Afghanistan: A Devastating End to the 20-Year War

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

About two months have passed since President Joe Biden withdrew around 6,000 members of the U.S. military from Afghanistan. This put an end to the 20-year occupation of the country, and led to the overthrow of the Afghan government by the Taliban. What led to these events, what influenced Biden's decision, and how can you help Afghan immigrants in your community right now?

The story begins at the end of 1979, with the Soviet Union’s decision to send thousands of troops to Afghanistan to establish political and military control of Kabul (Department of State, Office of Historian) This led to the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War, a fight between the Soviet Army versus Afghan insurgent groups known as the Mujahadeen, or in reality the U.S.-Soviet War. The United States was hostile towards the Soviet’s communist powers, and were quick to get involved. Even prior to the war, the CIA and the Pakistani government heavily contributed to these Afghan troops. The funding of the Mujahadeen groups by the CIA was codenamed Operation Cyclone, launched under Jimmy Carter.. Even with the attempt to drive Soviet troops out of Afghan territories, the war mostly left civilians dead (around 1-million to be exact). The funded-Mujahadeen had their own divisions, and one group out of the many was the one that rose to the title “Al-Qaeda'' as we know it today.

Afghanistan soon became the primary base for Al-Qaeda under Islamist Osama bin Laden. Their goal was to establish a nation fully governed by the values of Islam, and highly opposed the communist Soviets. Then came a peace treaty signed by the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union, ending the 9 year war. This treaty gave back to Afghanistan the title of an independent nation, and promised that the 100,000 Soviet troops would be withdrawn.

In 1994, a new power known as the “Taliban” rose to power. The Taliban were essentially a more progressive version of Al-Qaeda. They promised peace for the Afghans citizens, gaining public approval (PBS). They hold power in Afghanistan for seven more years, until they capture bin Laden and refuse to turn him over to the United States. This sparked the entrance of the U.S. troops into Afghanistan, starting the 20-year War in Afghanistan.

In May of 2012, President Barack Obama announced a plan to greatly reduce the size of U.S. military troops in Afghanistan by 2016. These plans did not follow through, however flash forward to this year, President Joe Biden announced the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He announced these plans in April, and set a deadline of September 11th for removal of all troops. Slowly U.S. troops evacuated, the last flight taking off on August 31st 2021.

President Biden defended his withdrawal of the U.S. forces with, “‘I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.” He adds, “We could not provide them [Afghans] with the will to fight for that future” (CNBC). The translation of Biden’s confession?: The war that the U.S. fueled must have come to a halt, and there was no good time to do it. Biden’s sudden decision to remove all troops from Afghanistan left the civilians at the hands of the Taliban’s brutal forces. Regardless of how little they anticipated the events, it would have unfolded in this manner.

On August 15th, Ashraf Ghani stepped down as the president of Afghanistan, granting full transfer of power to the Taliban. In the weeks following, two suicide bombings occurred, killing some 169 Afghans. Scenes of chaos broke out at the Kabul airport, with planes packed with people and hundreds struggling to get inside. The Taliban began stampeding the city open fire, killing many innocent civilians. Several Shia mosques were bombed or destroyed by Taliban forces. Around 120,000 people, including the U.S. military troops, evacuated the country through the Kabul airport, and sought refuge in America. Other countries also opened their borders to allow the Afghan refugees.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, another concern is added to the list for Afghans. Afghanistan’s current health minister spotted that about a third of all September 7th COVID tests came back positive (Business Insider). The World Food Programme also predicted that Afghans are highly susceptible to food insecurity and drought (Reuters). This leaves children, the next generation of Afghans, the most vulnerable. Healthcare programs are on the brink of collapse.

Since August, countries worldwide have opened their borders to thousands upon thousands of Afghan refugees, including the United States. It is important that we acknowledge that welcoming the Afghans is our responsibility as Americans. The United States contributed to the terrorizing of innocent Afghan civilians for decades, and the very minimum we can do is be welcoming and grant them the resources they need. These people come here with years-loads of trauma, and are grieving the lives they left behind in Afghanistan. Creating a supportive community to support them and help them grow is intrinsic to their survival.

If you are looking for local ways to help Afghans in your community, donating to any food banks and mutual aid funds are the way to go. Even more locally, San Juan is hosting an Afghan Refugee Donation Drive at the district office. They are taking donation items as well as monetary donations, so if you are interested in contributing, the link for that is located here. For non-direct ways to help, advocating and staying informed on the latest news about Afghanistan is beneficial. Media coverage holds more social and political power than most may think.

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