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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Bitter close to endless war

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Opinion editor Caleb Powell discusses where the U.S. fell short in the withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

After 20 years, the Afghanistan War has reached its conclusion. As Kabul descended into chaos, the American public generally agreed that President Joe Biden made the right decision to pull out of Afghanistan but did so with horrendous execution. As Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham call for Biden’s impeachment, it’s time to review what Biden’s administration did well, where it failed and what the U.S. should do in the future.
What did the U.S. do well?
Biden made the right call in withdrawing U.S. forces. The 20-year conflict claimed the lives of almost 2,500 servicemen, 3,900 contractors and over 4,700 Afghan civilians, and would have killed more had our presence continued. With former President Donald Trump’s deal to completely withdraw, U.S. troops and contractors would have seen more firefights as the Taliban retaliated had Biden chosen to reverse course and stay.
The evacuation from Kabul’s airport elicited memories from the United States’s desperate retreat from Saigon as Afghan refugees clung to departing planes. Despite these disturbing videos, Gen. Frank McKenzie reported over 123,000 Afghan civilians were evacuated, and any lives the U.S. saved from authoritarianism should be considered a victory.
Where did the U.S. fail?
Retreating without first evacuating all U.S. citizens and Afghan refugees was Biden’s most significant mistake. Secretary of State Antony Blinken estimated between 100 to 200 Americans still remain in Afghanistan. While that number isn’t large, those citizens are the most in danger from the Taliban. Without a military presence, “diplomatic pressure” will not be sufficient to evacuate any Americans who remain. The withdrawal should have been mandatory for any U.S. citizen — whether or not they wanted to stay — for their safety.
Furthermore, Biden repeated previous administrations’ mistakes with his retaliatory drone strike which killed nine people, possibly including children. Drone strikes are notorious for high civilian casualty rates — 700 civilians died in U.S. targeted attacks in 2019 alone. This collateral damage significantly tarnishes the U.S’s reputation and can undermine future relief or evacuation efforts.
Lastly, Biden’s overconfidence and faith in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, or ANDSF, was a major oversight. Sure, the ANDSF outnumbered the Taliban 300,000 fighters to 80,000. However, the Afghan military suffered from high illiteracy rates, yet relied on equipment necessitating highly-educated operators.
In the rushed withdrawal, the U.S. left military equipment in the Taliban’s hands. Experts predict advanced weaponry like aircraft won’t be a significant concern since neither militants nor most Afghan pilots have the skills or tools to maintain the equipment. However, the Taliban can easily maintain and operate the quantities of small arms like rifles and land vehicles, enabling them to consolidate power in the region.
How should the U.S. act in the future?
Withdrawing was not a mistake — the lesson the country takes away should not be to remain engaged in endless wars, but to commit more resources to evacuations.
The U.S. presence in Afghanistan was acting as a respirator for the corrupt and crumbling government we established after first removing the Taliban from power. The Russian embassy in Kabul reported Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fleeing with cars of cash, and an Afghan ambassador accused Ghani of “[stealing] $169 million from the state coffers.” If the U.S. continued to support the Afghan government, taxpayers would have wasted more money, and the Taliban would have gained more military equipment. No matter how long the U.S. occupied Afghanistan, the government’s corruption was so severe that it was bound to collapse.
Biden turned the U.S. withdrawal into a nightmare, but he made the right decision. If we continue to end our occupations in other countries like Iraq, the U.S. should start by securing all military assets to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. Mandatory evacuations should begin with all U.S. citizens and any refugees who wish to flee the country so they can be resettled. The last group to leave should be U.S. soldiers to ensure all civilians, personnel and equipment can be safely removed. The government has an obligation to make sure no U.S. citizen or ally is left behind without a way to safely escape.
America failed in Afghanistan. Let’s not create another disaster.

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