Time has run out on the ‘forever war’
Major newspapers and television stations ran pictures last week of hordes of desperate people running down the runway of Kabul airport as huge transport airplanes took flight without them. Much to the surprise of many in power, the Taliban took control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, without firing a shot. After a 20-year-long battle, there was no question of who was in control of the country.
For a period of 20 years, the United States has trained and equipped the Afghanistan army and provided assistance in the economic development of the country. There was never any intention for the U.S. to assume colonial responsibility for the country. In a speech on April 14, Biden announced plans to begin withdrawing U.S. troops until there will be no major U.S. military presence by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the Osama bin Laden-led attack on the U.S.
To demonstrate the earnestness of his intention, Biden withdrew 2,500 troops on May 11. Biden made it clear that he did not want to hand over a war to the next generation of leaders. The war has cost the U.S. over $2 trillion since Bush’s military intervention in 2001. An estimated 2,442 U.S. troops have died, as well as thousands of U.S. contractors and 1,144 allied troops. In public statements, Biden had indicated that the withdrawal was going smoothly and could possibly be completed by Aug. 31.
Despite the years of military training and the latest weapons donated by the U.S., Afghanistan forces did not have the will to combat the Taliban. A simple U.S. withdrawal would not by itself answer the questions of which group controls Afghanistan. Since earlier negotiations between Trump and the Taliban amounted essentially to U.S. surrender, according to the New York Times report, it was strategically astute for the Taliban to attack Kabul to establish the winner before U.S. forces left.
The willingness of the Afghans to step aside and let the Taliban walk over them was unacceptable to Biden and many Americans as well. U.S. soldiers and paramilitary personnel had sacrificed their lives for Afghans who folded up like accordions in the final battle. You can add to that the American taxpayers, who had sacrificed an enormous amount of money to provide training and military equipment — all for naught.
U.S. political commentators have made the matter worse. Some assert that since the U.S. leaves substantial military detachments in many countries, they could solve the problem by leaving troops in Afghanistan. The only problem is that Afghanistan would remain a war zone. The U.S. would risk the lives of more poor Blacks, whites and Latinos who join the army because of limited civilian jobs that pay well and provide a future. This is the population that Biden represents.
Indeed, in the past five years there have been substantial military presences in Japan (38,818), Germany (34,602), South Korea (24,189) and Italy (12,088), but there were no active hostilities in any of those places. The military units were capable of conflict if necessary, but their presence was primarily to emphasize alliances.
It has been disturbing to see how readily many powerful Americans are willing to sacrifice the lives of those they deem to be the underclass. Undoubtedly, Biden was disturbed that so many Afghans ran from the Taliban rather than to turn and fight to redeem the sacrifices to U.S. underlings. And Biden would have expected a stronger demonstration of patriotism.