To blame Joe Biden, or even Donald Trump for the outcome in Afghanistan is asinine. We have been there for 20 years, over four presidential terms. It is our longest and costliest war.
Before blaming the final drawdown on a 7-month-old administration in a 238-month conflict, let’s ask some questions.
Why were we there?
In retaliation to the attack of September 11, 2001. To capture Osama Bin Laden and dismantle Al-Qaeda. – Did we complete our mission? Mostly. Bin Laden was killed in 2011 but in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda is not the force it used to be and over the decades we have seen the rise of other terror groups in the region.
Who was in charge?
The Afghan government. They have had the same elected President in office there for 7 years. American troops have helped to establish and stabilize the government there. We have trained their army, and we have done so for ten years following the death of Bin Laden, and another ten before that.
Did we withdraw too quickly?
We have been drawing down troops for years. This final drawdown was brokered by the Trump administration in a deal with the Taliban. The deadline for withdrawal was May 1, 2021. This deal was endorsed by our allies and the UN Security Council. Before leaving office, Trump reduced troops to 2,500 – our smallest presence since 2001. Technically, we are three months past our initial commitment to leave the area.
How have the Taliban moved in so quickly?
There have been widespread reports of corruption in the Afghan army, and a lack of revenue within the government with some officials saying they haven’t been paid in weeks. The Afghan forces are 300,000 strong, have sophisticated weaponry provided by NATO, compared to a poorly equipped Taliban force of 80,000.
But despite 20 years of training, the Afghan army reportedly does not have a full grasp on the equipment and many serving in the force are illiterate. They are also generally less motivated, ideologically than the Taliban.
A poorly funded government, a well-equipped but poorly trained army, and corruption within made the Taliban takeover much easier. All this despite 20 years of American investment, training, and resources.
As of this writing, the President of Afghanistan has left the country and talks are taking place between the Government and Taliban representatives to establish a transitional government.
What can, or rather, what should we do?
This week in my podcast, I challenged those critical of the drawdown to provide some alternative plan. We have invested 2 Trillion dollars in the war, 2,300 American lives, and billions more in resources to the Afgan government. We have attempted to train their military for nearly 20 years. If 20 years of training yields a force that can’t stand up for 90 days, how much time – and how many lives, are we expected to pour into this situation?
Outside of a full-on take over of Afghanistan by the US, and establishing the nation as a US territory, I don’t see a way in which we can ensure any kind of strong government remains in place, and a presence in perpetuity in the country is an expensive endeavor for an America struggling with its own domestic issues. We gave the best equipment, supplied our own trainers, invested trillions of dollars, and for all intents and purposes, we completed our motivating mission ten years ago.
This is another situation that should transcend politics. At what point is dedicating more resources there a fruitless endeavor? We do not need to be at war. We should absolutely provide safety, refuge, and stability to those Afghan citizens who have aided us for decades. They should be our top priority. They should not be left stranded. But beyond that, what alternative do we have? Maintaining what was the status quo should be unacceptable to everyone. And what would a continued presence yield for the US? And if there is a positive yield, is it enough to die for?
A quest for Democracy is noble. But at what cost? The most glaring of “US-interests” in the region is on the natural resources there, but this is an issue we can solve ourselves by adopting green energy created and sustained right here at home, ending our dependence on foreign oil.
Twenty years. Four Presidents. 2 Trillion Dollars. 2,300 American lives were lost. Over 20,000 Americans were wounded. Countless thousands of Afghan citizens dead. This is not any one President’s fault. This has been a wholesale failure of the entire system. But when it is unclear what we are fighting for in the first place – when there is no clear vision of “victory,” what other way would this war come to an end?
Moving forward, we should not allow military use without congressional authorization, as intended. We should not invade countries to battle forces without borders. We should have clear, well-established goals for war efforts that we can track and understand when those goals have been completed so we can actually declare “Mission Accomplished,” and bring everyone home.
Or better yet, we can change our mindset to one in which war is truly a last resort option and not a perpetual state of being for our country. We want peace. We should practice what we preach.