By Alison Markman
New York City, New York
In 2001, President George W. Bush called for the United States to enter Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to relinquish Osama Bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda and man responsible for the September 11th attacks. Since then, the U.S. has occupied Afghanistan for nearly two decades, attempting to establish a democratic Afghan state. On August 11th, 2003, NATO took over the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to help secure the region. Along with NATO, the goal of the United States has been to train Afghan forces to take over the country and to eradicate al-Qaeda as well as deter Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist base of operations. Despite the presence of American and NATO troops, the Taliban began to rebuild operations throughout Afghanistan. On Sunday, August 15, just as the United States was preparing to withdraw its troops from the region, the Taliban returned to power and took siege over Afghanistan’s capital, toppling the democratic government and leaving many vulnerable to its oppressive regime.
In April, President Joe Biden called for the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11th. However, as the United States was planning its withdrawal of soldiers, the Taliban began its summer-long military campaign, forcing widespread retreats across Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans, frightened by the tyranny of the Taliban’s reign in the nineties, began to flee the country, seeking refuge at Kabul’s international airport. The airport, run by foreign military forces, tried to assist with evacuations.
After the Taliban had solidified control of the Afghan government by entering the presidential palace of Kabul, and hours after Afghanistan’s former president Ashraf Ghani had fled the country, the United States made the decision to evacuate all U.S. embassy officials. Officials were taken to the Kabul airport. The airport reported violence and gunfire, delaying evacuation attempts and leaving many Americans in need of shelter.
To facilitate the removal of US officials and civilians, Biden ordered 7,000 troops to Afghanistan. The Biden administration also affirmed that they would help Afghans who had aided the United States in its mission find refuge. 300,000 Afghans have been affiliated with the American mission over the last two decades, but only 2,000 of these people have been removed from the country and are currently seeking asylum in the United States. Any Afghan who has aided the United States is likely to face death and retribution at the hands of the Taliban.
Another vulnerable group under the Taliban regime is women. Many Afghan women fear that the freedoms they have built for the past two decades will be reversed under sharia, or Islamic law. Though the Taliban has vowed to ensure women’s rights and promised a continuation of education and professional endeavors, Afghan women still fear oppression under sharia law, a system that enforces severe restrictions for women, including a dress code and having to be chaperoned by a male when leaving one’s house.
Public opinion has declined significantly as the U.S. withdrawal continues. A poll by Morning Consult and Politico between August 13th and August 16th found that 49 percent of American voters support President Biden’s decision to pull troops from the country. This is substantially lower than the 69 percent of people who expressed support for the exit in an April survey by the same firms. U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan gave the Taliban opportunity to defeat Afghan security forces and take over major cities, namely Kabul. Critics have pointed to the miscalculation on the part of the Biden Administration on how rapidly the Taliban could take Kabul. Despite the criticism aimed towards Joe Biden’s decisions to withdraw troops, it is important to note the long history behind the United States’ attempts to minimize American presence in Afghanistan.
In fact, various presidents have attempted to pull troops out of the country. After the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, President Barack Obama reassessed the United States’ presence in Afghanistan and ventured to remove troops in 2014, but was unable to because of the precarious security situation.
In 2020, under President Donald Trump, the U.S. met with the Taliban, signing a peace deal in Doha that outlined U.S. troop withdrawal. The agreement stipulated that the Taliban were to renounce al-Qaeda and prevent other terrorist groups from using Afghanistan to plot attacks on the U.S. and its allies. Trump’s deal was controversial as it provided the Taliban legitimacy in political dealings, while bypassing the Afghan government in negotiations. Trump promised the Taliban a complete withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. President Biden has pointed to the Doha negotiations as a factor in his decision to withdraw troops, stating “The choice I had to make, as your president, was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season.”
Many have died under the new rule of the Taliban, and more fear for their lives. The Taliban have said that their forces will work to ensure order and public safety, but Afghans are skeptical of their message. Civilians have taken to the streets to protest Taliban rule. Many hide in their home, even critical workers, who fear retribution despite promises of peace and amnesty. As Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, the future of the country is uncertain. Even more irresolute is how the United States will choose to deal with the Taliban going forward, not only in its continued effort to safely evacuate U.S. troops and civilians but in future political dealings and negotiations.
On Thursday August 26, two suicide bombers attacked Afghans in the vicinity of the airport in Kabul where evacuations are being carried out. The bombing killed 170 people including thirteen U.S. troops, and wounded Afghans have overwhelmed local hospitals. This attack has been one of the most deadly attacks against U.S. forces since they have been in the country. A radical group known as ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for the act of terror. President Biden has vowed to hunt down the perpetrators, saying, “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay." In retaliation the U.S. conducted drone strikes. In a briefing, the Defence Department stated that the strikes targeted three high profile ISIS-K targets. The mission was successful; two were killed and one was injured. On Saturday, Biden said that another attack in Kabul is “highly likely” in the next couple days. All the N.A.T.O. countries assisting in the mass exodus of citizens and refugees are now entering the final stage of their withdrawal, and are expected to depart the country soon.