The American withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan has left essential questions of peace in Afghanistan in the air. Without human rights as the primary priority when exiting, there is a risk of violence against the most vulnerable members of society and a potential collapse of the government. The violence has continued in Afghanistan following President Biden’s announcement that American troops will be departing Afghanistan. On May 8th, 2021, a horrific bombing outside Sayed Ul-Shuhada high school is a reminder of the deadly conflict that will continue beyond the American departure. There were at least 68 deaths in the bombing and over 150 injured; most victims were teenage girls leaving class. The violent attack is the deadliest attack targeting Afghan people in 2021.
Human rights groups are concerned that the American withdrawal could leave those most vulnerable – women and children – at risk of serious human rights violations. Mike Breen, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and Human Rights First President, exclaimed that “the Biden administration must prioritize the protection of Afghan civilians and meet its obligations to the interpreters, translators, and wartime allies who have faithfully served the United States.”
However, the United States-led NATO operation has not been simply positive or negative. While there is no question that there have been positive effects over the last decade on Afghanistan citizens’ health, education, and women’s rights. The negative effect of American foreign policies in Afghanistan can not be ignored. The U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has been deadly and misleading. As the Washington Post reported in 2019, government officials have used inaccurate information received from military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House to deliberately distort statistics to give the impression that the United States was winning the war when this was far from the case.
The Afghanistan Papers report by the Washington Post found that the American government and military officials failed to understand the necessary stabilization strategies and programs to tailor to Afghanistan. As a result, the stabilization in Afghanistan rarely lasted longer than where the coalition troops with physically located. While the stabilization efforts have been abysmal, the cost has been astronomical. According to a Brown University Study, the nearly decade-long war has cost the United States a total of 2.26 trillion dollars. It will continue to cost Americans upon their departure from the region.
The loss of civilian life has been exponential in Afghanistan. Since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) started systemically recording civilian casualties in 2009, close to 111,000 civilians were killed or injured.
The American government cannot leave without supporting the Afghan government, or else statewide terrorism can occur if a Civil War breaks out. Although the American involvement has been mishandled and unorganized, they have provided support to the Afghanistan government in Kabul and resisted the terror of the Taliban. The fear of the Afghan government collapsing is a reality for pro-government supporters in Afghanistan following the American departure. According to the New York Times, the Taliban shows no sign of stopping their extremist ideology. A commander of the Taliban stated that “until an Islamic system is established … our jihad will continue until doomsday.”
The former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her concerns in a CNN interview, stating it is essential to protect the “many thousands of Afghans” who had worked with the U.S. and NATO during the conflict. Clinton raised a solution for the allies of Americans in Afghanistan, which is to create a more extensive visa programme for refugees from Afghanistan. While military intervention is not the answer, by supporting the Afghan government because the government upholds human rights for women, children, minority groups, and non-combatants, the United States can assist to protect potential human rights violations.
The departure raises essential concern for minority groups, women, children, and those who cooperated with the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. With the withdrawal, all these groups are at immediate risk of widespread targeting by the Taliban forces, possibly beyond the horrors of the War on Terror thus far. The intelligence gained in Afghanistan to stop terrorist attacks against citizens will no longer be present, and the United States may increase their drone strikes in the region, as per BBC News. Weaponry such as Remotely Piloted Aircrafts and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles will become the primary weaponry used, potentially putting civilians at a greater risk of unintentional attacks. With the presence of American and NATO troops acting as trainers and supporters of an Afghan government upholding agreements around peace, they can limit the rise of a Civil War.
The violence against women in Afghanistan remains unconditionally horrible. According to Human Rights Watch, women and children represent 44 percent of all civilian casualties. Women and children are subjected to cruel gender-based discrimination and violence all across Afghanistan, but especially horrendously under the Taliban’s control. As Amnesty International reported, any transgression against the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law receives violent punishment. The Amnesty International report indicates that much of the gender-based violence is not reported in the region, as women fear reprisals in the Taliban-controlled region. If Civil War breaks out, the victims of gender-based violence with inevitably worsen as the Taliban gain power within the country.
The Taliban have no plans to withdraw their advancement. As Edmund Fitton-Brown, the co-ordinator of the UN’s Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, states to BBC that “the Taliban were talking regularly and at a high level with al-Qaeda and reassuring them that they would honour their historic ties.” With the presence of this ideological mindset, if Afghanistan becomes controlled by the Taliban, a decade of improvement of women’s rights is wholly wasted. The Afghanistan government criticized the original deal that fell through between Donald Trump and the Taliban, and Mr. Ghani’s officials for lacking measures that would ensure stability, reports the New York Times. However, the current deal still does not consider the grave consequences Afghan citizens potentially face.
While the Taliban has insisted that no American or their allies will be harmed in Afghanistan, it is clear that they will not stop waging war against Afghan soldiers and citizens. As per BBC News, the Taliban insurgents’ goal is to implement an “Islamic government” within Afghanistan, which they claim will not affect any foreign government.
President Biden must remain faithful to his declaration to continue assisting the Afghan National Defenses and Security Forces. Without a focus on supporting and staying in close connection with the Afghan government and forces, the collapse of the Afghanistan government could be inevitable. The effort in Afghanistan has been far from a success, rightfully naming the War on Terror in Afghanistan as a Perpetual war. Nevertheless, suppose American Forces do get removed completely. In that case, the destabilized government in Afghanistan will be forced to deal with a divided country without the very nation’s help that led the War on Terror effort for the past decade. Unfortunately, however, the government seems to be focusing more on countries deemed a more significant threat to the United States, such as North Korea, Russia, China, and Yemen. While officials recognize the consequences of leaving, non-combatant soldiers in Afghanistan no longer benefit the American government’s interests.
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