Nineteen years and ten months. That’s how long the U.S. was in Afghanistan. The longest war in American history. In February 2020, the Trump administration and the Taliban signed a peace agreement to bring the War in Afghanistan to an end. In this agreement, the Trump administration agreed to reduce US forces from 13,000 troops to 8,600 by July 2020 and withdraw all troops by May 1st, 2021. Though President Biden originally announced that U.S troops would be out of Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he later changed the pull-out date to August 31st. At the same time, the Taliban was making significant territorial gains in parts of Afghanistan. On August 6th, they launched an assault on the provincial capitals of Afghanistan. Most of the towns surrendered immediately. Washington and allies believed that Afghan forces would be able to at least slow down the Taliban offensive. The U.S. intelligence community concluded in June that the Afghanistan government forces should be able to hold on for sixth months after American forces completely withdraw. The U.S believed that the August 31st deadline was enough time for Afghan forces to prepare for a fight against the Taliban. However, this proved to be far from accurate. Taliban victories across Afghanistan continued as they rapidly made their way toward Kabul. In response, 7,000 U.S troops were deployed to Kabul to help evacuate embassy personnel, U.S. nationals, and SIV applicants. On August 15th, the Taliban forces took control of Afghanistan’s capital city Kabul. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s government fell and the Taliban returned to power. This happened only hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. More recent assessments estimated that Kabul would fall within months or weeks after American forces left but nobody saw this coming.
“There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict.
I stand squarely behind my decision. After twenty years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.
But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”
Between August 14th and August 31st, the U.S. and its coalition partners evacuated more than 123,000 people from Afghanistan including 6,000 Americans. It was chaotic at the Kabul airport. People were desperate to get on flights and there was a deadly attack on August 26th that killed thirteen American troops and approximately 180 others. Though The White House stated that ninety-eight percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave, estimates say that at least 250,000 Afghans who worked with the U.S. were left behind.
Did President Biden make the right decision? Here are some pros and cons on ending America’s longest war.
By proceeding with the withdrawal process, America has now ended its “forever war”. Twenty years is a long time for war. It has gone through four presidents and has lost America so many lives. President Biden responded to critics in July by asking them “How many more? How many thousands more of America’s daughters and sons are you willing to risk?” Since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent more than $2 trillion dollars on the war in Afghanistan. That’s equivalent to $300 million dollars per day. As Forbes pointed out, this is more than the combined net worths of the thirty richest billionaires in America. It wasn’t worth spending money at this extreme level just to get the same outcome and lose more Americans. In addition, the reason America went to Afghanistan in 2001 was to root out al Qaeda and prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan. President Biden believed that the U.S accomplished this objective. The original goal was not to transform Afghanistan into a modern, stable democracy. Many Americans agree with the decision to pull out. A CBS News poll from Aug. 18-20 found 63% approval of the U.S. removing troops from Afghanistan. However, that same poll found that 74% of Americans thought the actual removal process of U.S troops from Afghanistan had gone very or somewhat badly.
While America’s pull-out from Afghanistan benefits American troops and citizens, Afghan citizens have already started to feel the impacts of the Taliban’s stringent crackdown on human rights. Though they claimed that they would respect the rights of Afghans, this has not been the case so far. Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for South Asia, said that after only five weeks there was already “a wave of violations, from reprisal attacks and restrictions on women, to crackdowns on protests, the media and civil society.” This will likely continue to take place as long as the Taliban is in power. The civil and political rights that were found in Afghanistan under the U.S backed government will now most likely be erased. Women’s rights are especially jeopardized. When the Taliban were in power in 1996, they ordered that all women should be banned from employment. While the Taliban said that they will respect women’s rights, they have already abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Additionally, by not having a presence in Afghanistan, it is now much tougher for the U.S to gain intelligence on terrorism. Some also fear that the Taliban may allow terrorists to operate within Afghanistan. The reason America invaded Afghanistan in the first place was to prevent future terrorist attacks from being planned from Afghanistan. If this happens again, America might even be forced to go back in again.
Time will only tell if America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was successful or not.