Biden’s Afghanistan Dilemma

Is America’s longest war finally coming to an end?

That’s the question President Biden is confronting before a May 1 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, where they have been deployed since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. I spoke to my colleagues Helene Cooper and T.M. Gibbons-Neff about Biden’s three basic options, and the potential risks.

1. Withdraw now. Biden’s history suggests he might personally favor a quick drawdown, Helene, who covers the Pentagon, says. As vice president, Biden argued for a smaller U.S. presence in Afghanistan than Barack Obama’s military advisers wanted. (He lost that argument.)

Now that Biden is in a position to decide, his outlook seems to have shifted. He has said that bringing the roughly 3,500 U.S. soldiers home by May — a deadline Biden inherited from Donald Trump — would be logistically difficult. “Think about how you move into an apartment and you live there for a year, how much it takes to move out,” T.M., who is based in the Afghan capital, Kabul, says. “Imagine going to war for two decades.”

A hasty departure could also have consequences for Afghanistan. The Trump administration agreed to withdraw as part of a deal it struck last year with the Taliban, the repressive militant group that ruled much of the country before the U.S. invaded. The Taliban are already supporting targeted killings against Afghan civilians and soldiers. If American forces leave, some Afghans and U.S. officials fear the Taliban will attempt a military takeover.

Biden’s doubts about the May deadline may also reflect domestic political concerns. While the conflict continues to shape life in Afghanistan, it has faded from many Americans’ view. That could change, T.M. says, “if Kabul is falling to the Taliban on nightly news.”

2. Delay. The U.S. could extend its withdrawal by a few months while continuing to support peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s democratic government. Biden appears to be leaning toward this option. “We will leave. The question is when,” he said last week.

This option could avert the chaos of a quick drawdown. But it may only delay further violence if the Taliban and the Afghan government fail to reach a power-sharing agreement.

The Taliban wants the U.S. out, and it reduced its attacks on U.S. troops after striking a deal with the Trump administration. “Expect attacks on American troops to return in full force if we stay beyond May 1,” Helene says.

3. Stay. Biden may conclude that some U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan to support the Afghan military, which remains weak, and to help protect the imperfect but real gains in women’s education and democracy the country has made since 2001.

Similar justifications helped keep Biden’s two immediate predecessors embroiled in Afghanistan, and they could prolong U.S. involvement into a third decade. The war has cost about $2 trillion and thousands of Afghan, American and allied lives.

“Leaving will likely mean a complete reversal of any gains made there in the last 20 years,” Helene says. “But troop presence in perpetuity is not something that political leaders are keen to sell to the public.”

For more: Negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government are set to continue this month in Turkey. Whether or not they make a deal, the Taliban think they have the upper hand.

THE LATEST NEWS

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Biden unveiled the details of his $2 trillion plan to repair and upgrade the country’s infrastructure, calling it “a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”

From rebuilding 20,000 miles of roads to eliminating lead water pipes, here’s how the spending would break down.

To fund the plan, Biden has proposed undoing part of the Trump administration’s tax cuts, which shrank the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. Biden wants to raise it to 28 percent.

Biden’s proposal is a bet that supporting renewable energy and electric cars will aid unions and create jobs.

House Democrats hope to pass the plan by July 4.

The Virus

Pfizer said a clinical trial had showed that its Covid vaccine was extremely effective in 12- to 15-year-olds, with no symptomatic infections among children who received it.

A mix-up at a Baltimore factory manufacturing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine ruined 15 million doses, delaying future shipments.

France will enter its third national lockdown.

Other Big Stories

Jurors in the trial of Derek Chauvin heard emotional testimony from a teenage store clerk who described the moments before George Floyd’s death, and watched police body-camera footage of the arrest. Here are more takeaways from Day 3 of the trial.

Four people, including a child, are dead after a shooting at an office building in Southern California, the third mass shooting in the U.S. in the past 16 days. The authorities are expected to release more details this morning.

New York State legalized the use of recreational marijuana. And the state’s prisons will end long-term solitary confinement.

After staying silent last week, Delta and Coca-Cola, two of Georgia’s largest companies, expressed “crystal clear” opposition to the state’s new law to restrict voting access.

A Hong Kong court found prominent pro-democracy activists guilty of unauthorized assembly. It’s part of a Beijing-led campaign to quash opposition.

Aleksei Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, declared a hunger strike, demanding better medical treatment.

The musician Paul Simon sold his songwriting catalog to Sony. Several other noted songwriters have struck big deals recently.

After about 10 minutes of grocery shopping, a New Mexico man returned to his car to find 15,000 bees in the back seat.

Opinions

The border crisis is driven by American companies’ willingness to hire unauthorized immigrants, something lawmakers are failing to address, writes Christopher Landau, Trump’s ambassador to Mexico.

Gail Collins and Ezra Klein have columns.

Morning Reads

Woof: Would you buy your dog a charcuterie board?

Lives Lived: The white minority government in Rhodesia imprisoned Janice McLaughlin, an American nun, for exposing atrocities against Black citizens. Years later, when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, she returned to help establish an educational system. McLaughlin died at 79.

ARTS AND IDEAS

Ryan’s World

Ryan Kaji is 9. He’s also the highest-earning YouTuber of the last three years. Kaji is largely popular for videos where he reviews toys, and Forbes reported that he made nearly $30 million last year.

The children’s section of YouTube is lucrative: Half of the 10 most popular videos on the platform are for children, and the catchy kids’ song “Baby Shark” is its most-viewed video. But as Bloomberg Businessweek reports, Kaji’s success goes far beyond the ad money from his videos. Like the Olsen twins and JoJo Siwa before him, he has an empire built on merchandising.

Kaji’s parents have made deals with Walmart and Target for toys and clothes, as well as TV deals with Amazon and Nickelodeon. A footwear line with Skechers is in the works. The bulk of Kaji’s revenue now comes from the licensing side.

Other children’s YouTube channels are also cashing in: Cocomelon, which has more than 100 million subscribers, has a line of toys. Pinkfong, the educational brand behind “Baby Shark,” has merchandise and a Nickelodeon series.

For more on Kaji, read the rest of Bloomberg’s story.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook

Slivers of ginger and scallions elevate this chicken stir-fry.

Play Ball

Major League Baseball is back today, promising a full 162-game season. Here’s what to watch for in Game 1.

What to Read

“You Made Me Love You” by John Edgar Wideman is a selection of stories that vividly evoke life in Pittsburgh.

In the Garden

Oak trees support more life-forms than any other trees in North America. Here’s why you should plant them. And for more gardening advice, read this charming interview with Margaret Roach, The Times’s gardening columnist.

Now Time to Play

The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was anklebone. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Steal (five letters).

If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — Ian

P.S. Our colleague Sarah Lyall is writing about burnout and motivation, as more workers contemplate a return to the office. Tell her how you’re coping.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about the Amazon union vote in Alabama. On “Sway,” Cathy Park Hong discusses anti-Asian racism.

Claire Moses, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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