President Biden met with Afghan President Ashraft Ghani and the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah last week in Washington to discuss the ongoing U.S. troop withdrawal plan from Afghanistan.  This past spring, President Biden promised to have U.S troops out of Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, ending the almost twenty year war. 

There are mixed opinions as to whether U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan and concern about Taliban gains as they depart.  In recent months, the Taliban has made strides on the battlefield and there is fear their growing strength could topple the Afghan government. Senator Mitch McConnell criticized the troop withdrawal plan saying of President Biden that he has, “chosen to abandon the fight and invite even greater terrorist threats.” 

According to the Defense Department, more than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed since 2001 and over 3,800 U.S. private security contractors have died. The human cost has been high and it’s not surprising there is strong public support among Americans for a new strategy. Even though our troops are coming home, the United States can and should stand with its friends and allies in Afghanistan. Especially women.

It is no surprise that peace and stability are more prevalent when women are included across all levels of society. In 2017, the U.S. Congress passed the bipartisan Women, Peace and Security Act which recognized the benefits derived from creating opportunities for women and girls to serve as peace agents by supporting their economic, political and social empowerment.

It has been shown time and time again that when women hold active roles in society, communities thrive and countries are more stable. In the past twenty years, the women in Afghanistan have made huge gains in all sectors of society. Girls are attending school; women are voting, running for office and joining the workforce in greater numbers.

However, this advancement of women is a threat to the Taliban. This past May, there was an attack on a girls’ school in Kabul that killed nearly 100 people and injured more than 150 mainly female students.  This sort of violence against women and girls will undoubtedly continue should the support of the United States disappear.

No one knows this better than former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.  After the September 11th terrorist attacks on our country, Afghanistan became a huge part of U.S. national security strategy.  It was Mrs. Bush who created the U.S. Afghan Women’s Council which is a non-partisan public-private partnership that convenes governments, civil society and the private sector around the goal of supporting Afghan women and girl’s education, healthcare, economic empowerment and leadership.

In a letter to President Biden and the U.S. Congress this month, the Bush Institute urged U.S. leaders to meaningfully protect the rights of Afghan women and girls amidst this troop withdrawal and in the coming years. 

President Biden can choose to support Afghan women without committing troops to the country. He can direct funding through USAID and the International Development Finance Corporation to support Afghanistan’s sustainable development. The Administration can help integrate Afghan women into peace negotiations and stand up for the principles of human rights of women.

It is in our country’s national interest and an example of what America represents to stand with the women of Afghanistan. America cannot abandon its friends.