President Joe Biden has announced plans to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, ending the 20 year long Afghanistan War. The war was declared against the Taliban government in response to their refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks. Being the longest war in United States history, many Americans across party lines no longer support U.S. presence there, as the objectives of victory have changed over time.
Initially, the war’s objective was to deny al-Qaeda a safe base from which they could launch future terrorist attacks. The objective soon changed to forcing the Taliban to hand Osama bin Laden to the United States. In 2011, Seal Team Six killed bin Laden in his compound, across the border in Pakistan. Biden commented on the completion of this objective, saying “I said, along with others that we’d follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell if need be. That’s exactly what we did, and we got him.”
Now, the objective is to bring democracy to Afghanistan by defeating the Taliban, which is nearly impossible as they comprise major parts of the government. This is equal to declaring war on an entire political party in the United States. Another justification for continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan was the advancement of women’s rights in the country.
Biden said “I believe that our presence in Afghanistan should be focused on the reason we went in the first place – to ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again. We did that. We accomplished that objective.” The objectives have moved to further reaches in the twenty years this war has gone on.
According to a poll by The Military Times, “73 percent of veterans surveyed support a full withdrawal of American military forces, and 69 percent of family members voiced the same opinion. In the 2019 poll, that figure was about 60 percent for each group.”
The Trump administration held several peace talks with the Taliban to end America’s longest war, which I supported. Some partisan-minded Democrats opposed the talks, and some hawkish Republicans also opposed the peace talks. How sad is it that partisanship and hawkishness can cloud the minds of those who have the power to bring American troops home? I am supportive of ending this war no matter who ends it.
A history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan shows that the empowerment of the Taliban was created by the United States itself. Following traditional, tribal, and Muslim resistance to social reforms by the communist government in Afghanistan in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to keep a hold on the region. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration sent weapons and money to the freedom fighters of Afghanistan, the Mujahideen, in their resistance against the Soviets. The traditional Mujahideen viewed the communist rule as anti-religion and anti-Muslim and justified their resistance as jihad, or a “holy war.” A guerilla warfare between the Mujahideen and the Soviets ensued until 1989, and the war, which was nicknamed “Russia’s Vietnam,” was one of the major causes of Soviet collapse following heavy wartime spending.
The original objectives laid out for the Afghanistan War were achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead, and he’s been dead for a decade, yet our troops still linger in the line of danger. In a speech regarding his decision to withdraw troops, President Biden said “think about that. We delivered justice to bin Laden a decade ago, and we’ve stayed in Afghanistan for a decade since. Since then, our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan became increasingly unclear.”
Biden also discussed how long this war has raged and how weary many Americans are being involved in Afghanistan.
“I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”President Joe Biden on the Afghanistan War
Critics of Biden come from Republicans and hawkish Democrats with one of the most vocal critics being Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY). The daughter of one of the most hawkish people to ever serve in the federal government, former Vice President Dick Cheney, she follows in her father’s footsteps in always being an advocate for war. Cheney criticized the Biden administrations decision to withdraw troops saying, “We know that this kind of a pullback is reckless, it’s dangerous, it puts American security at risk, it will provide an opportunity for terrorists to be able to establish safe havens again, it also puts the women of Afghanistan at risk.” She also criticized the decision to withdraw 20 years after the September 11 attacks, saying “now I’m not sure why the White House has selected that date, but I can tell you that this is a huge propaganda victory for the Taliban, for al-Qaeda.”
I’m skeptical that Biden will actually withdraw troops and end this war, and I have little confidence that he is willing to face the criticism from war hawks and partisans in both parties. However, I hope he does this, and if he actually follows through and ends America’s longest war, it will be a historical hallmark of his presidency.
Image Courtesy of War on the Rocks.