from Candidates Answer CFR's Questions

The Presidential Candidates on the War in Afghanistan

July 30, 2019

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

CFR invited the presidential candidates challenging President Trump in the 2020 election to articulate their positions on twelve critical foreign policy issues. Candidates’ answers are posted exactly as they are received. View all questions here.

Question:

Would you commit to the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of your first term, or would you require certain conditions be met before doing so?

Joe Biden

Joe Biden Former Vice President of the United States

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I would bring American combat troops in Afghanistan home during my first term. Any residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would be focused only on counterterrorism operations. We need to be clear-eyed about our limited enduring security interests in the region: We cannot allow the remnants of Al Qa’ida in Afghanistan and Pakistan to reconstitute, and we must destroy the Islamic State presence in the region. Americans are rightly weary of our longest war; I am, too. But we must end the war responsibly, in a manner that ensures we both guard against threats to our Homeland and never have to go back.

I would initiate and resource a high-level diplomatic effort to end the war. The State Department has led such an effort over the past several months, but President Trump has systematically undercut his negotiators and under-invested in the process. The Afghan government and people must be empowered in any negotiations with the Taliban insurgency, and the rights of Afghan women and girls must be protected. It will also be important to engage diligently with Afghanistan’s near-neighbors, including Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and Russia – they are all important stakeholders in Afghanistan and must be encouraged to support a lasting peace settlement.

Read all of Joe Biden’s responses.

Cory Booker

Cory Booker Senator, New Jersey

We have been in Afghanistan for far too long, and I am determined to bring our troops home as quickly as possible. As soon as I become President, I will immediately begin a process to bring our troops home while ensuring that Afghanistan won’t again become a safe haven for launching attacks against the U.S. 

Read all of Cory Booker’s responses.

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Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock Governor of Montana

There are young men and women entering military service this year who weren’t even born on 9/11. We’ve been entangled in the region for too long, and it’s time to reassess our posture. I want our brave servicemembers to come home as soon as possible. The only way to end the Afghan war in a meaningful and lasting way that respects the sacrifices of our service members will be through diplomacy, and I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen by the end of my first term. We must also ensure that this solution would also uphold fundamental human rights, such as women’s rights, and the rights of minorities, and that they will be respected after we depart.

Read all of Steve Bullock’s responses.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg Mayor of South Bend, Indiana

I’ve seen first-hand the costs of our long conflict in Afghanistan. It’s time to end this endless war. The only question is do we do it well or poorly. 

Our objective has remained the same throughout this conflict: ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a base for terrorist attacks against the US or its allies.  A negotiated peace agreement in which we maintain a relevant special operations/intelligence presence but bring home our ground troops is the best way to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a base for terrorist attacks against the United States or its allies. Using our current presence to help lock in a peace agreement should be part of that strategy.  

Read all of Pete Buttigieg’s responses.

John Delaney

John Delaney Former Representative, Maryland

When Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in September 2001 after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the mission was clear in its purpose, to hold accountable those who attacked the United States, and those who harbored the terrorists. Eighteen years later, we are still in Afghanistan, but the mission has since been muddled. Congress needs to pass a new AUMF to update and clarify the mission of U.S. forces. While I support dramatically reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, I presently do not believe that a full withdrawal is in our best interests and therefore I envision keeping a small contingency of U.S. forces with a specific focus to train and support local security forces.

Read all of John Delaney’s responses.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris Senator, California

As I have said many times, this war in Afghanistan must come to an end. I was honored to visit with our brave troops and national security professionals there last year, and I’ll do everything in my power to achieve a political solution – if one hasn’t been reached already – that allows us to bring them home responsibly in my first term.
 
Nobody can predict what President Trump will do between now and 2021, so as soon as I take office, I will bring together our military leaders, national security advisers, and top diplomats to coordinate and implement that withdrawal plan. I fully recognize the importance of diplomacy and development to success in Afghanistan, and I want to ensure that the country is on a path to stability, that we protect the gains that have been made for Afghan women and others, and that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.

Read all of Kamala Harris's responses.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke Former Representative, Texas

Yes, I will commit to withdrawing all U.S. service members by the end of my first term. Seventeen years into America’s longest war, we are no closer to achieving our original objectives than we were in the beginning. Enemy-initiated attacks are on the rise, as are Afghan military and civilian casualties. Corruption and poppy production are stubbornly persistent. 

The status quo approach to Afghanistan—including our current deployment of 14,000 troops—is not serving America’s interests. It is time for a fundamental change. As President, I will be committed to a new approach to Afghanistan, one that responsibly ends our military operations there and shifts our priorities to bringing all parties to the table, putting the Afghan people in the driver’s seat to envision their own future. 

There is no question that withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan poses risks, and our plan—including the timing of when and how to bring Americans home—must be part of a broader risk management strategy. Working with our allies and partners, I will phase troop withdrawal to minimize known risks, while at the same time doing what we can to ensure a sustainable peace, including prioritizing participation by Afghan women in the peace process and reintegrating former fighters into the new Afghan society.

Read all of Beto O'Rourke responses.

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan Representative, Ohio

We must seek to bring American forces home from Afghanistan in the smartest way possible, with stated goals that are operationally feasible and diplomatically wise. Even with the bulk of American forces gone, we must work with our allies and ensure the United States maintains the ability to counteract any rebirth of terror elements within the country, through targeted military strikes when warranted. We must also remain engaged diplomatically with the Afghan government and our allies to push future governments in Afghanistan toward openness, equality, and the rule of law. By the end of my first term, the bulk of US combat troops would be sent home.

Read all of Tim Ryan’s responses.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Senator, Vermont

I would withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan as expeditiously as possible. Our military has now been in Afghanistan for nearly eighteen years. We will soon have troops in Afghanistan who were not even born on September 11, 2001. It’s time to end our intervention there and bring our troops home, in a planned and coordinated way combined with a serious diplomatic and political strategy which helps deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid. Withdrawing troops does not mean withdrawing all involvement, and my administration would stay politically engaged in these countries and do whatever we can to help them develop their economy and strengthen a government that is responsible to its people. 

Read all of Bernie Sanders’s responses.

Joe Sestak

Joe Sestak Former Representative, Pennsylvania

I would commit to the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of my first term but with a plan — and milestones to measure progress — to actually achieve the goal of stability and good governance that is so needed. We must recognize the corrupt and unskilled leadership that has prevented this from happening, and work around it — or else our efforts will continue to be wasted. The security forces need competence, not just greater numbers; the same goes for their police; and finally — most importantly — our developmental and other non-military aid must be restructured. There are programs that work (e.g., microloans for women) but far too many have served to bankroll corruption (even among our own contracted companies). The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reports are a good guide for correcting this.

We must continue taking the fight to the Taliban in order to compel a final peace settlement with them and with the Afghan government that brings not just stability, but a chance for real human rights standards -- particularly for Afghan women -- to take firm root. We started the war in Afghanistan to stop al-Qaeda because it had attacked us on September 11th. The tragic misadventure in Iraq took our focus and resources away from fixing Afghanistan — which I believe could have been achieved by the other non-military elements of our (and our collective allies) power:  namely economic development and diplomatic engagement. We must now double-down on such efforts, as endless war is unacceptable.

Read all of Joe Sestak’s responses.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren Senator, Massachusetts

We have been in Afghanistan for 18 years with increasingly diminishing returns to our own security -- we’ve “turned the corner” so many times it seems we’re now going in circles. Expecting a military victory when a political settlement is required is unfair to our military, and unfair to the Afghan people. It's long past time to bring our troops home, and I would begin to do so immediately. 

Ending U.S. military operations doesn't mean we are abandoning Afghanistan. Redirecting just a small fraction of what we currently spend on military operations toward economic development, education, and infrastructure projects would be a better, more sustainable investment in Afghanistan's future than our current state of endless war. We should enlist our international partners to encourage a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban that is sustainable and that protects U.S. interests. And we should redouble efforts to support the Afghan government and civil society as they work to promote the rule of law, combat corruption and the narcotics trade, and ensure the basic rights of all Afghans. 

Read all of Elizabeth Warren’s responses.

Bill Weld

Bill Weld Former Governor, Massachusetts

Yes, I would carry that out in my first year in office. Delay would beget more delay. The question “If not now, when?” is a legitimate one. We need to stop having our troops be sitting duck nation-builders. To that end, we need to draw down the last of our forces there, with an arrangement to support the people on the ground (e.g. interpreters) who have worked with us.

Read all of Bill Weld’s responses.

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson Author

Updated August 16, 2019: The US government is negotiating with the Taliban, discussing US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban’s agreement to renounce al-Qaeda and prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control. My concern has to do with the rights of women, towards whom the Taliban have been known for a history of brutality. When elected, I will talk with the appropriate voices for women in Afghanistan, and factor their protection and rights into all plans for withdrawal. The protection of women and women’s rights must be part of any agreement.

Original Response: The US war in Afghanistan has raged for almost 17 years at enormous expense of blood and treasure. About 15,000 troops are still deployed with no hope of a military victory and no clarity on what an end game looks like. I would confer with the women of Afghanistan to get their sense of what’s needed in their country. My aim would be a safe withdrawal of all US troops as soon as possible. We should consider some kind of UN or nonviolent people force that could assist in the transition.

Read all of Marianne Williamson’s responses.

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang Entrepreneur

America has been in a constant state of war for over 18 years. We have people who can vote in elections who have known nothing but war. We need to do everything in our power to end our current conflicts and prevent ourselves from getting embroiled in future open-ended conflicts with no clear benefit to the US. That’s why I’ve signed the pledge to End the Forever Wars. The US people are sick of paying trillions of dollars and seeing thousands die without feeling any safer.

We need to get our combat troops out of Afghanistan. By utilizing our diplomatic options, we can bring our troops home during my first term.

However, we have to continue our involvement in order to ensure that the rights of individuals - in particular, women and young girls - are protected, and that terrorist organizations can’t reform and organize within the borders. We can do this through helping the country to diversify its economy and maintaining diplomatic ties.

Read all of Andrew Yang’s responses.

Withdrawn

Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand Senator, New York Withdrawn

Yes. In 2011, after I traveled to Afghanistan, I was among the first Democrats to call for bringing our combat troops home from Afghanistan. We have been in Afghanistan for over 18 years - longer than some of today’s U.S. military recruits have been alive. We have accomplished the mission we set out to achieve. We do not need to remain in Afghanistan to counter terrorism. Terror groups metastasize - they recruit and plan via borderless computer networks and can strike us and our allies regardless of physical control of a large territory. Meeting this threat means changing our mission in Afghanistan to intelligence gathering and quick reaction forces. We have the best intelligence professionals and special forces, and we have military assets deployed around the world. There is no geography that we cannot reach on short notice...we don’t advance our goals by stationing tens of thousands of US troops and heavy equipment in countries that don’t want us there and in locations that are costly to supply.

Read all of Kirsten Gillibrand’s responses.

Seth Moulton

Seth Moulton Representative, Massachusetts Withdrawn

The goal is to bring our troops home from Afghanistan--the longest war in American history--but when we do, to bring them home for good. That means keeping enough troops there long enough to execute on a narrowly-defined, achievable counterterrorism mission that fits into a broader overall global CT strategy. We should do this by maintaining our counterterrorism capabilities, increasing our civilian support for the Afghan government through diplomacy and development, and staying engaged in the ongoing train and equip mission for the Afghan military as required. We also need to send a new counterterrorism AUMF to Congress with a clearly-defined strategy, because we shouldn’t be operating under an authorization written before some of the troops fighting in Afghanistan today were born.

Read all of Seth Moulton’s responses.

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