U.S. Presidency

Exiting a Never-Ending Civil War in Afghanistan

Joe

President Joe Biden speaking on the situation in Afghanistan and on the response to Tropical Storm Henri on August 22, 2021.

Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

***

History wasn’t going to repeat itself on Joe Biden’s watch.

At least not if he had anything to do with it.

The 46th U.S. President and fourth guardian of the war in Afghanistan was determined not to meet the same fate as Lyndon Johnson, when the tall, big-eared Texan left office in 1968.

Johnson biographer and historian Robert Caro reports that there were 23,000 Americans in Vietnam when LBJ took office. By the end of 1965, that number leaped to 184,000; by the end of his presidency, there were 586,000 American troops in Southeast Asia. 58,000 Americans were killed, 288,000 seriously wounded.

Was it worth it? Hardly! North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam (who the U.S. supported), surrendering in April, 1975.

By the time Joe Biden was sworn in as president, he was faced with the same difficulty bedeviling George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. All of these presidents wrestled whether to send in more troops, more money, more weapons in dealing with the Afghan civil war or end American’s participation in a tribal conflict and withdraw.

Biden had the courage to step forward and rip off the band aid and withdraw the troops. He chose such an action knowing full well the land mines he was about to confront.

“There never was a good time to withdraw U.S. forces” Biden said in his August 16th address to the nation.

Biden could have kicked the can down the road, like three of his predecessors have, and left it to his successor to deal with the mess when he was out of office.

Instead, he did something novel-he took ownership of the war in Afghanistan.

“I am president of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me,” Biden said.

I’m sure the decision wasn’t an easy one, knowing leaving meant possibly the reemergence of the scourge of the Taliban, and more alarming still--the reemergence of the terrorist group, al Qaeda.

But to hear newspaper reports, opinion columnists, and nauseating television talking heads, you would think it was Biden’s war to begin with.

Why wasn’t the media asking what has been accomplished in the 20 years before Joe Biden assumed office?

The answer is fairly simple. The Taliban, after 20 years, is still alive and well in Afghanistan. They never really left, they were scattered in the crevices of the countryside, the villages, and small towns, particularly in the south of the country, their stronghold, while the U.S. military held the larger populated urban areas.

What does the U.S. have to show for it after 20 years? Glad you asked! 2,461 U.S. service members have been killed, 20,000 injured, another 3,846 U.S. contractors killed.

The final U.S. tab? Between the Afghanistan and Iraq--$2 trillion.

I wish the same journalists condemning Biden would discuss what are mission in Afghanistan has been?

After getting rid of terrorists who attacked on 9/11 and preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, it was to make the Afghans self-reliant by providing them with billions of economic assistance, the best military training in the world, along with state-of-the-art weapons.

Between 2002 and 2017, in fact, the United States reportedly gave the Afghan military an estimated $28 billion in artillery, including guns, rockets, night-vision goggles and even small drones for intelligence gathering.

Joe 2

An Afghan National Army soldier stands in afternoon formation awaiting instructions at a checkpoint in western Afghanistan, Dec. 31, 2019.

Photo By Jeffery J. Harris/U.S. Army

***

What else is to be done in a country divided with factionalism and tribal warfare? U.S. forces, after all, helped equip the Taliban with a convenient anti-colonialist rallying cry for others to join their crusade in rooting out foreign occupation.

Clearly, we overstayed our welcome!

It’s obvious now that the Afghans were never interested in autonomy or taking the baton from the U.S. to lead their country as they saw fit, far removed from Taliban influence.

Once President Biden announced he would abide by the deal President Trump struck with the Taliban to withdraw all troops, Afghan troops folded like a deck of cards.

Knowing the U.S. were heading to the exit doors, heaps of Afghan troops, instead of hunkering down and taking responsibility for their country, accepted cold hard cash from the Taliban and handed over their weapons, practically without as much as a whimper. Knowing the Taliban would eventually control the major cities, others surrendered without a fight in exchange for not being subject to harsh retribution once the Taliban reigned supreme.

Large pockets of Afghans additionally didn’t feel President Ashraf Ghani (before he fled the country) came to power legitimately; his presidency was tainted with fraud and corruption. And he didn’t accomplish what he set out to do, which was to unite the country. Before Biden was elected, Ghani, according to many observers, was prone to cruelty and spite. When the U.S. asked him to form a negotiating team in 2018, it took him two years. A senior Afghan leader told journalist Dexter Filkins (from the New Yorker) that Ghani was surrounding himself with people who were determined to “destroy the peace process.”

When Ghani was reelected in 2019, less than two million Afghans voted for him. Many Afghans didn’t feel waging war for such an ineffective leader was worth fighting for.

The U.S., in other words, flushed $83 billion down the toilet (in weapons, equipment, training) over the last 20 years with little to show for it.

Reuters reports that the Taliban control more than “2,000 armored vehicles, U.S. Humvees, and up to 40 aircraft potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drones.”

Biden, correctly, said from the East Room of the White House that it’s up to Afghans to make the decision about the future of their country. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden stated on August 16.  “We spent over a trillion dollars.  We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong — incredibly well equipped — a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies. “

What Joe Biden realizes now is what the Soviet Union came to realize when they finally withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in 1989. After 10 years of occupation, 13,000 of their soldiers had been killed, 40,000 more wounded and the public outcry for remaining in such a quagmire in a foreign land, propelled the Soviet Union to exit the country and direct more money toward fixing a deplorable health care system back home, work on arms reduction, and other freedom of speech initiatives that needed serious attention.

Similarly, Joe Biden realizes with an ambitious $1 trillion Infrastructure Bill passed by the Senate last month, the $2 trillion spent on Iraq and Afghanistan could have been spent much more wisely on American soil, including policies to address climate change, funding to expand high-speed internet access; much needed repairs to roads, bridges, and airports; modernization of the nation’s power grid, repairing and replacing aging public works projects and more mechanisms directed at  pollution control.

Biden also acknowledges the paradigm of U.S. foreign policy is changing, which means we have to change with it, which includes tracking and directing more of our resources toward al Shabaab (a jihadi militant organization in Somalia), al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nursa (another jihadist organization fighting against Syrian government forces in the Syrian Civil War), along with monitoring ISIS attempts to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia. All of these new global fears were articulated by Joe Biden in his remarks to the nation on August 16th.

As Abraham Lincoln said in 1862: “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

It’s almost hysterical that while Joe Biden is receiving the brunt of the blame for pulling out of Afghanistan, his boss for eight years, Barack Obama, receives hardly a mention for his deception.

On December 14, 2014, President Obama said,thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

Only it wasn’t the end.

Instead of reducing our troops to 5,500 as he told the American public, he ordered more U.S. boots to stay in Afghanistan in July, 2016. So that by the time Obama left the White House (January, 2017), 8,400 troops remained in Afghanistan.

Craig Whitlock, an investigative reporter for The Washington Post, reporting on national security issues wrote that the “Obama administration’s assertion that the fighting had ended was “among the most egregious deceptions and lies that U.S. leaders spread during two decades of warfare.” “The war,” Whitlock explained, “was nowhere near done, and Obama wasn’t willing to actually end it, lest he face exactly what Biden is facing right now.”

 Instead of attacking him and slinging arrows in his direction, many should be thanking President Biden for finally ending our presence in Afghanistan, saving American lives, and doing what Barack Obama promised but blatantly lied about.

 

--Bill Lucey

WPLucey@gmail.com

September 7, 2021


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