As the U.S. marks the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the end of the Afghan war, Picket reporter Hunter Hayward looks at the events surrounding the attacks and the U.S. war in this analysis/commentary piece.
Shepherdstown, W.Va. – The recent 20-year long war in Afghanistan is only the tip of the iceberg of U.S. involvement in the region. The U.S. time spent there has always been a story of death, corruption and nation-building attempts. American actions have contributed to radicalizing force in the region since the late 1970s.
In 1978, communists in Afghanistan revolted against the elected government. This was supported and funded by the Soviet Union. In retaliation, the mujahidin, resistance fighters, began to revolt against communist powers.
The mujahidin received funding from both Saudi Arabia and the United States. The U.S. incentive was to create a Vietnam-esque engagement for the Soviets.
Or, as then National Security Adviser Zbiginiew Brezezinski said, “[finally] sow s*** in their backyard.”
The mujahidin recruited Osama Bin Laden, a zealot, eager to fight a global superpower. He recruited people across the country, within Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
Eventually, he moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, and would build infrastructure within the region. His father was a contractor for both the Saudi government and America, and after his passing he received hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.
In 1988, Bin Laden would form Al-Qaeda al-Askariya, translated to “The Military Base.” Two years later, in 1990, the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein (left), invaded Kuwait.
Though Bin Laden volunteered to fight against Saddam Hussein, the Saudi government opted to instead negotiate with the U.S. Bin Laden allowed the U.S. to transport their military through Saudi territory on the condition that after Hussein was overthrown, the Americans would leave the region.
But the Americans did not leave the region after overthrowing the Iraqi dictator in Operation Desert Storm.
Starting in 1995, Osama Bin Laden began to attack American military facilities.
In order to combat this, America began construction of a $150 million base within the Saudi Desert. In order to construct this rather luxurious facility, they would hire none other than the Bin Laden firm.
After several attacks, including a coordinated bombing of U.S embassies in both Kenya and Tanzania, former President Bill Clinton ordered an airstrike on several seemingly important military targets.
One of these was a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that Clinton, very likely erroneously, believed was manufacturing chemical weapons for al-Qaeda. The destruction of this pharmaceutical plant destroyed more than half of Sudan’s medicine production. This led to, in Germany’s ambassador to Sudan’s estimate, “several tens of thousands,” of deaths.
The very next year, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, took place.
Though this was a shock to the American public, Daniel Immerwahr, author of “How to Hide an Empire: History of the Greater United States,” wrote, “. . . Bin Laden’s motives were neither unknowable nor obscure. September 11 was, in large part, retaliation against the United States for its empire of bases.”
The Afghanistan War
From the beginning, it was clear America didn’t have a strategy.
During former President George W. Bush’s tenure both al-Qaeda and the Taliban forces-alike were pushed back and ousted quickly and efficiently.
However, the National Security Council relied primarily on military action, rather than diplomacy, which brought a fixation on the circulation of troop numbers.
This became self-evident when early during the campaign, the Taliban, the reigning government of Afghanistan at the time, agreed to turn over Osama Bin Laden to a neutral third party. Bush, however, declined the offer, and invaded anyway.
It wasn’t until the Obama administration that a more “diplomatic” approach was conceived. The plan was to send a troop surge of 100,000 plus (equaling a total of 150,000 troops in the region) to train, organize, and maintain stability within the region.
However, many seemed critical of this operation, because by 2009 al-Qaeda had been decimated. Worse yet, former President Barack Obama set an arbitrary deadline on the nation-building project of 18 months.
To expand even further on this, the strongest holdouts of the Taliban were within Pakistan’s borders, a U.S ally. Pakistan was also funding and supporting Taliban insurgents, despite also helping U.S. and CIA forces.
This agreement was first created under Bush, but still sustained under the Obama administration.
The idea, according to a former White House official, “The Obama administration thought that if you just hang in there, Pakistan will see the light.”
Pakistan, however, was open about this duplicity. Pakistan’s Intelligence Chief, General Ashfaq Kayani (left) stated, “You know, I know you think we’re hedging our bets. You’re right, we are, because one day you’ll be gone again, it’ll be like Afghanistan the first time, you’ll be done with us, but we’re still going to be here because we can’t actually move the country. And the last thing we want with all of our other problems is to have turned the Taliban into a mortal enemy, so, yes, we’re hedging our bets.”
Throughout Obama’s presidency, he poured billions of dollars and thousands of men and women into Afghanistan.
Former President Donald Trump, for his part, did most of the same, until 2020.
In 2020, Trump’s administration met with top-ranking Taliban organizers to organize a withdrawal of all American and NATO troops. The Doha Agreement, as it would go on to be named, set a full withdrawal by May 1 of this year.
However, after the inauguration of Joe Biden, the timetable was set back to Aug. 31.
As operations came to a close, two weeks before the Aug. 31 deadline, the Taliban was able to launch a military offensive overtook the country. Within days, the Taliban was able to take even the heart of the country, Kabul.
The Withdrawal/Kabul Airport
With the Taliban’s takeover and lack of higher military presence, the evacuation was a chaotic process. In a desperate need to get away, many Afghans that supported US occupation hung on to the landing gear of the plane. These events would lead to widely spread videos of people falling off of planes, hundreds of feet in the air.
Fortunately, the new Taliban-controlled government negotiated with US forces to bring about the withdrawal of US diplomats, allies, and journalists.
Unfortunately, many Afghan allies who worked with American forces during the 20-year occupation were also abducted from their houses during the middle of the night.
However, the two-week period would see about 123,000 airlifted through Kabul Airport.
During that time, other radical groups within the region were planning mass attacks on refugees and US troops.
On Aug. 26, five days before the withdrawal deadline, ISIS-K bombed Kabul airport, killing 13 US troops and at least 170 Afghan refugees.
A Taliban spokesman would later claim that, “A report we got indicated that the US soldiers opened fire on the crowd following the attack at Kabul airport.”
This was also backed by an eyewitness that reported to the BBC, however, these claims have been unconfirmed by the Pentagon.
In retaliation, American forces drone struck a suspected ISIS-K member, killing him and several other civilians, many of them children.
Though the deadline came, less than 200 American citizens and hundreds of Afghan allies remain in Afghanistan,
There have been talks to further negotiate with the Taliban government to secure Americans left behind, but no official plans have been laid out.
The End… Wait, Why Did This Go So Bad?
In our 20-year occupation, mass corruption ran rampant.
As an overview, from 2001-2018, America spent $133 billion in Afghanistan. This quantity is more than any other country has spent on nation-building, even when compared to the Marshall Plan, when adjusted for inflation.
This money went to a project to establish Western-style democracy and capitalism in a rushed process that resulted in institutions that were very centralized within the executive powers.
However, the election process was likely manipulated. Karzai, using his established power and money from American sources, organized a campaign of mass ballot-stuffing and fear tactics.
Soon after being “elected,” he soon resorted back to relying on warlord-style arraignments.
The corruption made him unpopular with locals. But he was just the figurehead of the problem.
American forces poured an overwhelming amount of money into desolate regions. In the words of David Marsden, a former official with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), “It’s like pouring a lot of water into a funnel; if you pour it too fast, the water overflows that funnel onto the ground. We were flooding the ground.”
Despite there being billions of dollars being pumped in, it did very little. U.S contractors reportedly built large infrastructure projects that they knew would be defunct due to the lack of technical knowledge within the Afghan populace.
The reason this went under-reported was that every administration, but particularly the Obama administration, was fuzzy about progress in the region. As Bob Crowley, an Army colonel, would go on to say to government interviewers, “Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible, surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”
American involvement continued in a little-understood country because of the importance of military and political influence in a region dominated by Turkish and Chinese powers.
This continued for 20 years, during which time Americans and other western nations learned there was no “winning” in Afghanistan.