By Alan Heil
Today’s news that the United States and NATO allies have departed the Bagram Air Base, the largest military installation in Afghanistan, calls for reflection.
Twenty years ago, U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan. That was just a couple of weeks after al-Qaeda terrorists from Afghanistan killed 2,977 Americans in the infamous September 11 attacks on the U.S. mainland. The reasons for our ensuing military presence were strong.
The al-Qaeda assaults, originating from territory controlled by the Taliban:
- turned lower Manhattan into a disaster area,
- destroyed parts of the Pentagon in Arlington, and
- made hallowed grounds of a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There, U.S. civilian passengers resisted al-Qaeda operatives who had occupied their plane, causing it to crash at that site, fatally ending the lives of all those aboard.
Two decades later, a new U.S. administration acts
President Biden took direct responsibility for a clear-cut decision to draw our military commitment to a close. As Biden put it:
“I’m now the fourth U.S. President to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan, two Republicans and two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.
“After consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military and intelligence personnel, with our diplomats and development experts, with the Congress and Vice President and many others around the world, I have concluded that it’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home.”
Early Afghan official reaction
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, meanwhile, focused on what observers described as the recent arrival in his country of fresh Taliban forces. As July dawns, the Taliban is poised to consolidate control over the beleaguered country’s provincial capitals. The Arabic news agency Al Jazeera, however, quoted Mr. Biden as assuring that “U. S. support for Afghanistan is not ending.”
He met at the White House June 25 with Mr. Ghani to assure him and incumbent Afghan co-leader Abdullah Abdullah of continuing backing by Washington as U.S. troops leave. As of this writing, Taliban forces are tightening their encirclement of the Afghan capital, Kabul, but have yet to seize it.
The Afghan president thanked U. S. troops and their families for sacrifices in his country over the past two decades. However, he cited what appears to be obvious, that his country now stands on the precipice of civil war.
To quote Mr. Ghani: “It’s a choice of values, the values of an inclusionary system or one that is exclusionary.” He added that his government forces now are pushing back some Taliban fighters from contested areas in northern provinces.
The costs of the Afghan war since 2001
No official death toll is available from Afghan sources, but casualty totals are staggering: 72,000 Taliban killed and more than 100,000 Afghans wounded. United States: 2,309 killed and more than 20,000 injured. The two decades of conflict cost the U.S. $2 trillion.
Of course, it was high time that America’s involvement end. Let’s hope that countless additional casualties in an internal Afghan civil war already underway will not follow. Its nearly 40 million people — and a watching world — are desperate for peace, including salvation for oppressed Afghan women, in a conflict that has persisted for an entire generation.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More