Four Presidents and Twenty Years, But the War in Afghanistan Has Finally Ended

The twenty-year war in Afghanistan that spanned four presidencies is over! The latest distraction from the implementation of vaccine passports and the fearmongering over COVID-19 has been a media obsession, with Democrats blaming President Trump (what is new) for his original deadline set and Republicans blaming President Biden for the disaster that ensued (like Trump would have been able to prevent bloodshed). The Taliban did not hesitate to reestablish control of the central Asian nation, and although anyone who was paying attention could have foreseen this event, what was surprising was the speed in which it did so and the fact that it did not wait for the United States’ departure first.

Aside from some obvious points that are being raised (like if Alexander the Great and the Soviet Union could not conquer Afghanistan, why would the American Empire think that it would be able to accomplish this feat?), very few “journalists and media companies are discussing how we got into this mess in the first place and why we stayed there for so long. As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the horrific attacks against the American people, let us reflect on the disaster of our foreign policy and the fact that twenty years of occupation was not enough to replace the regime that had been in place since before the war began, while also remembering the sacrifice of our military members (it was not their fault that they got sent to do the bidding of politicians and the military-industrial complex, after all).

President George W. Bush

After September 11, 2001, emotions and patriotic fervor swept across a country that was in mourning and angry. Osama bin Laden was immediately blamed for the attack involving nineteen hijackers that were somehow able to evade several American intelligence agencies (yet, these incompetent, taxpayer-funded agencies that could or would not prevent the attacks were able to determine who was responsible within a day). Instead of targeting Saudi Arabia, where the majority of the terrorists were from, President Bush decided to invade Afghanistan because the Taliban, which had control of most of that country, allowed bin Laden and al Qaeda (an organization that was supported by the United States in the Cold War) to base their operations there.

Seven days after the attacks, Congress gave the president a blank check to wage war anywhere and against any nation or group that was unilaterally declared to be connected to 9-11. This came in the form of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001, and if the precedent set were not bad enough, the Taliban offered to hand bin Laden over to a neutral country for trial in October 2001, if the United States could prove that its former ally was behind the attacks and if the bombing campaign was terminated (even before the bombing began, the Taliban was willing to have bin Laden tried in an Islamic court in Afghanistan, as long as evidence of his guilt was provided). President Bush’s “there’s no reason to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he’s guilty” arrogant mentality led to a twenty-year war that was devastating to both the United States and Afghanistan, and it was very clear that the president always had the intention to topple the Taliban instead of solely targeting al Qaeda and bringing about a swift end to the operation. In April 2002, the president already had plans to occupy and rebuild the country that saw Hamid Karzai as its first leader after the fall of the Taliban, and by 2005, the United States pledged to finance, train, and equip the Afghan security forces and government.

President Barrack Obama

It did not take long for President Obama to get acquainted with his new duties as commander-in-chief, as he deployed an additional 70,000 troops by 2011, and instead of winding down the war effort in Afghanistan as he suggested that he would, the president expanded it further than even President Bush had. However, by 2014, the combat operations were largely ended, and a slow process of troop reductions was started, but not ended, by the time of the presidential transfer of power (he only brought troop levels down to about 10,000 from the one-time high of 100,000, and towards the end of his presidency, his focus was largely on training Afghan forces rather than combat). President Obama did initiate peace talks with the Taliban in 2011 for the eventual end of the war, but this did not ultimately resolve the crisis or halt hostilities.

President Donald Trump

A withdrawal from Afghanistan was advocated for by President Trump, but he almost instantly rescinded his plans in favor of deploying an additional 3,000 troops (increasing the number to 14,000). In 2019, the president went behind the Afghan government’s back (then headed by Ashraf Ghani) to negotiate deals with the Taliban, but those quickly broke down. However, in February 2020, there was some hope of a successful end to the war when the Taliban agreed to reduce terrorist attacks, end support for groups participating in the same, and not commit acts of violence against American and Afghan forces in exchange for a planned withdrawal by May 2021 (after the contentious 2020 election). Just before leaving office, the president sent troops home, reducing the number to just over 4,000 by the end of his presidency. Although President Trump did not actually commit fully to removal (leaving it to his successor to handle), he did set the stage for ending the United States’ longest war to-date and the inevitable rise of Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

President Joseph Biden

The planned date of May 2021 was not honored by President Biden, but he was able to pull out by his new deadline of September 11, 2021. The Taliban began sweeping through Afghanistan to capture provincial capitals, and by August 15, Kabul was under its control (with president Ghani fleeing the country). The Biden administration scrambled to rescue stranded Americans, and to aid with the retreat, it deployed an additional 6,000 troops. To make matters worse, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – Khorasan (ISIS-K), which was also an enemy of the Taliban, utilized two suicide bombs at the Kabul International Airport (the rendezvous location for Americans attempting to flee the country) that killed 150 Afghan civilians and 13 American military members. In typical American fashion, President Biden retaliated against ISIS-K with airstrikes that took at least ten civilian lives along with the intended targets.

Nervous servicemen/women, who did not have a reliable commander-in-chief to rescue them and were not sure if they would escape alive, struggled to leave (there was even an instance where bodies fell from the sky attempting to hold on to the aircraft as it began lifting off). It is likely that there are less than two hundred American citizens still attempting to leave Afghanistan at present, and there are reports that the Taliban has secretly escorted some of the Americans to the airport, allowing them to depart. Uncertainty remains around what will happen in Afghanistan with the United States gone, and just like North Vietnam’s capture of Saigon and the entire southern half of that country, the Taliban has celebrated its capture of Kabul.

The withdrawal, which ultimately finished with the final airplane departing on August 30, 2021, was not done with any type of charm or in any orderly fashion, but the current president will get some credit for having ended the war nonetheless. A war that started with the Taliban in control of the country and ended with the same group in power only took twenty years to complete, and hopefully history will show the absurdity of the conflict and Americans will learn a lesson about how military interventionism is generally an imprudent course of action.

Results of the War

The most obvious price of waging a twenty-year war was the lives lost. This included: 2,448 American military members, 3,846 contractors; 1,144 NATO troops; 66,000 Afghan forces; 51,191 members of the Taliban and its allies; and 47,245 civilians. This war was in vain, and all of the lives lost were a tragedy. We do not know how many more deaths will occur as a result of Taliban rule or if the country will become a playground for terrorist groups and tribal warlords, but the new governing authority did acknowledge that it is now time to treat women better than it had in the past (this may just be an empty publicity stunt to appease the United States for now).

Then, of course, there was the financial cost. The American taxpayers were forced to pay roughly $1 trillion when all of the costs of the war were added up (some of which went to defense contractors and special interests), and it is estimated that interest costs from the war could reach $6.5 trillion by 2050. About $83 billion was spent to train and equip an Afghan military that ultimately fell to its enemy within a matter of days, and the Taliban was able to seize a sizeable amount of American rifles, artillery guns, aircraft, helicopters, trucks, Humvees, and night-vision goggles. All-in-all, Americans wasted much money on the war effort.

The AUMF that allowed Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden to wage war on any corner of the planet that was desired set a terrible precedent for those who do not enjoy an imperial presidency. The War on Terror (it remains to be seen if the Biden administration will continue drone strikes and other tactics) that was not officially declared by Congress threatened and killed civilians in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria under the guise of keeping Americans safe. These actions have consequences, and unfortunately, Americans sometimes get killed as a result. The United States constantly has to be fighting a war somewhere, and the War on Terror has given future leaders the confidence that they need to continue these types of unaccountable operations.

Domestically, the surveillance state that has resulted from the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks has threatened the civil liberties of anyone residing in the United States (and really anywhere on Earth). The Patriot Act was passed in October 2001 with little resistance because the population was afraid of terrorism and politicians needed to pretend that they were being proactive. Measures stemming from the Afghanistan War have violated the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments, and Americans are constantly being monitored like they are under the thumb of Big Brother. The war may have ended, but the surveillance state and the hunt for terrorists, even among the American population (especially after the January 6, 2021 incident), will live on for the duration of the American Empire.

In the end, Americans have suffered for the actions of their elected officials, and now that Afghanistan has become the next Vietnam, we must ask ourselves if we are ready to accept that rallying around the flag for pointless wars is not something that should be included in our future. Perhaps the withdrawal is being conducted in order to prepare for the next war, and the United States is always one “crisis” away from becoming trigger happy in far away lands. Will the Taliban cozy up to China or Russia, or will the United States re-invade the country in the future? Is the Pentagon preparing for war with Iran or China and needs to refocus its resources from Afghanistan? Will there be a civil war or domestic conflict that requires the full attention of the United States government? It is difficult to tell at this time, but the good news is that the war has ended.

Thank you for reading, and please check out my book, The Global Bully, and website.
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Published on September 02, 2021 17:05
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