Twenty years ago, the United States started the War in Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet after $2 trillion spent, along with thousands of civilian and military casualties, the American stated mission in Afghanistan — which was to root out those attackers in al-Qaeda and its supporters in the Taliban — has ended in utter failure.
The news we have been exposed to for the past two weeks is a testament to this dereliction. The enormous pain and loss caused by the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. is palpable. But the rapid speed with which the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan and began implementing its oppressive, fear-based regime of brutal fighting and endless suffering is haunting. The crushing defeat of 9/11 reminds the world that the U.S. should have left Afghanistan years ago.
The United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan was a slow, painful process that highlights the complicated nature of U.S. foreign policy. Initially entering Afghanistan with the intention of rooting out the Taliban, the U.S. remained for two decades and attempted to nation-build. The war was not meant to be the longest in U.S. history and cost the lives of more than a hundred thousand Afghanis, thousands of Americans and trillions of dollars. Despite the longevity of the war, as soon as U.S. troops withdrew, the Taliban captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Aug. 15, cementing their control of the country.
President Biden’s removal of troops from Afghanistan was inevitable. After the Trump administration reached an agreement with the Taliban in early 2020 to initiate the removal of foreign troops from Afghan soil, Biden followed through. Yet, the rapid speed with which the Taliban regained control of the country only goes to show the inevitable failure of the war.
For one, the drawn-out nature of the conflict indicated just how unprepared the U.S. really was for war. After 9/11, there was widespread support among the public and Congress for the invasion of Afghanistan. In fact, only one member of Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Ca.), voted against sending troops to Afghanistan. The terrorist attacks made the prospect of a swift and brutal response from the United States appear to be the only solution. While 88% of U.S. citizens supported the war effort in 2001, only 25% today approve of Biden’s decision to withdraw, making it highly unlikely many of those same Americans would have been as gung-ho had they known a two decade-long war of attrition was to come.
While some have touted the war and U.S. attempts at government building as a protection of women’s rights in Afghanistan, this is nothing but talk. The U.S. military murdered civilians and bombed hospitals, indiscriminately killing women and children. Before the U.S. funded Mujahideen took over Afghanistan and curbed women’s rights, Afghanistan was in a period of growing gender equality in which oppressive laws were repealed and women saw more representation in Parliament and universities. The U.S. is actually one of the main subjugators of Afghan women, not their liberators. Furthermore, these false narratives were emphasized by the Bush administration, and ulterior motives have been ignored in mainstream media — the truth of the war eclipsed by political rhetoric. The war in Afghanistan was never a human rights campaign, it was simply a failed tactic which went on for entirely too long.
As the campaign raged on for years with numerous defeats and little progress, U.S. officials lied to the public about the prospects of a successful Afghanistan campaign. Had the generals and government leaders told us outright that the mission would fail, this mess could have been over years ago, but they chose to not admit their own failures.
The U.S. overstayed a welcome it never really had to begin with, that much is clear. What is also clear from this tragic and preventable debacle is that the supposed American military supremacy and the ability therein to police the world is complicated. All the disappointment and regret around this catastrophe of a war must galvanize widespread support for a reconsideration of the role of military spending and armed engagements in U.S. national discourse. The outcome of the war in Afghanistan shows that Americans must be ever more skeptical about the prospect of long term warfare, wherever it may be. Now, it is time we learn our lesson from Afghanistan, or be doomed to causing more disappointment and play a role in the suffering of more people across the planet.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Sahar Al-Gazzali, Viviana Barreto, Rachel Broun, Jake Busch, Sara Khan, Martin Li, Sophia Ling, Demetrios Mammas, Sara Perez, Leah Woldai and Lynnea Zhang.