Why has the US left Afghanistan? Withdrawal of American troops explained - did they leave military equipment?

The US withdrawal has seen the Taliban regain power once again - but has America’s equipment fallen into the wrong hands?

A former vice chief of staff of the United States army has described the country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan as “one of the most serious foreign security blunders the US has made in the past 30 or 40 years”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show, General Jack Keane said: “The reality is that al-Qaeda is in 15 provinces in Afghanistan. Isis-K has aspirations outside of Afghanistan.

“The US abandoning the mission even though there are threats to American citizens is one the most serious foreign security blunders US has made in the past 30 or 40 years.”

So why did it pull out of the country?

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why did the US withdraw from Afghanistan?

The plan had always been to defeat the hostile insurgents in Afghanistan, denying terrorist organisations like al-Qeada the breeding ground they so desired.

After that time would be spent training and reorganising the national army so that it could defend the country from the threat of militant groups in the absence of US forces, and establishing a democratic government.

A coalition of over 40 countries formed a security mission in the country called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and became involved in military combat allied with Afghanistan's government against the Taliban.

Following the execution of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, NATO and the United States began preparations for the winding down of their military presences in the country.

NATO formally ended ISAF operations in Afghanistan in 2014, and officially transferred full security responsibility to the Afghan government. The NATO-led Operation Resolute Support was formed the same day as a successor to ISAF

The ISAF was replaced with a Resolute Support Mission (RSM), a non combat mission aimed at advising and training Afghan security forces to provide long-term security to the country.

Intended to play a temporary and transitory role, the mission gradually withdrew its forces following the Doha Agreement of 2020.

What was the Doha Agreement?

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar sign a peace agreement during a ceremony in the Qatari capital Doha (Photo: KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The Doha Agreement, also known as the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan, was a peace agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban in February 2020, to bring the Afghanistan War to an end.

The four-page document essentially facilitated the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in exchange for a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control.

The Afghan government was not a party to the deal and rejected its terms.

As part of the accord, the Trump administration agreed to reduce the amount of its troops present in Afghanistan by over a third within 135 days.

This time scale gave the US a July 2020 deadline, and America also pledged to closing five of its military bases if the Taliban kept its commitments.

Troop withdrawal began formally on 10 March 2020.

Following the 135 day time frame, the agreement also saw America commit to a full withdrawal of its forces within 14 months - i.e. by 1 May 2021.

However, the agreement met its first bump in the road when the US House Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly voted in favour of an amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act.

The amendment restricted President Trump's ability to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan below the previously agreed figure, as high levels of violence still persisted in the country.

This effectively slowed withdrawal efforts, and at the time of Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021, there were 2,500 US soldiers still in Afghanistan.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the administration would review the withdrawal agreement, and in April, the Biden administration said it would withdraw the remaining soldiers by 11 September.

What happened next?

In May 2021, the Taliban and militant groups allied to it began a widespread offensive, coinciding with the withdrawal of most US troops from Afghanistan.

Just a couple of months later, US intelligence concluded that the government of Afghanistan could collapse between six to 12 months after the departure of American troops.

The Afghan National Army was rapidly defeated, and the Taliban were able to quickly take back control of Afghanistan.

General Jack Keane - a former vice chief of staff of the United States army - has said he believes the deadline to leave should have been pushed back in order to evacuate more people, and that a “modest force” presence could have been retained.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show, he said: “I understand nobody expected the regime in Afghanistan to collapse this quickly but why wouldn’t we change the date we get out? I can’t identify with what we have just done. I’m ashamed of it. It’s a fundamental betrayal.

“We had connections to the Afghan people and security forces,” he added. “Those eyes and ears are gone. You cannot track that kind of terrorism with satellite imagery.”

Did the US leave behind any equipment?

A Taliban Badri special force fighter gestures inside an Afghan Air Force aircraft at the airport in Kabul (Photo: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Since the fall of Kabul on 15 August, the Taliban's fighters have been pictured showing off a host of US-made weaponry and vehicles.

A video recently posted on social media showed Taliban fighters looking on as an iconic Black Hawk helicopter was piloted across Kandahar airport.

Weapons and equipment were seized by the Taliban as Afghan defence and security forces surrendered cities.

The Afghan Air Force was operating 167 aircraft at the end of June, and though it's unclear how many of those the Taliban have actually captured, satellite images of Kandahar airport have revealed a number of Afghan military aircraft parked on the tarmac.

During its time in Afghanistan, the US provided hundreds of thousands of rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and all-terrain vehicles to defence and security forces.

Any number of these could now be in the hands of the Taliban, though experts agree that while the group now has access to more advanced weaponry and equipment, using it efficiently and maintaining it will be more of a challenge.

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