Some military commanders and administration officials have argued that any set date for withdrawing the approximately 3,500 American troops who remain, whether it is May 1 or at the end of the year, will doom the mission. The only way to preserve hard-fought gains in Afghanistan, they said, is to keep the small American presence there long enough to force a lasting deal between the Taliban and Afghan government.
These officials have used the intelligence assessment to make the point that a withdrawal this year will lead to a fall of the current government, a sharp erosion of women’s rights and the return of international terrorist groups. A rush to the exit, some officials said, will only drag the United States back into Afghanistan soon after leaving — much as was the case in Iraq in 2014, three years after the Obama administration pulled troops out of that conflict.
The White House has held a series of meetings on Afghanistan, and more are to come. On Thursday, the president said he was waiting for briefings from Mr. Austin, who met recently with Afghan officials, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who conferred this week with NATO allies, for their bottom-line advice on what he should do.
For many Biden administration officials, the issue that has resonated the most clearly is the threat that a Taliban takeover could pose to Afghan women. While some former intelligence officials predict the Taliban will initially take care not to roll back women’s rights altogether — at least in major cities — if they take over the entire country, it will be difficult to guarantee protections for women, such as education for girls and access to health care.
“Any agreement must preserve their gains if Afghanistan wants to ensure the international community’s continued political and financial support,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council this week. “We will not give an inch on this point.”