Afghanistan is back in Taliban hands after 20 years of U.S. occupation. On August 16, 2021, President Joe Biden explained his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.
So I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghans — Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not? How many more lives — American lives — is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?
I’m clear on my answer: I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past — the mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces. Joe Biden, August 16, 2021
U. S. costs since 2001 have been: 2,500 U.S. military deaths, 4,000 U.S. civilian contractors killed, an estimated 167,000 Afghan deaths, and $2 trillion spent.
The probability was low that Afghanistan’s central government installed after the U.S. 2001 invasion would survive without a strong U.S. presence.
When I hosted President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah at the White House in June and again when I spoke by phone to Ghani in July, we had very frank conversations. We talked about how Afghanistan should prepare to fight their civil wars after the U.S. military departed, to clean up the corruption in government so the government could function for the Afghan people. We talked extensively about the need for Afghan leaders to unite politically. They failed to do any of that. Joe Biden, August 16, 2021
A good interpreter interacting with the locals might let you in that the locals were confused about our presence there. A great interpreter would take the time to explain to you that outside of a few select people tied directly to the government, many locals were confused by even the mention of Afghanistan. They identified themselves as “Pashtuns” and if asked where they lived, believed they were in “Pashtunistan,” encompassing a region that is parts of Southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Task & Purpose, August 17, 2021
Joe Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump, recognized the realities in Afghanistan, and on February 29, 2020, signed an agreement with Taliban leaders that set the date for U.S. troop withdrawal by May 1, 2021, and lay down a strategy for evacuating U.S. personnel and allies.
Although Biden shared Trump’s vision of troop withdrawal sooner rather than later, he delayed the withdrawal and the evacuation, allowing the Taliban to take control before allies were orderly evacuated. The ensuing chaos, reminiscent of the fall of Saigon in 1975, prompted criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.
There has also been criticism of perceived disregard for the fate under Taliban rule of women and girls. The Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic principles calls for the subservience of women. The Taliban is now in charge, and expecting the U.S. government to dictate how the Taliban should treat women appears arrogant. If women and girls of Afghanistan value their education, right to work outside the home, owning property, and having other individual freedoms enjoyed by men, they have a challenging road ahead.
Shibboleths like “You broke it, you own it,” feel more like someone’s admonition at Faberge than a reference to the devastation of wars. The U.S. went into Afghanistan to rid itself of Al-Qaeda. It appears it did that, for now. In the context of war, no further action is required.
In the context of diplomacy and intelligence, there is much that can be done, especially now that the Taliban wants to be seen as a gentler, kinder version of its former self.
Since capturing Kabul, the Taliban have sought to rebrand themselves as more moderate, promising former rivals amnesty, urging women to join their government, pledging stability at home and trying to persuade the international community to see beyond a bloody past defined by violence and repression. New York Times, August 21, 2021
The correct response to the sunk-cost dilemma is to realistically evaluate the situation, and if most variables are not conducive to success, get out – mitigate as best you can, but get out. President Joe Biden failed to conduct an orderly conclusion to U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, but at least he gave the orders to get out.