After 20 years, the United States withdrew its last soldier from Afghanistan on Aug. 30, ending the U.S.’s longest war.
Many Americans, including U.S. military veterans, experts on the region and people with family in Afghanistan, heavily criticized U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government invaded Afghanistan and toppled Taliban forces. Now, the Taliban is back in power.
Top military officials wanted to pull at-risk Afghans out of the country in early May, but the White House Administration didn’t allow it, according to NBC News. U.S. intelligence also didn’t predict the Taliban takeover would happen as quickly as it did. These are a few of the factors that contributed to chaos during the withdrawal, according to NBC News.
Some individuals familiar with Afghanistan said the U.S. withdrawal was poorly planned and left thousands of people in Afghanistan in danger.
Rahman Arman, Afghan languages developer at IU, said his brothers and sisters are still in Afghanistan and currently traveling in a caravan throughout the country and trying to escape.
They have to keep moving — changing locations every night— so the Taliban doesn’t catch them, he said.
Arman said he can’t use Facebook to chat with his siblings because the Taliban might track his account, so he has to keep finding different applications to talk to his siblings, which makes communication unreliable.
Camp Atterbury, located 40 miles south of Indianapolis, is providing temporary housing for Afghan refugees. The first group of about a thousand refugees arrived Sept. 2, according to WFYI.
Todd Burkhardt is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and Commando Special Operations Advisory Group deputy commander with 27 years of active duty experience, including in Afghanistan.
Burkhardt said he has tried to get his friends out of Afghanistan for the last two weeks.
“With the fall of Kabul, veterans saw this as a call to action to help our Afghan partners because our government had no real plan to do so,” Burkhardt said in an email.
One of the people Burkhardt is trying to help is an interpreter who worked with the U.S. military during the war. The interpreter is with his eight-months-pregnant wife and nephew. The Taliban could kill or attack his family anytime, Burkhardt said.
“My friends in Afghanistan write me every day, and I’m trying to coordinate to try and figure things out and find next steps, and I don’t really have anything,” Burkhardt said.
Burkhardt helped train the Commando forces, a special forces infantry unit trained by the U.S. military. In Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Taliban forces are going around searching for and hanging Afghans who were in the Commando forces, he said.
Thousands of Afghans who fought alongside the U.S., including the Commandos, are in hiding because the Taliban is hunting them, according to the New York Times. The Taliban is threatening to punish family members if they can’t find the people they’re looking for.
“We don’t have media coverage outside the airport,” Burkhardt said. “Bad things are happening to a lot of people who helped the United States.”
Afghanistan was in long wars before the U.S. War in Afghanistan, according to PBS.
The first modern war in Afghanistan began as a proxy war between the Western and Eastern blocs during the cold war, Nazif Shahrani, IU professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures, said. This means the war was initiated by a major power that does little of the fighting themselves, according to Brookings.
After al-Qaida leaders orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan in 2001, beginning the decades-long war, Abdulkader Sinno, associate professor of political science and Middle Eastern studies, said in an email.
The Taliban first gained power in the 1990s during the Afghan Civil War. In the 1970s and 1980s, Afghanistan was receiving foreign aid from the Soviet Union and the U.S, Ali Olomi, Penn State assistant professor of history, said in the Conversation. The U.S. funded a resistance movement, called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, to counter Soviet forces in Afghanistan, Olomi wrote.
The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. The Taliban emerged from Mujahedeen-e-Khalq groups and religious seminaries in Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to NPR.
Most Taliban members are from the next generation of Afghans, not the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. The Taliban ended up fighting the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, Olomi wrote in the Conversation.
The Taliban and al-Qaida are different terrorist groups, but the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan at the time the U.S. entered the country. The U.S. defeated the Taliban in 2002, but the Taliban reconstituted as an insurgent organization — a movement that tries to overthrow the government, Sinno said.
The Taliban recruited local people to its organization through force and bribery. This created a decentralized network, contributing to its rise as an insurgent organization, Olomi wrote in the Conversation.
Sinno said he thought in 2005 the U.S.-backed regime would collapse when the U.S. withdrew from the country.
“It is safe to say that most U.S. agencies never really understood Afghanistan and the dynamics of conflict in that country,” Sinno said.
The Taliban quickly took back control of Afghanistan because many U.S.-backed Afghan soldiers were ready to abandon their posts or switch sides when the Taliban took over and the U.S. pulled out, Sinno said. He said many soldiers were only a part of the U.S.-backed regime for the source of income.
“We played a large role in destroying Afghanistan,” Sinno said. “And it was all for nothing.”
Students should be paying attention to what happened in Afghanistan, so they don’t make the mistake of believing leaders who want to waste money on senseless wars that cost lives, Sinno said.
The war was paid for with borrowed money, which will be paid for through taxes, according to the Associated Press, and generations of Americans will be responsible for paying it off.
White House administrations made promises to protect the Afghans who have built a partnership with the U.S. military, Burkhardt said. Working with the U.S. put Afghans and their families in danger, and Burkhardt said the U.S. administration turned its back on their Afghan partners.
The last four White House administrations failed to provide safety for thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military, and many veterans who served in Afghanistan are trying to help their Afghan partners and their families, Burkhardt said.
“Our military and coalition forces did an amazing, amazing job,” Burkhardt said. “Our government failed to plan, but our military was exceptional.”
Failures across the last four presidencies — George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden — contributed to the tragedies in Afghanistan, Burkhardt said. He said White House administrations often left the military to come up with solutions when it should have been a collaboration between many agencies, which is one of the factors that caused the Afghan army to crumble.
Additionally, the U.S. military and coalition forces have a complex logistical and resupply system to get resources to Afghan forces. Afghanistan lacks basic transportation infrastructure in many places, which made it impractical to try and implement the same system.
Hoarding and corruption became an issue at some military posts while other U.S.-backed Afghan army personnel weren’t getting the supplies they needed, Burkhardt said.
Afghan soldiers often didn’t have adequate food, ammunition and uniforms because the supply chain was dysfunctional, Burkhardt said.
Nazif Shahrani, IU professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures, said the U.S. withdrawal was a test if the U.S. built an Afghan army that could handle their own security, and it was a failure.
“President Biden knew that the Afghani government was not only corrupt but extremely fragile and extremely unreliable,” Shahrani said .
The U.S. provided weapons for the U.S.-backed Afghan forces, but many of these weapons were seized by the Taliban, according to Forbes.
“Afghanistan has been a consumer of war, not a producer of war,” Shahrani said.
According to Newsweek, the U.S. had spent over $2.261 trillion on the war in Afghanistan as of April 2021.
“We think the United States spends all this money and helps all these people, but what we’re missing is how much the United States benefits from the war,” Shahrani said.
When a country is destabilized, the wealthy, professionals and academics take refuge in the U.S., draining a country of money and resources, Shahrani said. For example, half a million Iranians came to Southern California during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and in one year, they transferred $38 billion into American banks. Real estate in Los Angeles doubled in price, Shahrani said.
Shahrani personally experienced this process from the Soviet War in Afghanistan, which has shaped his entire career. Shahrani came to the U.S. when he was a junior in college to finish a master’s degree in anthropology, then went back to Afghanistan for two years to do fieldwork and research for his doctoral dissertation.
After he completed his dissertation fieldwork, Shahrani returned to the U.S. In 1979, the Soviet War in Afghanistan began, and he couldn’t go home. During the nine-year war, an estimated one million civilians were killed, according to the Atlantic.
Shahrani said he didn’t come to the U.S. to stay, but there was no country he could return to after the start of the Soviet War in Afghanistan.
“For 21 years, I did not become an American citizen,” Shahrani said. “For 21 years, I was waiting and expecting that the country will return to peace, and I can go home.”