Editor's Note: Editorials are representative of the views of all Editorial Board members. One or two members will compile these views and write an editorial.
For more than 20 years, the United States has been involved in a complex and costly war with terrorist groups and Taliban targets in Afghanistan.
More than an estimated seven thousand Americans, 66 thousand Afghan military fighters, 47 thousand Afghan citizens (including women and children), four hundred aid workers and 70 journalists have perished between 2001 and the end of April of this year.
To add to those terrible numbers: this past week, an attack by ISIS-K at the airport in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul killed more than 170 people. Thirteen of the victims were U.S. service members.
The war has been given the moniker “the forever war” by some and many have criticized our nation’s leaders for failing to end the conflict sooner.
This conflict is set to end this week.
President Biden announced that the U.S. would withdraw all combat personnel by Aug. 31 and he has repeatedly stated that the U.S. is on track to meet that deadline.
When Biden first announced his plans to follow through with the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban and withdraw all troops back in April, the ISD Editorial Board was cautious about celebrating too soon.
“Perhaps the most glaring consequence [of withdrawal] will be a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” the editorial board wrote.
That’s no longer a possibility; it’s reality. The Taliban effectively seized control of Afghanistan in only a few months.
Now, with the U.S. withdrawal almost finished and 20 years of defense erased in a week, the world is more concerned than ever about what will happen to those living under Taliban rule, and rightfully so. The Taliban, while claiming that they plan to do it differently this time, have a horrendous track record of human rights abuses and the oppression of women.
The Biden administration made a grave error in underestimating the Taliban’s speed and success at seizing control of Afghanistan. The U.S. should have evacuated Afghan allies, such as interpreters, sooner. And the seeming lack of preparation by his administration is a press disaster for Biden.
Despite all of these critiques, we agree that withdrawing U.S. forces was the right call.
Think about how many American service members and Afghan citizens and service members died during these past 20 years, during a war that had no clear aim and that the U.S. did not win.
The United States' continued presence in Afghanistan would no longer have had any constructive effect on the political or military makeup of the nation.
Our main “goal,” if not well thought-out and poorly-executed, was to end the threat of terrorism against the U.S. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, our focus was on eliminating the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, who were under the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
To get to al-Qaeda, the U.S. intervened with its military and removed the Taliban, pledging to replace the group with a democratic government. In 2011, the U.S. achieved one of its primary objectives by finding and killing Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban has committed to, as part of the Feb. 2020 deal with the Trump administration, not working with or harboring known al-Qaeda fighters. Despite this, many think the Taliban and al-Qaeda are inseparable.
Still, this is not a more important or dangerous threat than those poised by other regions and other terrorist groups, including from within the U.S., or even by other nations like China, Russia or North Korea (as we wrote back in April).
It took the Taliban less than a few months to completely seize control — after more than two decades, thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars spent. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda found footholds elsewhere, and the threat from groups like ISIS-K have grown. After all, the bombing in Kabul was committed not by the Taliban, but by ISIS-K, who are also fighting the Taliban.
So what, then, is the point of staying? The Biden administration chose to continue the deal the Trump administration struck with the Taliban. At this point, close to 117,000 people, most of whom are Afghan, have been evacuated since the Taliban seized control of Kabul.
For those of you who would have rather the U.S. remained occupying Afghanistan, how long? How much longer would the U.S. need to remain? There was no good answer 20 years ago, and there’s no good answer now.
If all goes according to plan, the last day of withdrawal will be the day before this editorial is published.
For a timeline of the last two decades in Afghanistan, starting before 2001, click here.