By Joshua Hernandez, Aug. 31, 2021
If there is one thing that has united Americans in the past few days, it’s the belief that the Afghanistan War, the longest in our nation’s history, has been an unmitigated disaster. This failed war, and the war on terror as a whole, has done little more than erode public trust in our government and its institutions.
While Americans may disagree about the withdrawal, one thing is certain – if you are an Afghan citizen living in the region, then your future is back in the hands of the Taliban.
On Aug. 15, the Taliban retook the Afghan capital of Kabul, effectively ending the 20-year occupation of American troops in Afghanistan.
Evacuation efforts are ongoing and wrought with danger; on August 26, less than two weeks after the capture of the capital, an attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K, killed 13 American service members and at least 169 Afghanis outside the Kabul airport.
Our country and our leaders have plenty to answer for, and while I wish we did not leave the way we did, this outcome was inevitable due to callous, shortsighted planning and a willingness to brutalize the Afghan people for the supposed greater good.
The future looks as heartbreaking and violent as it has been since the beginning of the Soviet-Afghan War back in 1979. Unless there is safe escape from the country, the only option for peace is to hope that the modern, supposedly tolerant, iteration of the Taliban will keep to its new progressive promises over their tradition of repressing women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.
If the U.S. was truly committed to protecting civilians, it would have deescalated the war when it had the chance; it would have protected innocent Afghani civilians from danger, and it would not have treated its own people like criminals who needed to be monitored or silenced.
Unfortunately, the U.S. dropped the ball many times over the past 20 years, and all it did was delay the inevitable.
What has been referred to as the “Forever War,” the war in Afghanistan was initially waged to defeat al-Qaeda in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as the Taliban government which harbored the man responsible for said attacks, Osama bin Laden.
According to former president George W. Bush, the U.S. gave the Taliban clear demands to prove their allegiance: hand over Bin Laden, hand over other al-Qaeda suspects residing in the country and shut down al-Qaeda training camps.
The Taliban refused, giving Bush the justification he needed to begin the war officially on Oct. 7, 2001.
However, according to a Guardian article from October 2001, this is not the full story.
According to the article, the Taliban were actually open to extradite bin Laden a week after the bombs began dropping, provided the U.S. proved Bin Laden was the perpetrator of the attacks and if they were allowed to hand over Bin Laden to a neutral country.
The article also said that Bush refused, stating there was nothing to discuss since he knew Bin Laden was guilty.
The U.S. did not go to war with the Taliban because we had proof of coordinated attacks with al-Qaeda, we went to war because the Bush administration did not want to negotiate.
That is also why the Taliban were initially excluded from the 2001 Bonn Agreement, which was orchestrated in Germany a month after the U.S. successfully toppled Taliban rule; the U.S. did not want the Taliban to be integrated into the new Afghan government it would build with its regional allies.
Had the U.S. prioritized diplomacy over force we could have compromised with the Taliban, possibly preventing their resurgence back in 2006 and their complete takeover of the country.
Better yet, if the U.S. prioritized a swift end to the war and minimized the destruction, the Taliban would have been left with far less war refugees to recruit from.
Of course, if that happened, the U.S. would no longer have a potential claim to the estimated $3 trillion in mineral deposits, nor could they prevent the Taliban from banning opium production like we are seeing now.
Our military officials knew a drawn-out war was a bad idea; in a series of articles published by the Washington Post dubbed the “Afghanistan Papers,” many top officials in our government and military admitted they had little to no idea how to win the war.
The Afghan military did not fare any better; even after receiving training and funding from the U.S. for decades, several reports released following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghan soldiers fleeing for their lives.
In fact, much of the Afghan military’s weapons, ammunition and equipment were left behind and claimed by the Taliban; $83 billion well spent
So what other ideas did our government and military come up with to protect our freedoms?
We used drones strikes to kill targets as well as civilians, we threw in with pedophilic warlords, we indirectly armed our enemies yet again and as former president Barack Obama succinctly put it, “we tortured some folks.”
Despite the inhumanity of these foreign policies, the U.S. can still illegally torture its prisoners of war since facilities like Guantanamo Bay are still open, and Daniel Hale, the whistleblower who revealed the inner workings of our drone program, is behind bars.
In short, we did a lot of harm overseas and it was immorally justified as necessary for our national security.
Then there is the home front – as of Aug. 23, 2021, a total of 2,448 Americans died during Operation Enduring Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
All these people have to show for their sacrifice are the countless loved ones left behind to mourn.
Congress also passed the USA PATRIOT Act 45 days after 9/11, which legalized an NSA mass surveillance program so secretive and far-reaching, it was deemed as possibly unconstitutional by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last September.
This happened seven years after Edward Snowden first blew the whistle on the agency’s activities and had to flee the country to avoid imprisonment. He has yet to be pardoned.
This barely scratches the surface of the stories and missteps that the U.S. allowed during the war, and it is still unknown how many top-secret operations are kept out of the public eye.
The U.S. military and government have shown time and time again that despite their self-righteous belief that we are the leaders of the free world, they will gladly abandon any of our supposed morals in order to maintain the illusion of control and safety that was promised our people for two decades.
I do not believe all Americans are inherently bad people, nor is anyone for that matter, but given the way our country has acted throughout the war, it is easy to understand why other people might “hate our freedoms,” as Bush once put it.
People suffered tremendously over this war and that is probably not going to stop, even if every U.S. citizen and every ally we can save somehow make it out of the country.
There are still millions of Afghani people who will remain in the country and will be forced to live with the consequences.
As Americans however, we are largely free from those consequences, and that is absolutely shameful.
For us, the only solace we can take from this is there is one less conflict in our country’s name for our professional war criminals to abuse for profit and political gain.
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