AFGHANISTAN: DID THE UNITED STATES REALLY ACHIEVE ITS OBJECTIVES?
In 2001, right after the 9/11 terror attacks, George W. Bush- the then President of the United States of America-vowed to “win the war against terrorism”. Twenty years since we see the U.S. troops silently withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Joe Biden defended this withdrawal stating that his country, the supposed superpower of the world, has achieved its objectives. This brings us to the question, what were America’s objectives?
On 18 September 2001, George W. Bush signed a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against those responsible for attacking the United States on 9/11. (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021) From secretly authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants and invading Afghanistan, the United States apparently spent $2 trillion. (Risen & Lichtblau, 2005)
In December 2001, the United States had a sole objective: defeat the Taliban and destroy Al Qaeda by capturing or killing bin Laden and other key leaders. But Bin Laden managed to escape to Pakistan and the U.S. Special Forces failed to capture him. Removing the Al Qaeda leader from the battlefield in 2001 would not have opened the door for his escape to Pakistan and allowed Bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism, leaving the American people more vulnerable to terrorism, laying the foundation for today's lingering Afghan insurgency.
In 2002, George W. Bush called for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and free it from evil and make it a better place to live in only for Joe Biden to announce 19 years later- “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build, and it is the right and responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.” (Liptak, 2021)
After the election of Hamid Karzai as the first democratic President of Afghanistan and the reelection of Bush, the two Presidents meet at the White House to sign a joint declaration that pronounces the two nations as strategic partners in this war against terrorism. Moreover, the agreement called for Washington to “help organize, train, equip, and sustain Afghan security forces as Afghanistan develops the capacity to undertake this responsibility,” and to continue to rebuild the country’s economy and political democracy.” (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021) Well, so much for helping rebuild a nation.
The United States very well knew that the war against the insurgency in Afghanistan is unwinnable. In 2009, Biden advised Barack Obama to not send in any more troops, but to no one’s surprise, the troops stayed on for another 12 years. In his nationally televised speech, Obama said “will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.” But did this gradual transfer of power really take place or did the U.S. turn its back on Afghanistan?
On May 1 2011, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, responsible for the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, is killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. Well, at least they managed to tick one objective off their list but what next? The costs of the war had already eroded U.S. public support, with a global economic downturn, a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, and a $1.3 trillion annual budget deficit.
In 2014, Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 and limited it to training Afghan forces and conducting operations against “the remnants of al-Qaeda.” (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021) Cut to 2017, Donald Trump not only vowed to prolong the war in Afghanistan but also dropped the Mother of all Bombs in a feeble attempt to curb the Islamic State.
In 2020, U.S. envoy Khalilzad and the Taliban’s Baradar signed an agreement that would pave the way for a significant drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and included guarantees from the Taliban that the country will not be used for terrorist activities. But it seems that this peace deal had little to do with peace, it was simply an exit strategy that helped the United States wash its hands of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan is at high risk of going back in time where its women will be forced to stay at home, the children will not be sent to school and the country will once again find itself in the clutches of the Taliban.
The crisis is already dire and a lot of it is America’s making. (Wion, 2021) The government forces are surrendering and giving their weapons to the terrorist groups. The Taliban has already started controlling more than a hundred districts and the people of Afghanistan have been left to fend for themselves.
What started as a mission to curb terrorism, has now ended in the Taliban thriving on Afghan soil.
This brings us to the question- did the United States really achieve its objectives? Well, the silent withdrawal speaks for itself.
Council on Foreign Relations. (2021). Retrieved July 2021, from The U.S. war in Afghanistan: https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-war-afghanistan
Liptak, K. (2021, July). CNN. Retrieved July 2021, from https://edition.cnn.com/2021/07/08/politics/biden-afghanistan-speech/index.html
Risen, J., & Lichtblau, E. (2005, December). Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts. Retrieved July 2021, from NewYork Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/bush-lets-us-spy-on-callers-without-courts.html
Wion. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.wionews.com/videos/gravitas-the-united-states-has-abandoned-afghanistan-396610
About the author: Ruchi Yemul is a first-year Master’s student of Diplomacy at the Jindal School of International Affairs. Her research interests lie in public policy, gender equality and economic diplomacy.
Cover image: Source