The war in Afghanistan has been a regular talking point for two decades, and recently came back to the forefront of global attention with the decision being made to withdraw all United States military forces from the country in August of 2021. There are many global repercussions that have happened and will continue to occur due to this war, and now is an excellent time to research the topic in order to get a better understanding of why the war was and continues to be significant.
The war started in late 2001 after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers and Pentagon. President Bush announced Operation Enduring Freedom to be a campaign “…designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime…” The first offensive move was on October 7, 2001, with air strikes and bombings in areas where Taliban forces were stationed. Ground forces arrived twelve days later.By the end of the year, forces had successfully overthrown Taliban control and eliminated many of its leaders, with Osama Bin Laden and a few others having fled. Establishing a presidential government modeled in western democratic fashion was next on the agenda, and a constitution was established in January of 2004. It is notable that women were allowed to vote, as this was viewed as a sign of progress and modernization within Afghanistan. The stage was set to put the country on track to be self-sufficient and democratic, but it was a new system that was still in its infancy. In 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated “Our progress in Afghanistan is real but it is fragile…” There were still a large number of pro-Taliban supporters, and their forces were still continuing to try and regain control of Afghanistan. The first announcement of a drawdown in US troops came just short of a decade after the war started in June of 2011, shortly after elimination of Bin Laden, who was a key leader of Taliban forces and one of the orchestrators of the 9/11 attack. For the next ten years, the status quo was held in Afghanistan and the number of troops stationed was lowered in increments, until this year when the remainder was quickly removed. After removal of the troops, it did not take long for Taliban forces to invade the capital city of Kabul and once again take control of the government. Since that happened, the Taliban worked to regain control of the country, which they have already done. Original estimates of the timeline of this occurring were given in a Biden admiration military assessment in spring of 2021 and stated that “Afghanistan could fall largely under Taliban control within two to three years after the departure of international forces.”
Public opinion in the United States of this war has been split between democrats and republicans. A study conducted by Pew Research Center in late August of this year breaks down public opinion nicely. It is important to keep in mind that there was a republican president at the start in 2001, and a democratic president at the conclusion in 2021. 69% of republicans support the initial decision to take military action in Afghanistan, while only 44% of democrats do. 77% of republicans think the Biden administration handled the situation poorly; just 15% of democrats have the same opinion. Without taking political stance to be a factor, 46% of Americans view the Taliban as a major threat, 69% do not believe the goals in Afghanistan were met, and only 26% would rate the Biden administration as doing a good or fair job of handling the situation. Based off this information, it can be seen that there is an argument to be made as to the justification of both starting the conflict and ending it. If the goals indeed were to overthrow and eliminate terrorist groups and establish a new democratic government, evidence suggests that the general consensus as to the success of the campaign is correct, and these goals were not accomplished successfully. But were there more than just morality, humanitarian efforts, and justice on the table?
In an article published in November of 2001, Indian reporter V.K. Shashikumar quotes Professor Michael T. Klare regarding the objectives of the war, “First, to capture and punish those responsible for the September 11 attacks, and to prevent further acts of terrorism; and second, to consolidate U.S. power in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea area, and to ensure continued flow of oil. And while the second set may get far less public attention than the first, this does not mean it is any less important.” This is a very important observation directly from the time when the conflict was just beginning. Over the course of the war, America spent 2.313 trillion dollars in this endeavor, so it certainly makes sense that oil would be a major motivating factor. Again, as with the other goals, since the land where that oil could be pumped has fallen back into Taliban control, it would be reasonable to deduce that this was not accomplished successfully. A compelling quote from John Sopko in a congressional hearing from January 2020 states “…in 2002, President George W. Bush said, and I quote: The history of military conflict in Afghanistan has been one of initial success followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure. We are not going to repeat that mistake. Unquote. And yet here we are today, 18 years later, having made precisely that mistake.” The past twenty years spent in Afghanistan were ineffective at best. As Afghanistan reverts back to totalitarian government, the rights and freedoms are being taken away and individuals are yet again forced to either support the Taliban or face dire consequences. It is now solely in the hands of Afghani people to make that choice.
-Green, Ted van, and Carroll Doherty. “Majority of U.S. Public Favors Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal; Biden Criticized for His Handling of Situation.” Pew Research Center, 31 Aug. 2021, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/08/31/majority-of-u-s-public-favors-afghanistan-troop-withdrawal-biden-criticized-for-his-handling-of-situation
-Zucchino, David. “What Happened in the Afghanistan War?” The New York Times, 7 Oct. 2021, www.nytimes.com/article/afghanistan-war-us.html
Laub, Zachary. “The U.S. War in Afghanistan.” Council on Foreign Relations, 1 May 2017, www.cfr.org/timeline/us-war-afghanistan
-“Human and Budgetary Costs to Date of the U.S. War in Afghanistan, 2001–2022 | Figures | Costs of War.” The Costs of War, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/figures/2021/human-and-budgetary-costs-date-us-war-afghanistan-2001-2022
-“U.S. LESSONS LEARNED IN AFGHANISTAN.” U.S. Congress, U.S. Government Publishing Office, 15 Jan. 2020, www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-116hhrg38915/html/CHRG-116hhrg38915.html
-Shashikumar, V. K. “OIL SECRETS BEHIND U.S. WAR ON AFGHANISTAN.” Peace Research, vol. 33, no. 2, Canadian Mennonite University, 2001, pp. 102–04, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23608077