(Coauthored by John Anthony)
On September 11th, 2001, four passenger airliners were hijacked by 19 agents of Al-Qaeda, a militant, ultraconservative Islamic terrorist organization. The hijacked aircraft were then used in suicide bombing attacks against the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and the fourth one was directed towards the White House, but crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. 15 of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon. On October 7th, the United States of America initiated Operation Enduring Freedom and invaded the nation of Afghanistan. 18 years, thousands of civilian deaths, and one trillion dollars later, and the American occupation of Afghanistan continues with no end in sight.
The war in Afghanistan initially began to eliminate Al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power. And on December 17th, 2001, the mission was accomplished. The Taliban government was removed from power. However, Operation Enduring Freedom had only begun. For years afterwards, the US has seemingly bumbled about completely aimlessly, with no real plan to actually end the conflict in Afghanistan. The ratio of civilians to enemy insurgents killed has been about 1:1, and we have burned billions upon billions of dollars in this fruitless endeavor. Removal of our troops from Afghanistan is long overdue.
To quote three star army general Douglas Lute, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing.” This quote, among many others, was leaked to the public by The Washington Post in their massive exposé, “The Afghanistan Papers.” The documents in this exposé paint a bleak picture — one of deception, outright lies, staggering incompetence, and atrocity. The Afghanistan Papers confirm that the US Government lied to its citizens, and, in an abstract sense, to itself.
From the start, the Afghan War has been an absolute logistical disaster every step of the way. At first, the goal was clear cut — neutralize Al-Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban. The US very quickly succeeded, but then made a critical mistake — again and again and again, for seventeen years. After the defeat of Al-Qaeda, the Bush administration elected to maintain some level of military presence to combat terrorism. Their counterterrorism strategies were deeply and inherently flawed, resulting in more civilian than combatant deaths. These inadequate, incompetent forces eventually allowed for a resurgence of the Taliban, who to this day are the largest single group fighting against pro-government forces.
Ever since the initial defeat of the Taliban, US military activity in Afghanistan has largely consisted of aimless fighting, without even so much as something resembling a plan to end the conflict. An unidentified NATO liaison from the US was quoted as saying “what are we actually doing in that country? What are our objectives? Nation-building? Women’s rights? …It was never fully clear in our minds what the established goals and timelines were.” This whole state of affairs can be summarized and explained with one quote — In 2002, as the US was gearing up to invade Iraq, it sort of forgot about Afghanistan. In private, a former National Security Council member stated that “your job was not to win, it was to not lose.”
If any of this was known at the time, public support for the war would have almost certainly plummeted. To solve this pressing issue, the government simply lied. Naval War College strategist John Garofano stated that “officials devoted a [shocking] amount of resources to producing fancy, color coded charts that heralded positive results” — often with no basis in reality. When figures indisputably looked bad, government officials would spin them to absurd dimensions. If attacks are getting worse, it could mean there’s more targets for them to fire at — ergo, we are winning. If suicide bombings in Kabul increased, it was a sign of the Taliban’s desperation — ergo, we are winning. This was done, he said, for two reasons — to make everyone involved look good, and to make it look like we needed to be there. However, despite a lack of useful information on the state of the conflict from the U.S. government, public opinion on the war has been worsening for years.
The American Public’s opinion of the war in Afghanistan has changed significantly over time, and in some studies, it seems to differ widely across party lines. According to the Pew Research Center, 42% of Democrats and only 39% of Republicans said that the U.S. had succeeded in its goals in the country in 2015, during the end of the Obama administration. That divide seems to have reversed with the election of a Republican President. In 2018, 48% of Republicans and republican-leaning independents and only 28% of Democrats and democratic-leaning independents said that the U.S. had succeeded.
The opinion on whether the initial use of force in Afghanistan was justified also seems to be drawn along party lines. 66% percent of Republicans and republican-leaning independents and only 31% of Democrats and democratic-leaning independents support the initial decision to use force in Afghanistan. This is a sharp decrease from shortly after the conflict started in 2002, when 83% of Americans approved of the US-led campaign in Afghanistan.
Despite the partisan split of the data, there is a clear downward trend of endorsement in the conflict, with 69% in 2006 and only 45% in 2018, with condemnation of the use of military force rising from 20% to 39% in that same time frame. The American public is less and less satisfied with the war every year, and they have the numbers to back them up.
According to the Washington Post, an estimated 157,000 people have died in the war in Afghanistan since 2001. This includes an estimated 42,100 Taliban fighters and other insurgents, and 43,074 Afghan civilians. That’s a little over one civilian killed for every Taliban fighter. No wonder the public isn’t satisfied with a conflict that kills more civilians than it does the enemy.
Due to clearly waning public support, widespread incompetence among central command, and complete failure to accomplish any of our confused goals, we must remove ourselves from the conflict. At the beginning of the Trump presidency, there were 8,400 U.S troops in Afghanistan. That number has since increased to somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000. While he is slowly withdrawing troops from the country, it isn’t fast enough to stop the bloodshed. Considering all of this, we believe it to be imperative that Congress immediately move to completely and unconditionally withdraw our forces from Afghanistan. Our presence seems to have only made things worse, and we should not be trusted to resolve this conflict.
Oliphant, J. B. (2018, October 5). More say US has failed than succeeded in Afghanistan War. Retrieved from: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/05/after-17-years-of-war-in-afghanistan-more-say-u-s-has-failed-than-succeeded-in-achieving-its-goals/
Shabir, G., Ali, S., & Iqbal, Z. (2011). US Mass Media and Image of Afghanistan: Portrayal of Afghanistan by Newsweek and Time. Retrieved January 14, 2020, from: http://pu.edu.pk/images/journal/csas/PDF/6-Dr. Ghulam Shabir.pdf
Telhami, S., & Kopchick, C. (2020, January 5). Analysis | This recent poll shows how Americans think about the war in Afghanistan. Retrieved January 14, 2020, from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/01/05/this-recent-poll-shows-how-americans-think-about-war-afghanistan/
Whitlock, C. (2019, December 9). The Afghanistan Papers. Retrieved January 14, 2020, from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/
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