America has been in Afghanistan longer than the Class of 2021 has been alive. Let that sink in. The American War on Afghanistan was supposed to take out Osama Bin Laden and stabilize the country from terrorism. Instead a 19 year war effort stalled and stalled with support waxing and waning from both sides of the political spectrum. The war cost over 2,000 U.S. service members, the lives of 100,000 Afghan civilians, and trillions of dollars. Finally, on Tuesday, April 13th, President Joe Biden announced that all 3,500 U.S. troops will be removed by a September 11th deadline. Biden and other officials have also provided vague claims and promises to continue to support the Kabul government with regards to humanitarian aid and other assistance.
The 19 year war originally came as a response to the 9/11 Terrorist attacks with a clear goal: wipe out Al-Qaeda and take down the Taliban government. In fact, the United States accomplished its two primary goals: it wiped out Al-Qaeda and helped to replace the Taliban Government. So why did the U.S. stay any longer?
The Taliban, despite being forced out from the Afghani government by the U.S. in 2001, remained an active terrorist group and continued waging war on the U.S.- backed Kabul government. The Taliban is no small group, and they have consistently clashed and survived through counterinsurgency from NATO and of course survived years of U.S. interference. In fact it currently is estimated to have over 50,000 active members (for reference: Afghanistan has 38 million people and the United States has consistently had 2,000 or more troops stationed each year). Even more troubling is Taliban’s direct ties to Al-Qaeda (the Taliban is considered a military organization while Al-Qaeda is considered a terrorist group).
Four different presidential administrations have occupied Afghanistan. In response to the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush signed a joint resolution authorizing force against those responsible. In the face of U.S. forces, the Taliban retreated, but Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden escaped. President Bush, however, believed that Afghanistan could be reconstructed and be “free from this evil”. Bush then signed legislation that authorized 38$ billion dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009.
The results? Middling at best. Afghanistan eventually held its first democratic election in 2004 for president but throughout the entire decade battles, bombings and skirmishes were regular occurrences. When Barack Obama took office in 2008, a signature belief he held was that he could end the war and save Afghanistan from itself. Obama wanted to remove U.S. troops by finally taking out the Taliban forces. However in 2015, he finally admitted it would not happen under his watch - forces would remain indefinitely.
In 2020, the U.S. reached a peace agreement with the Taliban, which was short-lived as the Taliban continued to orchestrate attacks. President Trump would then begin to lay the groundwork by pulling out over half the troops currently stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia towards the end of his term. Critics pointed out that the last time America pulled out of Iraq in 2011 it led to the rise of ISIS, which in their eyes proved U.S. military influence was a net positive.
That brings us to current president Joe Biden, whose September 11th deadline is an extension from Trump’s original May 1st deadline. While previous administrations have attempted to remove some or many troops, Biden has show his resolve by already beginning to withdraw.
The questions about the War on Afghanistan and its legitimacy will surely continue to live on.
Critics of Biden’s decision argue that the war was good because it suppressed the terrorist threats in Afghanistan. Biden personally believes that Afghanistan is no longer the national security threat it was in 2001 and that the U.S. has “over the horizon” deterrents ready if necessary (a.k.a missiles). The U.S. will continue to maintain troops in the Middle East and other parts of the globe as answers to “security threats,” but President Biden wants to turn his attention towards China, North Korea and Russia: three superpowers he believes pose more active threats.