Left with no choice by the previous administration, Biden ends up fulfilling his promise to end the Afghanistan mission
By Shirvan Williams – Please share on social media and email!
Updated 8:05 AM ET, Wed August 18, 2021
By now you must have seen the images being shared widely across various media platforms of the United States sticking to their promise of pulling out of Afghanistan. The images that are being widely shared show thousands of Afghans desperately trying to flee their home as the Taliban descends on their nation’s capital Kabul bringing with their organization a sense of terror.
Many have pointed their fingers at the Biden administration accusing the 46th US President Joe Biden of a messy departure at the end of what is now considered by some experts, a useless 20-year war. However, the history of this long war may prove that the action taken by the US was inevitable and more importantly crucial to ending a conflict that was always about stamping out the terror organizations believed to be coming out of certain elements of the country.
The facts will also show that this action was preplanned and that during their stay in the country armed forces were created and an attempt at democracy was given a fair go. To understand this latest action by the US and the motives behind it, which on the surface appear sinister, it’s important to have an objective view of the events. It’s also very important to understand why the US entered Afghanistan in the first place, what they hoped to achieve and why the country believed that they had hit all of those targets.
The U.S. Military Operation
On September 11, 2001, at 8:45 a.m. the world watched in horror as several news outlets reported that an American Airlines Boeing 767 rammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The ensuing carnage would remain burned into people’s minds for years to come. It was later discovered that this plane had 20,000 gallons of excess and explosive jet fuel.
Hundreds of people were killed in that first attack and hundreds more were trapped among burning debris desperately clinging to their lives. An immediate evacuation of the building began and first responders rushed to the scene of what was first thought to be a freakish mistake. Just 18 minutes later it would hit home that the nation was under a terror attack.
That became evident when a second Boeing 767, United Airlines Flight 175 hit the south tower near the 60th floor. In the end, it would be four planes used over the eastern US that were used by at least 19 hijackers. While two planes struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, one of them destroyed the western face of the Pentagon.
The last plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers fought back. It is believed that one was heading for the Capitol Building in Washington DC. Almost 3000 people died as a result of that attack.
In the following days, there was a strong response from the George W. Bush administration who declared a War on Terror.
The mission of this war was clear cut to defeat the terrorist groups identified as mainly the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Through this declaration, the US would enter Afghanistan, where these groups were operating, as they sought to bring the organization responsible for the terror in the US to justice.
Bush Administration response
Following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration wasted no time in identifying the enemy and this led them to invade Afghanistan. This was in 2001 following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was the beginning of the 20-year-long war.
Just two years later in 2003, following the loss of life and major bloodshed in the country, the then US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that “major combat” operations would end. The focus would now shift to the rebuilding of the nation in the hope of helping them establish a democratic government.
This would prove an extremely volatile task as opposition forces persisted. What would instead take place would be a further escalation and the loss of more life. That occurred between 2004-2006. The coalition forces led by the US pushed back significantly against the Taliban. The difference this time was that they had the backing of a new Afghanistan government with an established constitution. Through their combined efforts along with the Afghan President Hamid, they pushed back. The Taliban would not go silently into the night and in the same year that significant progress would be scaled back as the terrorist organization, led by their elusive leader, Osama Bin Laden, resurfaced seemingly stronger and with new tactics.
The war would wage on with the significant loss of life on both sides until a new administration would take a more aggressive approach aimed at stamping out the terror threat.
The Obama administration
In 2007, two years before he would ascend to the highest office in the US, the 44th President Barrack Obama, had already shared his intentions to end the Afghan war and hopefully withdraw the troops.
In an editorial, he wrote: “We must refocus our efforts on Afghanistan and Pakistan — the central front in our war against al Qaeda — so that we are confronting terrorists where their roots run deepest.”
He followed that up on the campaign trail in 2008 with, “As president, I will make the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”
One of the first moves he would make would be to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. These troops had a clear mission to protect the Afghan people against Taliban attacks. Another ambitious part of this plan was to somehow reintegrate those who were once against the new regime back into society.
The initial increase of troops President Obama hoped would lead to a steady and stable rebuilding of the country. Once this was achieved the troops would be able to begin withdrawing. This means as far back as 2009, the US had intentions to pull out of this war.
In 2011 two years after the increase in troops, it was made clear that it was time to start gradually handing back the reigns of security to the established Afghan military and police. The initiative, while brave, largely failed as the Taliban persisted and insurgent attacks along with civilian casualties continued to escalate.
It was soon realized that the Afghan troops were not ready to stand up to the might of the terror organization that had been growing steadily. Even when the war ended officially in December 2014, it would be recorded in the history books as the longest war ever fought by the US lasting some 13 years.
Throughout the entirety of that first phase of war one man’s name would constantly surface. The leader of the Al Queda, Osama Bin Laden. He had been identified as the orchestrator of the 9/11 attack and the leader that kept the Al Queda so strong even after facing the might of the US and combined Afghan forces.
It was imperative that the US find and eliminate the leader of the organization if they were to win the war.
The hunt for Osama Bin Laden
When the Americans understood the power and influence that Bin Laden had it became clear that the mission in Afghanistan should be to get at him decisively. It was also clear that he held a lot of influence on some of the Afghan troops as early efforts to get him proved unsuccessful as he was smuggled out to Pakistan, allegedly by the same forces that the US built and trusted.
The new directive was different and the narrative built around it would bring a nation together. Osama Bin Laden, we know now was the founder and first leader of the Islamist militant group Al-Qaeda.
He would meet his demise on May 2, 2011, in Pakistan. According to official records, his death came shortly after 1:00 a.m. PKT in a coordinated effort by the United States Navy SEALs of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group. They were also known as DEVGRU or SEAL Team Six)
The operation, which was code-named Operation Neptune Spear, was carried out in a CIA-led operation with Joint Special Operations Command that coordinated the attack using the Special Mission Units. The elite team included the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) also known as “Night Stalkers” along with operators from the CIA’s Special Activities Division.
His death ended a 10-year search and the raid on the infamous leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was launched from Afghanistan. Probably one of the most notable events arising out of his death was the fact that U.S. military officials took the body of Bin Laden to Afghanistan for identification, and then buried it at sea within 24 hours of his death in accordance with Islamic tradition.
Al-Qaeda would later confirm his death on May 6 by using posts on militant websites. They also vowed to grow stronger and avenge the death of their leader. They got support in their sentiments from other Pakistani militant groups, including the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, who vowed retaliation against the U.S. and against Pakistan for not preventing the operation.
The mission truly brought together the Americans as according to polls at the time the raid was supported by over 90% of the American public. Pakistani sentiment was different as two-thirds of the Pakistani public condemned the actions.
Before Bin Laden’s death, President Obama became famous for what is now commonly called “The Surge”. On February 17, 2009, he gave permission for an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to join the 36,000 U.S. troops and 32,000 NATO service members already there. In 2010, he followed that up by deploying 30,000 additional troops. This is important to note because one of his strongest opposers at the time was then-Vice President Joe Biden.
The Vice President preferred a more strategic attack that would see minimal troops battling it out. His view was later published in a 2010 book by Jules Witcover, entitled Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption.
One of the important points brought up by President Biden in the book is that the mission in Afghanistan was never about nation-building. It was one thing that he and President Obama were in agreement about even if their tactics differed.
He is quoted as saying “we were not in Afghanistan for nation-building. We were not going to commit to provide and guarantee resources to build that country for the next ten years.” He further added, that “the COIN strategy was not appropriate for signing on indefinitely to a nation-building campaign.” In further confirmation of the plan for the way forward, he added: “fundamental reason for being there was Al Qaeda,”
In fact, his point of view on Pakistan was also strong: “Pakistan from disintegrating, and radicals from getting control of nuclear weapons, and that securing an Afghan government was in the service of the first two objects.”
What’s notable about his feelings on the issue was that he always wanted to have a clear date of the withdrawal of the troops and he was not in favor of the number of troops that were deployed.
The Trump administration
On February 29, 2020, the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which was officially titled the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan known also as Doha Agreement.
One of the primary focuses of the deal was the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan, along with a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control. The deal further included talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
As a result of the deal, the US agreed to an initial reduction of its force level from 13,000 to 8,600 by July 2020, followed by a full withdrawal within 14 months if the Taliban stuck to its word. The US also promised to close five military bases within 135 days and offered up a promise of ending economic sanctions on the Taliban by August 27, 2020. The deal met with favor from China, Russia, and Pakistan and was also unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council.
The following are remarks that President Trump made about the deal as recorded by the Washington Post. They would imply that President Trump was in fact in favor of the total removal of troops which President Biden followed through on.
“The job of the American military is to secure and defend our country. Two days ago, the United States signed a deal with the Taliban so that after 19 years of conflict and very close to 20, we can finally begin to bring our amazing troops back home.” — Trump, in a campaign rally, March 2, 2020
“We’re dealing very well with the Taliban. They’re very tough, they’re very smart, they’re very sharp. But, you know, it’s been 19 years, and even they are tired of fighting.”
— Trump, in a news conference, Sept. 18
“Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1st, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible.”
— Trump, in a written statement, April 18
“I started the process. All the troops are coming back home. They couldn’t stop the process. Twenty-one years is enough, don’t we think? Twenty-one years. They [the Biden administration] couldn’t stop the process. They wanted to, but it was very tough to stop the process.”
— Trump, at a political rally, June 26
In that same article, it seemed clear to Biden that the Afghan people were ready to handle their own affairs. He is quoted as saying:
“The Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable. … The Taliban is not … the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”
— Biden, speaking to reporters, July 8
President Biden’s Stance
President Biden continues to maintain that it was time to end a 20-year-war and that the Afghan people were ready to rule themselves as he put forward in his statement on the withdrawal of troops.
As he put it: “First, based on the recommendations of our diplomatic, military, and intelligence teams, I have authorized the deployment of approximately 5,000 U.S. troops to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of U.S. personnel and other allied personnel, and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance.”
He added: “America went to Afghanistan 20 years ago to defeat the forces that attacked this country on September 11th. That mission resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden over a decade ago and the degradation of al Qaeda. And yet, 10 years later, when I became President, a small number of U.S. troops still remained on the ground, in harm’s way, with a looming deadline to withdraw them or go back to open combat.”
The President also made it clear that it was a situation he inherited and one that simply had to be dealt with.
“Over our country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, America has sent its finest young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion dollars, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the-art military equipment, and maintained their air force as part of the longest war in U.S. history. One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.
When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on U.S. Forces. Shortly before he left office, he also drew U.S. Forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500. Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our Forces and our allies’ Forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict. I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”
Whatever your take might be the fact remains that this was a long time coming. Even though the withdrawal may not have been executed as smoothly as desired for all it would be wise to remember that over the 20 years of conflict many lives have been lost.
In fact, according to research conducted by Brown University at least 69,000 Afghan security forces have been killed. That doesn’t include civilians and militants. This number is estimated at 51,000 each. Over 3,500 coalition soldiers have died since 2001 with about two-thirds of them Americans. This does not include the 20,000 US soldiers who have been injured in a war that most agree was not for the rebuilding of Afghanistan but the stamping out of terror.
The mission that started as one focused to get those that committed the 9/11 attacks, morphed into national building, and if you understand the history of the region at all, you know that was doomed to fail. Afghanistan is the textbook example of ‘mission creep’, and American’s longest war had to end at some point. The exit from the country was never going to be pretty. This is what retreat looks like.