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Why are US troops leaving Afghanistan?

US troops will be brought home from Afghanistan by 31 August, our team took a look at why after twenty-years the decision is being made to end the war.

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Why are US troops leaving Afghanistan?
EVELYN HOCKSTEIN REUTERS

When World War II came to an end, there was mass celebration in the streets, iconic photos were taken, and the government passed historic legislation to assist some veterans in returning to civilian life.

As America's longest war, the War in Afghanistan, comes to an end, the images could not be more different. Conveys told to abandon their posts in the dead of night, and with such little information on the withdrawal available to the public, many worry that the fragile democracy will not last more than a year.

Why is the US pulling out of Afghanistan, and what has President Biden said?

So, then why are troops leaving? Well, after more than twenty years and two trillion dollars spent, the President says that the US has accomplished the goals it set after the 9/11 Attacks. 

From the East Room of the White House today, 8 July, President Biden defended his decision to have all troops out of the country by 31 August, saying, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”

For Biden, the US “did what we went to do,” outlining the strides coalition forces have made “to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden." The President also spoke to the work US and coalition forces have done "to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States.

Biden was also clear that it was never the intention of the federal government to provide nation-building support. Rather he argued in his statement that it is the “right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.

However, anti-war activists believe that these words dismiss the responsibility of the US, who, in an attempt to protect the nation, have bombed and killed thousands of towns and communities, leading to the displacement of more than five million people.

In light of Biden's comments, Time reported that those who opposed the war pled the government to send in basic supplies rather than troops for close to ten years. As far back as 2010, top UN advisors like Jeffery Sachs argued that the country was “in urgent need of the basics for survival…seeds, fertilizer, roads, power, schools, and clinics—much more than it is in the need of another 30,000 troops.”

As the Taliban regains power in the country, the prospects of US aid being sent to Afghanistan after the troop withdrawal are becoming unlikely.  A report from the Congressional Research Service highlighted the risk to the country's fragile democracy and economy, saying  "economic outlook remains uncertain, if not negative, in light of the prospective decrease in U.S. and international investment and engagement." US government officials have aired their concerns over how the “withdrawal might impair the United States’ ability to monitor the distribution and effectiveness of U.S. aid.”

Why did the United States go to war in Afghanistan?

While many are focused on the last twenty years of the involvement of the US in Afghanistan, the relationship goes back decades. Over the last twenty years, the US has fought the Taliban to allow a democratically elected government to take control. But, the US began intervening in Afghani politics in 1970 when it funded the Taliban to fight the Soviet Union when it invaded the country.  Some historians believe that the US support for the Taliban helped launch them into power.

From 1996 through 2001, the Taliban controlled over two-thirds of Afghanistan and protected al-Qaeda, the group responsible for 9/11. After Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s responsibility in the 9/11 attacks was uncovered, President George W. Bush demand that the Taliban extradite bin Laden to the US. The request was denied, prompting the invasion.

Unlike the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan was not declared against the Afghani government. Rather it focused on shrinking the land controlled by the Taliban. In the early years of the war, the US, allied, and Afghani forces made real progress in taking land back in areas that the Taliban had controlled.

However, a United Nations report from 1 June states that already as forces have moved out, the Taliban “now contest or control an estimated 50 to 70 per cent of Afghan territory outside of urban centres, while also exerting direct control over 57 per cent of district administrative centres.”

Another report also suggests that the group is not interested in peace talks and that their “messaging remains uncompromising, and it shows no sign of reducing the level of violence in Afghanistan to facilitate peace negotiations with the Government of Afghanistan and other Afghan stakeholders.”

How many troops and civilians have died as a result of the war?

The Watson Institute at Brown University organized the Cost of War project, which "facilitates debate about the costs of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the related violence in Pakistan and Syria." The experts have published estimated death toll on all sides of the conflict and civilians killed as a result of the violence.

The countries that form part of the coalition that fought in Afghanistan include troops from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand.

Since 2001, there have been more than 3,500 deaths from coalition members. 

Almost 4,000 defense contractors have also been killed, and well over 30,000 members of the coalition were wounded. In addition, more than 65,000 members of the Afghani Security Forces and police have been killed.

There is no official death count for Taliban fighters called. The Watson Institute estimated that around 51,000 fighters have died, but the researchers preface the figure by saying it is most likely an undercount.

Impact on civilians

From the civilian side, around 71,000 Afghani and Pakistani civilians have died due to the war. 

While most civilians have survived, many have lost thier homes, livelihoods, and communities. The war has led to the internal displacement of 3.2 million Afghans, with at least 2.1 million have fled to other countries, “primarily to Pakistan and Iran where they face an uncertain political situation.”

The US played a major role in creating this refugee crisis. In 2019, the United Nations data showed that “half the 1,149 civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces in Afghanistan over the first three-quarters of 2019.”

That same year, the US dropped “7,423 bombs and other munitions, on the country.”

When many refugees reach other countries like Iran, they have faced mass deportations with no “opportunity to demonstrate a legal right to remain in Iran, or to lodge an asylum application.” With many refugees forced to return home, they often return to a nation unrecognizable to them “plagued by war, poverty, and lawlessness.”

A 2020 United Nations report found that “nearly half of Afghan children face acute malnutrition.” Additionally, even access to basic health care is scarce, and in  “areas where fighting continues, militants lack respect for the neutrality of health care facilities, making visiting these facilities dangerous.

How much did the War in Afghanistan cost?

President Biden has stated that all US service personal will be brought home by 31 August.   The War in Afghanistan is America’s longest, and with the Taliban on the precipice of regaining power, some feel that the economic and human costs were too high for what was achieved in the end.

According to Walton Institute, the United States has spent more than two trillion dollars on the war effort. The Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest receipts of funds. From 2002 through 2020, the DoD received $824.9 billion for US combat operations. The State Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs also received significant budget allocations to support the war effort.

The Military Times, an online news outlet dedicated to military news, correctly points out that this number does not “include the amount the United States government is obligated to spend on lifetime care for American veterans of this war, nor does it include future interest payments on money borrowed to fund the war.”