Two former U.S. foreign policy officials have suggested a “way out” for President Joe Biden in Afghanistan by proposing the creation of a U.N. safe zone.
Paula Dobriansky, a former undersecretary of state for global affairs, and Paul Saunders, a former State Department senior adviser, teamed up on an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
The two foreign affairs experts said the Biden administration immediately should propose a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls on the Taliban to “guarantee safe and unimpeded access to the [Kabul] airport.”
“President Biden seems to have set a trap for himself — and for Americans, allied personnel and Afghans seeking to leave Afghanistan” by withdrawing troops “only to be surprised by the Taliban’s quick takeover,” Dobriansky and Saunders wrote.
Biden on Monday said all evacuees will be rescued from Afghanistan by his self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline, which the Taliban said it will enforce.
Dobriansky and Saunders said that won’t be enough time to do the job.
“Yet there’s a way out,” they said in The Wall Street Journal.
A Security Council resolution would assist efforts made by the U.S. military in creating a safe zone at Kabul’s airport, and it would create paths by which stranded Americans and Afghan allies can reach the airfield.
“Allowing crowds and chaos to grow at the limited access points to the airport is dangerous,” Dobriansky and Saunders wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “A single terrorist bomb at one of these points could kill tens or hundreds of Afghans as well as U.S. military personnel and evacuees.
“This would further slow processing of evacuees, trap more civilians, and prevent some Afghans from leaving, keeping them at risk of retaliation and helping the Taliban to limit the brain drain, bad publicity and other consequences of their visible flight.”
The two current senior fellows said the U.S. should use “maximum force” if the Taliban interfere.
“The U.S. military can inflict grave damage on the Taliban’s forces in Kabul and elsewhere, weakening their ability to fight non-Pashtun groups that already reject Taliban rule and continue to resist in the Panjshir Valley and beyond,” they said. “Washington has considerable economic, diplomatic and other leverage too — especially in concert with and in support of allies.”
Dobriansky and Saunders wrote that even China and Russia, both critical of the U.S. withdrawal, might be reluctant to oppose a U.N. resolution.
“Vetoing a resolution like this would give each a share of responsibility for a humanitarian crisis that they could otherwise attribute to Washington, and would demonstrate to U.S. allies where China’s and Russia’s leaders stand,” Dobriansky and Saunders said in their column.
“Moreover, unlike past resolutions on Syria and Libya that the two governments blocked, a safe-evacuation resolution need not include authorization for U.S. or other outside forces to enter Afghanistan, since they are already there, or for combat operations.”
Dobriansky and Saunders said the disastrous troop withdrawal and the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan will have a lingering negative effect on the U.S. in its dealings around the world.
“This administration has an opportunity to mitigate the damage by protecting civilians who want to leave the country and demonstrating America’s commitment to them,” they wrote.
“Restoring some of the honor and dignity lost in recent days is not without military risks. But it is a necessary acknowledgment of the risks that American, allied, and Afghan civilians have accepted since 2001.”
Dobriansky is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Saunders is a senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Center for the National Interest.