama did both: He surged conventional military forces in Afghanistan and expanded the use of Special Operations teams, C.I.A. activities and drone strikes. And large numbers of Afghan civilians were killed in U.S. operations during his two terms in office.

The current Afghanistan plan, as Mr. Biden has publicly described it, is similar to what he advocated in 2009, albeit with U.S. strike forces being positioned elsewhere in the region rather than inside Afghanistan. In addition to the considerable maritime options of the United States, the Pentagon is reportedly looking at bases in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to host U.S. forces.

In a way, Mr. Biden’s plan is an indictment of the Afghanistan policies of the Obama White House and raises a bigger question: What was the point of continuing the occupation all these years?

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