The U.S. war in Afghanistan, known as the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, has been an ongoing conflict for 20 years. Following the September 11th attack in the United States, former President George W. Bush announced that American forces were going to retaliate against Taliban targets and the terrorist group in Afghanistan to combat terrorism. Bush emphasized that these attacks would be aimed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a base of similar operations by using U.S. military capability against the Taliban regime.
He believed the Taliban governed most of Afghanistan and rejected his order in turning over those involved from Al Qaeda in the attacks from bases in Afghanistan. In an attempt to capture those involved in the terrorist attack in the U.S., Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. By December 2001, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden along with others left Afghanistan to Pakistan, a U.S. ally. Though American forces did not pursue them, Pakistan had already evolved into a place where Taliban commanders and fighters would cross the border facing Afghanistan in attacking both American and Afghan forces.
In the meantime, Afghanistan saw many American forces in combat with the Taliban and the Afghan government. By 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced major combat operations have concluded. However, what began as an attempt at minimizing terrorist activity evolved into the U.S. and NATO attempting at establishing democracy in Afghanistan. This involved building schools and hospitals amongst other services creating a stronger workforce.
Yet, sentiments of corruption remained throughout Afghanistan, as funds for these services to be created were allegedly misappropriated. 8,000 American troops remained in Afghanistan in 2003 where resources were moved from the war in Iraq to facilitate the ongoing operations in Afghanistan. In retaliation, the Taliban elevated their military threat amidst the rising presence of U.S. and NATO troops.
In 2008, former President Barack Obama was elected and stationed more troops in Afghanistan, with the total amounting close to 100,000 by 2010. However, the Taliban responded by growing stronger, leading to high amounts of casualties amongst Afghan security forces. In 2011, U.S. Navy SEAL teams ultimately killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, followed by Obama announcing for American troops to return to the U.S., transferring the responsibility of security to Afghanistan. The Pentagon believed this war would need more than just military forces to be concluded, rather, they suggested a settlement would be needed; negotiated by Afghanistan and the U.S.
In 2014, the war was almost at a stalemate and Obama urged for major combat operations to be ended and for Afghan forces to begin training to take over security in the country. The Trump administration had contact with the Taliban since 2018 after Donald Trump’s election, where formal negotiations that excluded President Ashraf Ghani’s government in Afghanistan took place. These peace talks lasted till 2020, where Trump signed an agreement with the Taliban stating that American troops would leave Afghanistan by 1st May 2021.
The objective of this deal was for Afghan leaders and the Taliban to negotiate appropriately towards a new government and constitution. With this, the Taliban stated it would remove its ties with terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan. This was done to reduce violence and facilitate better relations with the Afghan government. However, Afghan-U.S. governmental relations were already strained as the Afghan government was excluded in the initial negotiations.
After signing the deal, the Taliban put an end to its attacks on American troops and stopped bombings in Afghan cities. This prompted the U.S. to reduce air support for government forces, placing a restriction that stated it would only be appropriate for use when Afghan security forces were in danger. With the Taliban’s battleground established and the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Taliban maintained their position in negotiations with the Afghan government.
On 14th April 2021, President Joe Biden announced his aims to officially pull American troops out of Afghanistan—ending the 20-year war. This would declare that the mission of deterring terrorists in Afghanistan has been accomplished. This means that by September 11th, 2021, American troops would leave the country (on the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attack, which was ultimately the event that contributed to the U.S. military invasion in Afghanistan).
Biden believes the U.S. military is ultimately unable to transform Afghanistan into a stable democracy, and that from the start it was not meant to be a multigenerational conflict. Nonetheless, he believes terrorism in Afghanistan is reducing, and that it is time for the longest war on foreign soil to end.
Approximately 2,500 – 3,500 troops are remaining in Afghanistan. Biden promises to continue to support Afghanistan, however, the objective of the two-decade-long war remains the same: ensuring Afghanistan is not used as a place to plan or launch terrorist attacks. The Biden administration wants to support these ongoing peace talks; though it appears the Taliban are not in a hurry.
They also have not made any promises towards a coordinated government with the Afghan government, suggesting they want the preponderance of power in the country. Upon Biden’s announcement, Afghan security forces have left checkpoints due to assaults from the Taliban. There is an overall lack of morale amongst Afghan forces, which have been plagued by this war for 20 years. This has worked to strengthen the Taliban who have set up more roadblocks around the country charging tolls and taxes. This has caused fear around the country that the Taliban will attempt to take control of cities and overthrow the current government.
Overall, the U.S. has spent close to $4 billion a year over the span of the war supporting the Afghan military. President Biden believes this support is still necessary, sans military forces. However, it is likely the Taliban will take control of the country after the removal of foreign militant forces, indicating their presence may still be necessary despite President Biden’s orders. Thousands of casualties, displaced individuals, and strained governmental relations have plagued Afghanistan’s population for over two decades.
Clear and necessary measures should be taken to prevent the monopolization of power by the Taliban in the country. Biden’s orders may lead to Afghanistan further breaking down following its turbulent years in the war, which may now lead to a civil war in Afghanistan. Many believe a withdrawal timeline would be better suited in preventing these consequences and providing civilians with support in the transition, however, Biden’s orders are clear in pulling all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan to fulfill their end of the agreement.