In the first part of a series of reports on Afghanistan, NPR host Steve Inskeep (Morning Edition, 8/5/22) interviewed current Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid. In introducing Yaqoob on air, Inskeep referenced Yaqoob’s father, the former head of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar: “He was the leader who refused to turn over Osama bin Laden in 2001, a refusal that led to the US attack.” In the online version of the article, NPR wrote: “Omar also sheltered Osama bin Laden, and refused to turn over the Al Qaeda leader when the United States demanded him after 9/11.” This line that the Taliban “refused to turn over Osama bin Laden,” and that this “led to the US attack,” though part of the commonly accepted chronology of the war, is a gross distortion of history.
As a U.S. diplomat who resigned from the U.S. government in 2003 in opposition to Bush’s war on Iraq, I hoped at the time that all Americans would not be vilified by the world for the actions of the Bush administration. As hard as it might be for some, I plead that we not vilify Russians for the actions of their political leaders. I hope that we can be as generous to peace-seeking Russians as the world was to anti-war Americans. I have visited Russia twice in the past six years and I know the Russians I spoke with, and I would guess that most Russians, do not want war and object to Putin’s war on Ukraine. Thousands of Russians have taken to the streets to protest the war and have been jailed. Thousands of Russians have signed letters and petitions to their own government to stop the military action against Ukraine.
When I urge my writing students to juice up their stories, I tell them about “disruptive technologies,” inventions and concepts that end up irrevocably changing industries. Think: iPhones, personal computers, or to reach deep into history, steamships. It’s the tech version of what we used to call a paradigm shift. (President Biden likes to refer to it as an inflection point.) Certain events function that way, too. After they occur, it’s impossible to go back to how things were: World War II for one generation, the Vietnam War for another, and 9/11 for a third. Tell me it isn’t hard now to remember what it was like to catch a flight without schlepping down roped-off chutes like cattle to the slaughter, even if for most of the history of air travel, no one worried about underwear bombers or explosive baby formula. Of course, once upon a time, we weren’t incessantly at war either.
Whistleblower David McBride faces life in prison for revealing war crimes in Afghanistan to the media. Watch his story here. David McBride, a former Australian military lawyer, tells journalist Michael West about alleged war crimes and a cover-up in Afghanistan. He faces trial for leaking hundreds of pages of defense force information to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (whose offices were then raided by federal police), offering insight on clandestine operations of Australia’s elite special forces, including incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children.
What was the Afghanistan War all about? That is the question on many people’s lips after a devastating 20-year campaign that has killed an estimated 176,000 people and displaced nearly 6 million more. Today, Watchdog host Lowkey is joined by a man who knows the war from both inside and out. Matthew Hoh was at the forefront of the American empire’s campaign in the Middle East, first serving as a captain in the U.S. Marines, then moving to the Department of Defense and the State Department. In 2009, he publicly resigned from his position in the State Department in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, over U.S. policy in the country, which he saw as both illogical and immoral.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks that were used to justify multiple Middle Eastern interventions is a fitting occasion to consider the ultimate cost of military combat. Thanks to advances in military medicine, soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a much higher survival rate, recovering from wounds that would have been fatal decades earlier in Vietnam. As a result, far more post-9/11 combat veterans carry wounds of war, both visible and invisible, for the rest of their lives. Many news reports cite the trillions of dollars that have been spent directly by the Department of Defense and related agencies on two simultaneous occupations and other global war on terror operations.
There were actually two Afghan wars. The first began within a few weeks of the 9-11 tragedy, when the US was attacked by Al Qaeda with the assistance of elements of the Saudi Arabia ruling elite. In the first war US forces invaded Afghanistan behind the excuse its mission and goal was to capture Bin Laden and deny Al Qaeda a base in that country, even though there is ample evidence the Taliban had offered to kick Bin Laden out in exchange for no US invasion. The Bush administration rejected the Taliban offer because its actual mission and objective was always greater than just capturing Bin Laden, or even occupying Afghanistan. The first Afghan war was over in a matter of a few months, when US forces drove the Taliban out of government in Afghanistan and into the countryside while sending forces of Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda retreating into the mountains bordering Pakistan
Looking back on it now, the 1990s were an age of innocence for America. The Cold War was over and our leaders promised us a “peace dividend.” There was no TSA to make us take off our shoes at airports (how many bombs have they found in those billions of shoes?). The government could not tap a U.S. phone or read private emails without a warrant from a judge. And the national debt was only $5 trillion - compared with over $28 trillion today. We have been told that the criminal attacks of September 11, 2001 “changed everything.” But what really changed everything was the U.S. government’s disastrous response to them. That response was not preordained or inevitable, but the result of decisions and choices made by politicians, bureaucrats and generals who fueled and exploited our fears, unleashed wars of reprehensible vengeance and built a secretive security state, all thinly disguised behind Orwellian myths of American greatness.
On August 31, Joe Biden accepted the inevitable and announced the final departure of all open military personnel from Afghanistan. Perhaps, the most important part of the speech had to do with the future, and here Biden was unequivocal: “And here is the critical thing to understand: The world is changing. We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia. ….We have to shore up American competitiveness to meet these new challenges and the competition for the 21st century.” A major motivation for getting out of Afghanistan is to give the US a freer hand to bring down China and Russia. And this is not to be a peaceful “Pivot.” The US has surrounded both countries with military bases, and the Pivot to Asia pioneered by Obama/Hillary/Biden sees 60% of America’s naval forces ending up in China’s neighborhood.
The U.S.’s failure to prevent the Taliban from retaking political power in Afghanistan sparked feelings of panic in the foreign policy establishment. Warmongers and their loyal servants made endless demands for the twenty-plus year occupation to continue indefinitely. Familiar faces from the neocon establishment such as John Bolton and Bill Kristol urged Joe Biden to reconsider the withdrawal for “national security” reasons. An even larger cohort held firm to the belief that the U.S. should remain in Afghanistan on the premise that the lives of women were in imminent danger under Taliban rule. Afghanistan has been the target of U.S. aggression since 1979 when Jimmy Carter approved of direct assistance to the Mujahideen, the pre-cursor to the Taliban.
When you imagine ending a war, do you imagine the U.S. President lamenting the human cost of the war’s financial expense while simultaneously demanding that Congress increase military spending — and while mentioning new wars that could potentially be launched? Do you picture him blowing up families with missiles from robot airplanes, and committing to continuing those “strikes” while maintaining that such things don’t constitute continuing the war? Did you hope that if the wars for freedom ever ended we might get our freedoms back, our rights to demonstrate restored, the Patriot Act repealed, the local police rid of their tanks and war weapons, the landscape stripped of all the cameras and metal detectors and bullet-proof glass that have grown up for two decades?
Americans have been shocked by videos of thousands of Afghans risking their lives to flee the Taliban’s return to power in their country - and then by an Islamic State suicide bombing and ensuing massacre by U.S. forces that together killed at least 170 people, including 13 U.S. troops. Even as UN agencies warn of an impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury has frozen nearly all of the Afghan Central Bank’s $9.4 billion in foreign currency reserves, depriving the new government of funds that it will desperately need in the coming months to feed its people and provide basic services. Under pressure from the Biden administration, the International Monetary Fund decided not to release $450 million in funds that were scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan to help the country cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
Following the Taliban’s seizure of power, people across the political spectrum have expressed concern about the fate of Afghans who helped the United States and are therefore at risk of retribution. (This concern is not universal: We are also seeing a rise in far-right, anti-Afghan refugee sentiment.) Pundits and politicians who gave little attention to civilian deaths in Afghanistan during 20 years of U.S. occupation are joining in this outpouring — a dynamic that is building pressure for the Biden administration to extend the U.S. military presence. The Biden administration has stopped evacuating Afghans by air, citing the bombings on the airport, but continues to airlift Americans from the country as the August 31 deadline approaches. Biden claims evacuations of Afghan allies will resume post-withdrawal.
Even as he planned to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by August 31, President Joe Biden said Saturday that the drone strike that was launched Friday night in retaliation for an attack claimed by ISIS-K "was not the last." "We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay," the president said in a statement Saturday afternoon. "Whenever anyone seeks to harm the United States or attack our troops, we will respond. That will never be in doubt." The Pentagon said the drone strike killed two "planners and facilitators" of the explosion outside Kabul's airport, but according to The Guardian, in addition to targets related to the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, an elder in Jalalabad reported that three civilians were killed and four were wounded in the U.S. strike.
After 20 years of war and occupation that have caused the deaths of almost a quarter of a million people and displaced 5.9 million more, the United States appears to have finally (tacitly) admitted defeat in Afghanistan, pulling its forces and representatives out of the country. The U.S.-installed government fell within days, with President Ashraf Ghani escaping to the United Arab Emirates, reportedly with $169 million in cash stuffed in his suitcases. Ghani’s departure is illustrative of the extraordinary grift of the entire operation. Overall, the U.S. spent well over $2 trillion on the Afghanistan War, making weapons contractors and construction agencies in the Washington, D.C. suburbs extremely wealthy.