President Joe Biden’s recent order to pull all troops out of Afghanistan has turned D.C. upside down – causing an uproar across partisan lines. For years, voters have been asking for the United States to pull out of the decades-long war in the Middle East. In 2021, 70% of Americans supported a withdrawal and political candidates, including former President Donald Trump, have campaigned on the promise of bringing American soldiers home from Afghanistan. So why can no one come to a consensus on the current president’s order? International politics are a labyrinth of intertwining interests, alliances, and public opinion that can be difficult to navigate, and Afghanistan is no exception. But, here are a few basics to get you started.
So, why did the United States first go to Afghanistan? On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked by terrorists part of al-Qaeda. The attack resulted in the death of nearly three thousand United States citizens. Seven days later, former President George W. Bush signed into law, a joint resolution authorizing the use of military force against those responsible for the attack and vowed to “win the war against terrorism.” Although none of the nineteen hijackers of the 9/11 attack were from Afghanistan, it was al-Qaeda being based in Afghanistan that led to the United States’ invasion.
What effects has the United States’ presence had on Afghanistan? From 2001 to 2011 the United States’ central mission in Afghanistan was to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. Throughout these eleven years the Taliban, a political movement within the nation, provided refuge to al-Qaeda and aligned themselves with bin Laden – giving them a rise to prominence and catching the attention of the US military. Their numbers receded and surged back and forth throughout the war. In 2005, the United States succeeded in assassinating Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Following his assassination, President Barack Obama removed some of the troops in Afghanistan but a large presence still remained. Why? Well, the central mission shifted from assassinating bin Laden to eradicating al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as creating a democratic government in Afghanistan. While many in America may have viewed our presence as a noble cause, public opinion of America’s presence in Afghanistan has been decreasing since 2005. Only 26% of Afghan citizens in high-conflict areas reported feeling safer as a result of US presence. Furthermore, 70% of Afghan citizens reported that the civilian casualties caused by American drone strikes did not outweigh the benefits of counteracting the Taliban. An estimated 363,000 Afghan civilians died as a result of the war from 2001 to 2021. After 20 years of US attempts to eliminate the Taliban, the terrorist group simply kept resurging – proving US efforts to be largely ineffective. The perpetual war and Taliban propaganda led to the radicalization of many young Afghan people who then joined the Taliban in order to combat the United States’ presence, creating an endless cycle of terror.
On April 14, 2021, President Biden released his plan to fully pull out of Afghanistan by September 11 stating “It’s time to end America’s longest war.” On August 15, Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, was captured by the Taliban – only hours after President Ghani, along with other Afghan government officials, fled the country. Afghan military forces did not have the power to defend against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This resulted in almost all the contested territory in Afghanistan being taken over in a mere two days and left a power gap to be filled by the Taliban. In the final days of the US withdrawal, 18 American soldiers and 170 Afghan civilians were killed in a tragic attack outside a checkpoint at the Kabul airport. In response to the attack, the US military ordered an airstrike on who they thought responsible. However, the Pentagon later admitted the strike had been a “mistake” that resulted in the death of ten innocent civilians including seven children. After a devastating 20 years, the last American soldier stepped foot off Afghan soil on August 30, 2021.
Work Cited (APA 7 style)
Cordeson, A. (2009, April). Afghan Public Opinion and the Afghan War. Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://www.csis.org/analysis/afghan-public-opinion-and-afghan-war
Laub, Z. (2017, May 1). The U.S. War in Afghanistan. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-war-afghanistan