The Impenetrable Darkness of War
Afghanistan and Folly
The problem I have in understanding the war in Afghanistan is that I cannot trust the government that has been prosecuting the war for more than 20 years and the reason for the mistrust is that the story and official statements keep changing.
The U.S. is evacuating the last combat troops from Afghanistan, ending U.S. involvement in a war that has killed 2,448 American service members; 3,846 U.S. contractors; 66,600 Afghan national military and police; 1,144 other allied service members, including from other NATO member states; 47,245 Afghan civilians; 51,191 Taliban and other opposition fighters; 444 aid workers; and 72 journalists.
The U.S. invaded to overthrow the Taliban which was linked to Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. We were told that the Taliban were quickly defeated but as of Saturday, with the U.S. evacuation completed, the Taliban is surging across Afghanistan, taking over key cities and closing in on the capital Kabul. Afghan security forces are losing ground, with insurgents controlling large parts of the country.
The Biden administration is sending around 3,000 combat troops to help airlift American personnel and local allies out of Kabul. It is reminiscent of those grim memories and photos of 1969 as U.S. helicopters evacuated panicked and frightened South Vietnamese after the fall of the Vietnam War, leaving the country under the rule of the communists, following the deaths of 1,353,000 people, including 282,000 U.S. and allied military, 444,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong and 627,000 civilians.
I cannot begin to decipher how it got to the point where the Taliban are likely to soon retake Afghanistan and drag it back to the poisonous, dark times of strict Islamic rule where women are treated like chattel and worse. The war in Afghanistan is not a fog, it is an impenetrable darkness with U.S. leaders declaring the war over only to back track and intensify the battle over and over again.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan shortly after the Sept.11 terrorist attacks were tracked to Al Qaida, with the backing of the Taliban, which had been ruling Afghanistan. But quickly, Kabul, the Afghan capitol, fell to the allies and an interim government was formed. The government claimed on Dec. 9, 2001, that the Taliban has collapsed, although fighting continued. But the war raged on until more than 17 years ago, when on May 1, 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared an end to “major combat” in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld said the allied forces “have concluded that we are at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction and activities.” At the time, there were 8,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld was lying.
Roll the clock ahead for 17 years and after thousands of Americans have died in battle, and on Nov. 17, 2020, Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller, under trump, announced plans to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan in half to 2,500 by mid-January, coincidentally just days before President-Elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated. Thousands of troops had already been pulled out following an agreement with the Taliban in February, moving closer to fulfilling trump’s campaign promise to end the so-called forever wars.
Then on April 14, 2021, President Biden announced that the United States will not meet the deadline set under the U.S.-Taliban agreement to withdraw all troops by May 1 and instead releases a plan for a full withdrawal by Sept. 11, 2021. “It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he said.
The remaining 3,500 troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn regardless of whether progress is made in intra-Afghan peace talks or the Taliban reduces its attacks on Afghan security forces and citizens.
Five days later, on April 19, 2021, trump praised Biden’s announcement of plans to leave Afghanistan as “a wonderful and positive thing to do.” Trump, as is his way, was being less than genuine.
But then, yesterday, Aug. 13, trump issued a press release blaming Biden for the “tragic mess in Afghanistan,” referring to Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. ground forces by Sept.11, the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks that triggered the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, blamed trump for the likely victory and return to power of the Taliban because the president excluded the Afghan Government from earlier peace talks.
“We bear a major responsibility for this,” Crocker said. “It began under President Trump when he authorized negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban without the Afghan government in the room. That was a key Taliban demand, and we acceded to it, and it was a huge demoralizing factor for the Afghan government and its security focus.”
It is a fog that is so dense as to be impenetrable and how then is the American public to trust that its leaders won’t take us into yet another debacle? The answer is that we can only hope.