Of all the big stories in the news lately, nothing tops what’s happening in Afghanistan.
That includes the COVID-19 Delta variant spread. And the resignation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Plus the growth of Western wildfires.
After 20 years in this volatile Middle Eastern country, U.S. troops were ordered home by President Joe Biden. Then in a remarkably short period of time, the Taliban took over the country.
The withdrawal led to tens of thousands of Afghans trying to leave. And left women fearing for their safety and rights. Some folks were so desperate that they clung to the side of a U.S. military jet as it took off. Then plunged to their deaths.
Several days after the Taliban started overrunning Afghanistan, Biden addressed the nation. He said, “I stand squarely behind my decision.” And added that there “was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
Reactions From Politicians
Many politicians have responded to the withdrawal and ensuing chaos. Former President Donald Trump called on Biden to resign over the situation.
Trump had planned to have U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan earlier. And he had criticized Biden for waiting until August to do it. But former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated Trump would have handled it differently.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas called the pullout “an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.” House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy cited Biden’s “lack of leadership” on Afghanistan. Adding it would cause problems for the U.S. for decades.
Others disagreed with those sentiments. Ted Kaufman is a former Delaware senator. Here’s what he told The Atlantic. “A big majority of the American people want us out of Afghanistan. It’s fine for us to sit in Washington and talk about what’s wrong in Afghanistan. It’s another thing if you have a son or daughter or father over there.”
David Axelrod was a top aide in the Obama Administration. He said Biden had made a compelling case for why the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan. And that it will resonate with many Americans.
A Brief History Timeline
The history of this troubled nation would require many volumes. So I’ll just mention a few things about American involvement over the past two decades.
The U.S. entered Afghanistan as part of its War on Terror following the 9/11 attacks. In 2003, it was announced that major combat operations had ended. And that efforts would shift to reconstruction.
From 2004 to 2006, there was considerable fighting between a U.S.-led military coalition and the Taliban. The Afghan government established a new constitution. And elected Hamid Karzai as president.
In 2009 and 2010, President Barack Obama made a renewed commitment to the country. He sent 17,000 additional troops there. U.S. Navy SEALS killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Two years later, security responsibilities were handed to Afghan military forces. During Trump’s presidency, peace talks showed promise. But agreements were broken. Trump set a target date of May 1 for U.S. troop withdrawals.
Two Decades Down the Drain?
Immediately following the Taliban takeover, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction issued a report. It was critical of the U.S. effort in the country over 20 years under several presidents.
Here’s how it reads in part. “If the goal was to rebuild and leave behind a country that can sustain itself and pose little threat to U.S. national security interest, the overall picture is bleak.”
In two decades, the U.S. spent nearly $1 trillion on war and reconstruction efforts. More importantly, 2,443 American troops were killed. And many more injured. Also killed were more than 66,000 Afghan troops. And close to 50,000 civilians.
The report acknowledged some improvements. Including better education for children. And more opportunities for women. But whether those things continue under a Taliban regime is doubtful.
Weapons Now in Taliban Hands
As of this writing, U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan are helping American citizens get out. And are planning to get themselves out by tomorrow. Which is Biden’s deadline.
Those troops are also assisting some 22,000 “at-risk” Afghans. In other words, those who helped U.S. troops in the past and might be Taliban targets when those troops leave. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
Jake Sullivan is Biden’s national security advisor. He said the Taliban committed to allowing “safe passage” for civilians heading to the Kabul airport. But there were some reports of whippings and beatings as civilians tried to leave.
One of the many downsides to the chaos in Afghanistan concerns weapons. The Biden Administration admitted it’s likely a “fair amount” of weapons the U.S. gave the Afghanistan government are now in Taliban hands.
Women Fear the Worst
Many Afghan citizens who benefitted from a U.S. presence are afraid. They believe things could return to the way they were in the 1990s. That’s when the Taliban controlled the country.
If the Taliban again imposes a strict interpretation of Islamic law, many changes could occur. Including women being barred from attending school. Or working outside their homes.
The Taliban have forced women to wear burqas. And be accompanied by a male relative whenever they leave home. They also banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.
The tragic situation in Afghanistan is still playing out. Only time will tell what happens next. In the meantime, we can all hope and pray for the safety of those who wish to leave.