Blowback: The 20 Year Mistake In Afghanistan Ends With Hell

According to Al-Jazeera and many other news outlets, the Taliban has staged a sweeping conquest of many of Afghanistan’s provinces as the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan nears completion.  By the time this piece is published, Afghanistan will likely be under the control of the once exiled former rulers, the Taliban.  Meanwhile the United States is reportedly redeploying troops to Kabul, the capitol of Afghanistan, to help evacuate allies fleeing the country in the airport, after the Taliban claimed victory by entering the city on August 15.

Unfortunately, further reporting has claimed that U.S. troops fired into a crowd gathered at Kabul’s airport to control it, killing at least a handful of people – possibly leading to the closure of the airport.  Ironically, this is essentially symbolic of what the entire 20 years of interference by the United States and other Western allies has done for Afghanistan through unwittingly harming the people who live there.  While the Taliban is an extremist group which previously ruled Afghanistan, with deadly intolerance for things they deem to be against Islamic Sharia Law, the subsequent invasion by the U.S., the United Kingdom, and others in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has done and likely will do more to damage the region in and around Afghanistan.  Not only is this true in the direct sense that over 200,000 people have died as a result of conflict on all sides since then according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, but now there will be a humanitarian crisis in the form of an exodus of refugees – with the potential for future fighting to break out again that will threaten to make things worse for the region.

Reaction to this news has been overwhelmingly negative by politicians and many media outlets who have argued that leaving Afghanistan was the worst action to take.  Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who previously praised plans to leave stated in April that it was “a wonderful and positive thing to do”, called on current President Biden to resign for the chaotic withdrawal (amongst other claims of incompetence).  This is even though he had previously pushed a much faster exit, which would not have had a markedly different outcome if he had the spine to leave earlier.  Biden’s own Democratic Party allies have also criticized him, claiming with the Republicans that these events should have been entirely avoided or managed better.  Some reporting has also claimed that the mission in Afghanistan was about human rights and democracy, forgetting that the mission there had originally intended on – and succeeded in – killing Osama bin Laden and decimating Al-Qaeda 10 years ago in response to 9/11.

Ironically, the best way to have dealt with the events of 9/11 was not to sink more than the conservative estimate of one trillion dollars, and nearly 24 times the number of lives of those who perished in the terrorist attack, in fighting the Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan.  Instead, it would have been infinitely more prudent to have waited and negotiated for the capture of Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible.  This may be idealistic and optimistic in hindsight.  However, if that had been attempted instead of the once justified rush to war at the time – which gave rise to the devilish powers now held by future presidents and congresses (most relevant to this conversation is the Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001) – the following raft of negative things for Americans and the rest of the world could likely have been entirely avoided or mitigated.

These things are, and are not limited to: on-going unconstitutional wars or unrelated attacks against people or countries that had nothing to do with 9/11,  illegal (and probably continuing) surveillance programs against Americans and others (with links to other countries in the world) revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013, trillions of dollars going towards conflict instead of properly investing in infrastructure, solving problems like poverty and providing a humane healthcare system in the United States, contributing to crises which lead to problems like the refugee crises of the past decade, fueling further religious tensions in parts of the world, and risking hostilities with ‘rival’ nations because of geopolitical ambitions.

Furthermore, because that is not exhaustive, more negativity can be seen in the pursuit of executing the ‘War’ on Terror through arming and funding groups of people that are considered terrorists (by other countries) but aren’t in the West’s eyes because of their opposition to some other adversary.  These people almost always inevitably turn and become problems in their own way.  That is how bin Laden and Al-Qaeda became the most wanted people after their usefulness in repelling the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan ended, afterwards they rallied against so-called sins of the West.

History aside, people should really question why any outsiders were even for a fraction of the time there when there were reports in 2015 that U.S. soldiers were dismissed for blowing the whistle on Afghan warlords allied with them owning child sex slaves.  It has been undeniable for some time now, considering the slew of human-rights violations this 20 year mistake has resulted in, that the reasons for the conflict were never rights or the people, and nations at the helm never deeply cared for human dignity.

That is the true take-away here, because there is no silver lining in this turn of events.  However, this is not justification for the Taliban retaking Afghanistan, even if they were forcibly removed to begin with.  They were inhumane before 20 years ago, and there’s no doubt they will crack-down on freedoms they deem affronts to Islamic Sharia Law again.  There is some hope however that they can unify the country peacefully and not violate human rights, as they have claimed in a press conference after claiming Kabul.  But if reports of persecution against groups that disagree with their beliefs prove true, then their renewed rule over Afghanistan can only be viewed as a sad blowback event from destabilizing the region and worsening the goal of true human rights everywhere.

However, to turn around and say that the United States or many of the Western actors over the years cared about human rights in this place, considering all the harm that has resulted since 2001 in Afghanistan alone, is plainly absurd. Even if a foreign country stayed to ‘secure the peace’, Afghanistan, or any country for that matter, cannot be seen to have really wanted the past 20 years when clearly few there were willing to stand against renewed Taliban rule in their country.  This of course completely ignores the wrongful aggressive war that was waged to begin with against the country, which everyone can now see had no more justification to present events as it did after the tragedy of 9/11.

If 20 years, trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives, with all the disgusting practices that run and justify this kind of endless war or occupation could not stop the inevitable from happening, then nothing could.  And a rush back with a gun in one’s hand will just show the actors could not care less about peace, but their own selfish ambitions – terrorist, religious militant, Western actor, or not.  Credit to President Biden who affirmed that he “would not repeat the mistakes we made in the past” by mentioning many of the sentiments and negative consequences throughout this report that have resulted from the West’s involvement in Afghanistan, because all that effort was seemingly in vain.  Especially if the lessons of this mistake are not learned fast and are allowed to happen again, which is a sad possibility as conflicts elsewhere may heat up now that Afghanistan is fading out of America’s focus.


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