Soon after President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a Tweet on November 9, the President appointed Chris Miller as acting Defense Secretary and Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor as Miller’s senior advisor. Both are loyal to the President and are strong opponents of maintaining a U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
Macgregor has advocated for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, as well as the removal of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Changes in Defense Department leadership have left many in the U.S. and Afghanistan worried. After the President fired Esper, an additional three senior civilian officials either resigned or were fired. These changes have come as many top generals and security officials have repeatedly warned against a rushed or complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. A number of current and former security and civilian officials have repeatedly called a complete withdrawal “reckless” and dangerous. U.S. security officials have also repeatedly warned against leaving a security vacuum in Afghanistan, due to the existence of terrorist groups.
CNN has reported that the changes in the Defense Department were prompted by the fact that Esper disagreed with President Trump on a “premature” and complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. Esper and his aides advocated for two conditions to be met before the U.S. withdrew troops: one, the Taliban cutting its ties with Al-Qaeda and two, progress in the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. At this point, both conditions have yet to be met. A United Nations’ official warned that the Taliban continues to enjoy strong support from Al-Qaeda. The Taliban has also been vocal about not recognizing the Afghan government or making progress in the ongoing peace talks taking place in Doha, Qatar.
Despite the lack of progress in peace talks, as well as the deteriorating security situation on the ground, the Trump Administration continues to push for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan—which has worried many Afghans and allies around the globe. The French Foreign Minister said recently that in an upcoming meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he plans to make it clear that France opposes withdraw from Afghanistan or Iraq due to the continued presence of terrorist groups and threats to global security. NATO’s Secretary General made a similar statement.
Afghans hope that President Trump’s departure will bring change—including more clarity and accountability from the incoming Biden Administration. Afghan Negotiator and former Member of Parliament Fawzia Kofi hopes the new Biden administration will consider the reality on the ground and will have provide more clarity, so that the Afghan government will be better prepared for any reductions in U.S. troops. President-Elect Biden and his team have yet to announce their strategy for Afghanistan—but there’s hope that his policies will not create a security vacuum in Afghanistan or the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has increased their attacks on the Afghan people and have used the increased violence as leverage in the peace talks. They have warned that if the new Biden administration does not abide by the Doha agreement—signed by the U.S. and the Taliban in February of this year—they will further intensify their violence. In the last two months, since so-called peace negotiations began on September 12, the Taliban has increasingly targeted women leaders, members of civil society, students in educational centers and a university. The Taliban also recently assassinated two well-known journalists.
There has been no progress reported from the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Taliban has argued that their negotiations should be based on the Doha agreement, which was signed by the Taliban and the U.S. However, the Afghan government was not a part of the Doha agreement, is not a signatory to the agreement and refuses to accept the Doha agreement as the base for negotiations. The Afghan government has instead asked the Taliban to respect the will of the Afghan people, as well as several bilateral agreements between the Afghan government and its international allies, including the U.S.