WASHINGTON – A new report requested by Congress calls for the Biden administration to extend the May deadline for the U.S. military troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan Study Group, a bipartisan congressionally mandated panel under the United States Institute of Peace, recommended keeping U.S. troops in the war-torn country "in order to give the peace process sufficient time to produce an acceptable result."
The United States is currently slated to withdraw American service members from the war-torn country by May 2021.
The group wrote, in a report released Wednesday, that the United States has a significant interest in safeguarding Afghanistan from "becoming again a safe haven for terrorists."
"We believe that a U.S. withdrawal will provide the terrorists an opportunity to reconstitute and our judgment is that reconstitution will take place within about 18 to 36 months," former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford told a virtual United States Institute of Peace audience. Dunford, a retired four-star Marine general, co-chairs the study group.
"We also conclude and there will be no surprise to those who follow Afghanistan, that the Afghan forces are highly dependent on U.S. funding in operational support and they'll continue to be for some time to come," Dunford said.
He also said that the group believes that the probability of civil war in Afghanistan will be "high in the wake of a precipitous withdrawal by the United States."
Last February the United States brokered a deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduce the U.S. military's footprint from approximately 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July last year. By May 2021, all foreign forces would leave the war-weary country, according to the deal.
Last week, the Pentagon said that the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan would be contingent on the Taliban's commitments to uphold the peace agreement reached last year.
There are approximately 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
NATO joined the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003 and currently has more than 7,000 troops in the country. The security operation by NATO in Afghanistan was launched after the alliance activated its mutual defense clause — known as Article 5 — for the first time in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report. The war in Afghanistan, which has dragged on to become America's longest conflict, began 19 years ago and has cost U.S. taxpayers $193 billion, according to the Pentagon.