Afghanistan: Was it a Mistake or a Success?

By: Yaffa Goldkin  |  October 21, 2021

By: Yaffa Goldkin

President Biden has finally pulled America out of Afghanistan. Twenty years ago, former President Bush sent troops over to seek vengeance on Al Qaeda and specifically targeted the mastermind behind 9/11, Osama Bin Laden. Ten years later, Bin Laden was assassinated by America under former President Obama. America was successful in its initial mission yet continued to keep military forces in Afghanistan in fear that the Taliban would take over again. The war had been going on for nearly two decades with no sign of ending completely until President Biden decided to make good on his campaign promise; that he would not let this war continue on to a fifth US President. He made the executive decision to pull the last of our military forces out of Afghanistan after over 2,400 American deaths, tens of thousands of Afghan casualties, and over two trillion dollars spent, Biden declared- “we’re out.”

Invading and staying in Afghanistan has saved many Afghans from the harsh totalitarian rule that the Taliban had been known for inflicting. Since America’s invasion, women have been able to get college degrees. However, with America invading Afghanistan, it is essential to remember that it was not a “liberation mission.” It was never America’s intention to protect the Afghan people, only to protect Americans from future attacks from Al Qaeda. Democracy, freedom, and other western ideals that began to sprout under American control of Afghanistan were happy accidents that imperialists have been able to point to in order to justify staying in Afghanistan. Why do we never seem to talk about the thousands upon thousands of Afghan citizens who were killed in our effort to do this? This war took over 170,000 Afghan lives, from University students to Afghan soldiers to helpless children. This is more than the population of Hollywood, Florida. 

US Intelligence severely underestimated how long it would take the Taliban to take control after they left. Instead of years or, according to the bleakest estimate of months, it took days for the Taliban to gain control of Afghanistan. No one thought it would happen so quickly. The Taliban were hiding in caves with stones and sticks for weapons, while the Afghan military were armed and being helped by US leadership. America left millions of Afghans, assuming they would be safe under the American-supported Afghan government. Unfortunately, the Afghan army lacked appropriate leadership, infrastructure, and military experience. This resulted in the Afghan military’s collapse as they quickly backed down while facing the Taliban.

In the past, the Taliban control of Afghanistan has been disastrous regarding women’s rights. Many women who earned diplomas free of Taliban influence, burned them in hopes that it would mean less retribution from the Taliban, who are notorious for their abuse of women. The Taliban have promised that they will not return to harsh gender oppression. They say that they have encouraged women to go back to work, and continue to educate women in schools. They said they would “honor women’s rights within the norms of Islamic Law.” Of course, the quote from Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesperson, can be interpreted in any way they wish it to be, as Islamic law, like all laws, can be understood differently by different people. Based on the Taliban’s track record, it seems unlikely that they will go back to letting women live freely and prosper in the country. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women were forced to stay at home. They were required to wear a burqa (an Islamic head-dress) at all times when outside of their home. They could not travel without a man being with them. Women could not work, and they could not continue their education after the age of eight. Music and movies were illegal, and people were publicly executed for breaking any of these rules. As a result of leaving no American presence in Afghanistan, we no longer have a way to help women maintain the rights they deserve- instead, we will watch them slowly move back in time and lose what they had gained. There is a whole generation of women who have lived under American democracy, gone to university, been educated, and lived freely. Now, they are losing all they have ever known. This is one of the worst and hardest things about America pulling out of Afghanistan- and we no longer have a way to protect our sisters on the other side of the globe.

Currently, thousands of refugees, consisting primarily of women and those who worked for America over the past twenty years, are fleeing the country. The American University of Afghanistan was one of the largest and first private nonprofit universities in Afghanistan, America left behind six hundred students and their relatives when they refused them access to the Kabul airport. As well, there are thousands of other personal stories of Afghans who majorly helped the US now being denied entry to the US. These people are especially in fear under the Taliban, knowing they ‘helped’ the ‘enemy.’

America succeeded in many of their initial goals- Osama Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is no longer the thriving entity in Afghanistan it once was. America kept Afghanistan a democracy for nearly two decades. However, now Afghanistan has fallen back under the control of the Taliban. It appears that all these efforts were for naught. So what did America really accomplish? Before President Biden took office, Trump cut a ‘deal’ with the Taliban. The idea of this deal was pretty straightforward: Trump promised to get troops out of Afghanistan within the next 14 months, by May 2021. The Taliban said they would stop letting Afghanistan be a harbor for terrorists and stop attacking US service members. Obviously, this deal was not foolproof. There was no set way to enforce the Taliban to keep their word. The Taliban immediately began escalating the violence in Afghanistan, and the UN was sure they still had ties to Al Qaeda. Despite all the evidence, Trump pulled out thousands of troops from Afghanistan very quickly. When President Biden came into office, there were only 3,500 US Service members left in Afghanistan. Trump had left the President with an impossible decision. Biden had the choice of taking the rest of the troops out and keeping the deal or continuing the war that America no longer needed in order to protect Afghans from the Taliban. Both options were politically risky for the President. Yet, he knew what he had to do to save the country from continuing the war. The issue was how he went about it. Biden’s decision and how he executed it has been highly criticized by all sides of the political spectrum. Since Biden pulled out of Afghanistan, his approval ratings have dropped significantly- almost as low as Trump’s. 

America has left Afghanistan. What matters now is that there are now thirteen US families whose loss is fresh and new, there are Afghan women who have been stripped of their rights, and there are thousands of citizens now living under terrorist rule. And I never want anything like this to happen ever again. We will never forget 9/11, and we will never forget this war. We see now what the aftermath of the United States meddling in other countries and other governments looks like. We stayed long after our original goals were accomplished, and this led to more lives being lost. This was all done under the guise of saving the lives of citizens that the American government doesn’t actually care about. This war had nothing to do with 9/11 anymore. It had everything to do with furthering so-called imperialist American dreams. The situation in Afghanistan shows us the damage America can do to others when America only thinks about America. And this story is not yet over, because for the Afghanis that we left behind another horror story is just beginning.