Farewell from Bagram Airfield: America’s Weighty Step Away From Afghanistan

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By Quentin Choy

July 6, 2021

The United States withdrew its troops from Bagram Airfield, the center of American operations in the Afghanistan War. The withdrawal marks a commitment by the Biden administration to actually leave the region and end the war once and for all.

Last week, my confidence in Biden’s commitment to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan was shaky following his airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria. However, with American troops withdrawing from Bagram Airfield, the most notable American presence in Afghanistan has been removed. I’m also reassured in a full U.S. withdrawal by September 11th due to the fact that this was done months before the announced withdrawal.

Osama bin Laden, the man the entire Afghanistan War was predicated on was killed by Navy Seals in 2011. After ten years, the same war continues despite the objective having already been completed.

Osama bin Laden was killed 10 years ago. Why are we still in Afghanistan if the war was predicated on his capture? Courtesy of Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images

The continued radicalization of Afghanistan’s citizens by U.S. presence is understandable and poses a continued threat to the safety of both Afghanistan’s citizens and U.S. forces. Imagine if Afghan soldiers marched around the United States arresting and killing American civilians.

With airstrikes and drones killing civilians instead of intended targets, normal Afghan civilians can become radicalized, vengeful, and hostile toward U.S. presence in the region, increasing the likelihood of retaliation. A study by Brown University showed that the number of Afghan civilians killed in air strikes carried out by the US and its allies has risen 330% since 2017.

Afghan men carry the body of a civilian killed by an airstrike. Courtesy of Reuters.

The focus of the war shifted to an emphasis on counterinsurgency like in Iraq. Continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan simply radicalized more and more Afghanis who saw their neighbors, civilians, and tribal leaders killed or captured, some by mistake on the part of U.S. soldiers.

The first couple of minutes from FRONTLINE’s documentary Kill/Capture captures the frustration Afghanistan’s civilians feel toward U.S. troops, and is available to watch on YouTube for free here.

In the documentary, a tribal leader named Shahzad Jamil is captured by American troops and taken for questioning, even though Jamil wasn’t the target of their mission. His anger toward American troops is felt by many civilians in Afghanistan and was expressed in his scolding of troops.

“This is very bad! This is why people are so upset. This makes me feel like joining the Taliban to fight against you. You’re disrespecting me. If I’m a terrorist, or a member of al Qaeda, then show me proof. There is no proof. Why do you disrespect me like this? This will have consequences. I am a tribal leader. I’m very influential. If my tribe learns about this, they will be so angry with these people. Just as they raided an innocent village, the whole of Afghanistan is innocent. There is nothing here, nothing.”

Afghan tribal leader Shahzad Jamil in FRONTLINE’s Kill/Capture (2021)
American troops detaining Shahzad Jamil. Courtesy of The Atlantic.

Much of the media reaction to the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been critical of Biden’s commitment to ending the war. Issues rise up over women’s rights, democracy, and the increasing power of the Taliban. In recent days, the Taliban captured several districts throughout Afghanistan, and some fear that they will rule the country.

Both right-wing, centrist, and left-wing news outlets criticized American withdrawal, citing that the Afghanistan government is unable to deal with the problem of a rising Taliban. Even Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) wrote an opinion piece on Fox News’ site. However some outlets such as conservative National Review urged Biden to stay the course on full withdrawal.

The Taliban has captured several districts throughout Afghanistan. Courtesy of Politico.

Unfortunately, self-determination and sovereignty is a double-edged sword. The rise of the Taliban demonstrates U.S. failure in Afghanistan. However, the problem is not enough to warrant U.S. presence anymore. The Taliban is an insurgency within Afghanistan and is a domestic issue for their country. The United States has already achieved the mission it set out, and as a sovereign nation, Afghanistan must begin to reclaim its role in securing the Afghan state.

In the same way that Donald Trump was criticized for withdrawing troop from Germany to protect the EU and NATO nations from Russian aggression, Biden will be criticized for endangering the lives of Afghan civilians and potentially allowing the nation to slip into civil war. Civil war is a part of state sovereignty and is something that governments must be prepared to deal with, whether that be in Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria, or Myanmar.

Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Germany was chided by many mainstream Democrats. Courtesy of the American Conservative.

Now, I’m not arguing that other countries, coalitions, or governing bodies can’t get involved, but they are not obligated to do so like the “world police” role that the United States has played for the last few decades. Joel Mathis of The Week makes a similar point in his piece “The fall of Afghanistan is terrible to watch. That’s no reason for the U.S. to stay.” You can read the piece here.

Protecting the state is the responsibility of the state, and while it may seem heartless for the United States to leave despite a resurgent Taliban, the U.S. presence of troops has also been detrimental to Afghanistan’s civilians. The debate now shifts to immigration. With the Taliban on the rise, Congress and the Biden administration are taking steps to pass legislation which will allow those in Afghanistan who fought alongside the U.S. to emigrate to America. This includes people like translators and soldiers who the Taliban will surely target.

U.S. withdrawal protects the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens and of American soldiers. With a U.S. withdrawal in the works, American troops can return to normal lives and be removed from the unnecessary dangers of an unnecessarily prolonged war.

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Quentin Choy, creator of <em>WeTheCommoners Blog</em>
Quentin Choy, creator of WeTheCommoners Blog

Quentin is a student of Political Science. He became interested in history and politics in 2015 watching the Republican and Democratic primaries as well as the 2016 General Election.

He is from Hawaii and currently attends school in Colorado.

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