Chaos erupts as final U.S. troops are withdrawn
Sept. 11, 2021 marked the 20th anniversary of the devastating attacks of 9/11. What followed was a 20-year war, spanning four presidencies, ending in chaos as a full withdrawal from Afghanistan caused panic to civilians. On Aug. 26, 2021, at least two suicide bombers from the Islamic State Khorasan, better known as ISIS-K, attacked killing civilians and United States service members outside Kabul International Airport in response to pressure from U.S. counter-terrorism.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, following the 9/11 attacks, former President George W. Bush signed a joint resolution to permit the use of force against the perpetrators of 9/11. On Oct. 7, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom was set in motion as the U.S. military bombed Taliban forces. Along with bringing Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden to justice, the goal of the U.S. Special Forces was to end the use of Afghanistan as a shelter for terrorists.
“I guess it could’ve been handled better in that there could’ve been more of a warning given to the people in Afghanistan. Maybe the pullout could’ve been slower so that people had time to get out before all the chaos we have right now.”Neel Mallipeddi, Junior
“President Bush was the one who originally sent troops in there and their goal was not to wipe out the Taliban nor was it to create a democratic state for Afghanistan,” chemistry teacher Walt Warner said, speaking about how his outlook on the situation was affected by the loss of a close family friend in Afghanistan. “The original goal of the mission was two-fold. [It] was to try to locate Osama Bin Laden and capture him or kill him, and to prevent Isis from taking over the country and turning it into a training ground for Islamic fundamentalists, terrorists.”
By 2003, the U.S. got to the point where they had moved from combat activity in Afghanistan into a time of stability and reconstruction. A joint declaration involving former President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai stated the goal was for the U.S. to “Help organize, train, equip and sustain Afghan security forces as Afghanistan develops the capacity to undertake this responsibility.”
Aaron Muller*, a former U.S. government official, worked in Afghanistan for over 20 years to work on that mission.
“The first time I was in Afghanistan [in the early 2000s] I was there as part of the governments counter-terrorism mission to support our Afghan allies to hunt down Al-Qaeda terrorists and to help develop the institutions for the government of Afghanistan,” Muller said. “After 2015, I was there working for U.S. defense technology company providing equipment training and support to the Afghan National Security Forces.”
President Biden announced on Nov. 12, 2020, well before his presidential inauguration, that the number of troops in Afghanistan was to be cut in half before Jan. 2021. Under the U.S.-Taliban agreement instituted during Trump’s presidency, the deadline for a full withdrawal was May 1, 2021; however, Biden delivered a new plan to remove all troops by Aug. 31, 2021.
“Obviously we couldn’t keep going on with this war forever,” junior Neel Mallipeddi, who had been reading about the events as they unfolded, said. “I don’t think it should have happened sooner but it should have been a little bit more gradual so it wasn’t just all gone at once and everyone was left.”
Following Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s departure from the country on Aug. 15, the Taliban swiftly captured Kabul and the presidential palace. According to Time Magazine, in some areas where Afghan forces surrendered, the Taliban was able to seize the U.S.-supplied ammunition, gunpowder, helicopters and more. Over the course of the war, around $83 billion was spent to support the Afghan National Security Forces. Though supplied with sufficient arms, Afghan forces were not able to overcome the Taliban’s attacks.
“The single largest factor in the collapse of the Afghan security forces and the government was the withdrawal of U.S. support and U.S. forces,” Muller said. “This was mandated by a decision made by our president in April.”
On Aug. 16, 2021, chaos erupted at the Kabul airport as crowds gathered at its gates, and Afghans clung onto departing planes and tried to enter jet bridges from the tarmac. According to the CFR, in response, 6,000 American troops were deployed to secure the Kabul airport and help with the evacuation of U.S. personnel. Later that night all flights from Kabul were suspended.
“I don’t think [Biden’s extraction] has been the best but I don’t think any president would really be able to pull it off,” sophomore Brayden Girata, who has kept up with news from Afghanistan in the past, said. “With the resources he’s had to handle it, I think he’s doing a decent job.”
According to Foreign Policy Magazine, the Taliban government is likely to return to imposing Sharia law, Islam’s legal system which is derived from its holy book, the Quran, as well as from sayings and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Women fear losing their jobs and only being allowed to leave the house with a male relative amongst other restrictive rules. It is unknown whether it will be as restrictive as pre 2001-conditions, where women were beaten for small “transgressions.”
“One of the things that came out of us being over there that I thought was a big positive was helping Afghan women be able to not be subjected and systematically abused the way the Taliban does,” Warner said. “If there’s one thing about the whole withdrawal piece of it that makes me the most uncomfortable is the fear that Afghan women and Afghan nationals who have helped our troops are going to be killed and or jailed and treated horrible.”
According to The Washington Post, Aug. 26, 2021 marked the deadliest day for America in over a decade as bombings at the gate of the Kabul airport and a hotel nearby killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 200 civilians. Of the 13 killed were 10 Marines, two soldiers and one Navy corpsman. One hundred and fifty five more people were injured including 18 Americans.
“I think that because it wasn’t caused by the Taliban that it couldn’t have been prevented because it’s from an outside political organization that was trying to get into the conversation,” Girata said. “So based on the quick takeover of the Taliban I think it would have happened either way.”
According to The New York Times, The U.S. ordered an airstrike killing two ISIS-K affiliates and injuring one in retaliation for the airport bombing. Both targets were confirmed to be involved in the attacks, one being the “planner” and the other a “facilitator.” The planner and an ally were driving when the MQ-9 drone struck, killing them both and injuring another person nearby.
“Maybe in a way retaliation could be from the side of ‘we’re not to be messed with’ in a way,” Mallipeddi said. “It also might start a cycle of endless retaliation, but you never really know how they’re going to react to it.”
On Aug. 29, U.S. forces carried out another drone strike on a vehicle suspected to be transporting ISIS-K suicide bombers. Later, The Washington Post reported that assessments by a physicist and former bomb technician said that there was no evidence to confirm the car contained explosives. The driver and passenger inside the car were killed along with three children who approached the vehicle after the missile was fired. An Afghan family reported a total of seven people outside the car were killed in the drone strike.
“It killed innocent bystanders. That always brings up the morality thing, like do the ends justify the means,” Mallipeddi said. “I guess there’s a lot of opinions on that, and I think in the end if they’re innocent it wasn’t really that worth it but that’s always just my personal morals.”
President Biden has reported that only about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan, and some of them are dual citizens. Around 90 percent of Americans that wanted to leave the country have left.
“What happened in Afghanistan was not the result of 20 years of mistakes, and it was not result of Trump’s faulty policy,” Muller said. “It was specifically the result of the president’s decision to withdraw forces, which was a historically bad mistake. It has undermined our national security very clearly, created a humanitarian crisis and left 37 million people as potential victims of a terrorist regime.”
*The government official asked to remain anonymous for personal reasons and is referred to as Aaron Muller in this story.