Opinion Graphic fall 2020

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush sent the United States military to invade Afghanistan. The stated goal was to combat terrorism, overthrow the Taliban, suppress al-Qaida and prevent another tragedy of such magnitude. But President Joe Biden and his predecessor mishandled the military’s recent withdrawal from the country, resulting in the deaths of civilians and soldiers and leaving the Taliban in control.

Former President Donald Trump initially struck an agreement with the Taliban for the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. The Biden administration then set its own deadline for Sept. 11, before rescheduling to an ambitious target of Aug. 31.

The president’s decision to remove U.S. troops so rapidly revealed his ineptitude. Before the military began its withdrawal, it failed to properly train and equip a force substantial enough to resist usurpation by the Taliban. This resulted in the fall of the country’s capital, Kabul, before all American boots were even off the ground.

This crushing blow reversed nearly 20 years of struggle borne by U.S. and allied soldiers. One of the early goals for the war was to overthrow the Taliban in retaliation for harboring members of al-Qaida. Now, the same enemy that was once driven back is again in control of the country.

The capital fell while the U.S. was still in the process of evacuating troops and refugees at the Kabul airport. With hordes of people rushing to flee the country out of fear of Taliban rule, the airport became overwhelmed. In one incident, civilians attempting to escape the battle-scarred region clung to the side of a military jet only to fall to their deaths.

To avoid more devastation, U.S. officials reportedly struck a deal with the Taliban for assistance evacuating Americans. It is perplexing that the military would turn to its former enemies and rely on them for safety.

The weakness caused by the chaotic withdrawal was exploited when members of the Islamic State group set off a bomb at a gate at the Kabul airport Aug. 26. The blast killed 13 American soldiers and at least 90 Afghan civilians. As commander-in-chief, Biden trusted the Taliban, a former enemy, with the lives of American soldiers and the civilians they had sworn to protect, and the families of those killed must live with the consequences.

The president did attempt a retaliatory strike against the Islamic State group, but it too was mishandled and resulted in more loss of innocent life. On Aug. 29, the U.S. military targeted a car suspected of transporting explosives with a drone attack. 

Investigative reporting in the following days revealed the vehicle belonged to Zemari Ahmadi, a nonprofit worker who hoped to emigrate to the United States, and contained water he intended to distribute. The blast killed Ahmadi and nine others, including seven children, according to reports. After initial denials, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the attack was unsuccessful and killed innocent civilians.

Biden and Trump planned for a smooth exit that would earn them praise for ending a seemingly unwinnable — and wildly unpopular — war, but the execution was fatally botched. As the head of the government and the U.S. military, Biden was responsible for protecting American and allied lives, but ultimately failed to uphold that duty.

His choice to rush the evacuation instead of gradually pulling out troops left thousands still in need of escape. When the military completed its withdrawal, there were still several dozen Americans and countless vulnerable Afghans left to fend for themselves under the oppressive rule of the Taliban. Many were civilians who worked as interpreters or drivers for the United States military and are now in danger of retribution by the Taliban for their work. It was negligent to abandon these people in their time of need after they assisted Americans in theirs.

The hasty exit has also resulted in some of the most significant reversals of U.S.-led progress in the Middle East.  

Since the Taliban has taken control, women’s hard-fought rights have been rapidly stripped. In early September, Taliban Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani announced that women would no longer be permitted to study alongside men, and the Taliban would conduct a review of which subjects women should be allowed to study. Taliban spokesmen said during the takeover that the group would allow women jobs and education, but nearly all women working for the Kabul city government have already been expelled from their jobs, according to reports.

In addition, during the withdrawal, billions of dollars worth of American military equipment was left in the hands of the Taliban. The U.S. first invaded to depose the Taliban and root out al-Qaida operatives, but now, with U.S. weapons in their possession, the Taliban could wage war on America or its allies.

The resilience of the American people was tested on that fateful day in September 2001, and a controversial war ensued. Now that fight has been mishandled and soldiers and civilians have died as a result, and it remains to be seen what the long-term ripple effect of this disaster will be.

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