Written by: Jenna Ben-Yehuda, President & CEO, Truman National Security Project | Truman Center for National Policy
When I first heard President Biden’s announcement that there would be a full U.S.-troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, my initial feeling was relief -- relief that all of the lives destroyed, families separated and financial burdens incurred after 20 years, would, in time, come to an end. That our brave servicemembers would find a way home, for good, and that the Afghan people would be provided with the humanitarian and financial support needed to live a life of relative, albeit fragile, peace, buttressed by US diplomatic and development efforts. Like many, I imagined a withdrawal that would be conducted in an orderly, time-sensitive, and strategic fashion as President Biden had assured the American people would be the case. The planned withdrawal would offer ample time for the evacuation of our partners and allies. As a result, at the time of the announcement, I applauded the president’s decision. I believed it was, as most national security decision making options often are, the best of a small set of undesirable choices.
But what we are witnessing is not a withdrawal. It’s an abandonment. One that, from the outset, has been hurried and failed to center the safety of our partners and allies - interpreters, journalists, human rights defenders, women waging peace. As a result, we’ll bear witness in the coming days to a population left to fend for itself, as the Taliban spreads its ruthless grip across all corners of the country and, now, in Kabul.
This moment is as sobering as it is heart wrenching. I am devastated for the women and girls of Afghanistan, whose basic freedoms are now all but lost. I am devastated for our allies and any other country who may lose trust in working with the U.S. again, because we broke a sacred promise. I am devastated for what this means for every Afghan civilian and every American who risked their lives for our freedom. And I fear for the thousands of Afghan interpreters, development partners, journalists, and human rights defenders whose fate appears nearly sealed. In the end, this administration fell victim to the same delusions and unwarranted optimism in Afghanistan as its predecessors.
The withdrawal should have been different. Planning should have been more extensive, more widely coordinated, and human security prioritized. We can’t change that now, but there’s still time to do what’s right. This administration must pivot hard to focus its efforts on bringing our partners and allies to safety where possible, by ensuring commercial and charter flights out of Afghanistan so that as many can evacuate as possible for as long as it takes. To do so, the Biden administration must urgently and clearly convey to the Taliban that any attacks on US or allied embassies or personnel in Kabul will bring a swift response. There will be a mounting refugee and humanitarian crisis and the US must meet it with vigor. These steps might help to stem even more dramatic failures and safeguard the lives of those we vowed to protect.
Jenna Ben-Yehuda is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Truman National Security Project and the Truman Center for National Policy. She is also the founder of the Women’s Foreign Policy Network, a global membership organization of five thousand national security professionals in one hundred countries. A former State Department official with private sector experience, Ben-Yehuda is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on U.S. national security and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She also serves on the advisory boards of National Security Action and the Leadership Council for Women in National Security. Ben-Yehuda is a frequent media contributor on women’s leadership and U.S. national security. She holds bachelor’s degrees in international affairs and Spanish from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, where she served as an adjunct professor, and master’s degrees from National Defense University and National Intelligence University.