Written by Vedika Pathania, a second-year student.
The US Troops have been in Afghanistan for the past twenty years and it’s been called America’s longest war. Why were the US soldiers in Afghanistan and why are they leaving?
This article explains it all.
First – a little about their departure
On the 2nd of July, the American troops handed the Bagram airfield – the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan – over to the Afghan military. This marks the end of an era. After almost 20 years of active combat, American and NATO troops are all set to pull out from Afghanistan. 650 American troops are to stay back in order to protect the American Embassy in Kabul indefinitely.
The Bagram airfield has served as the epicentre of America’s control and coordination for the past two decades, but the war for Afghanistan is not over yet. With the majority of the European troops on their way back home, 7 facilities have been handed over to the Afghan military. The pullout, though long-awaited, has raised many questions about the country’s future and security.
Afghanistan is still riven by internal strife, although American and NATO soldiers have almost completely left the country after 20 years of war. Now that the battle has come to an end, this is a look back at how it all started, the problems that developed, and how it all ended in ignominy.
Let’s backtrack a bit to understand the Afghan-American relations
Afghan-American ties go back to the Cold War (Following World War II, the Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as their respective allies, the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc).
During the Cold War with the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sent weapons and money to local mujahedin rebels in the clandestine Operation Cyclone to defeat a Soviet invasion. In 1989, the Soviets were defeated and their 10-year occupation of Afghanistan came to an end. However, in 1994, the Taliban sprang from their dwindling numbers following four years of infighting among the mujahedin, which claimed the lives of about 50,000 Afghans.
How it began
On the 11th of September 2001, a militant group called Al Qaeda attacked America – they hijacked planes – two of which and rammed them into the Twin Towers in New York, and another was shot down as it headed towards Washington. More than 3,000 Americans died in this attack.
Now the story is that Al Qaeda, headed by Osama Bin Laden, was being protected by the governing Islamist Taliban in Aghanistan. This is why the then US President, George W. Bush decided to start an operation to punish Al Qaeda for their actions.
Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, less than a month after the September 11 attacks in the United States. The operation opened a military front in the US “war on terrorism,” and the Taliban, who had been in power since 1996, were overthrown within weeks by US-led forces. US soldiers have been in Afghanistan ever since.
The first decade
In 2003, US soldiers entered a new battle, the Iraq War, to depose their dictatorial leader, Saddam Hussein. The splintered Taliban and other Islamist organisations reassembled in their strongholds in the south and east – from where they could easily move between their bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas – and started an insurgency while the US attention was distracted.
Despite being elected president following a campaign that vowed to end the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, Barack Obama increased the US presence there to about 100,000 troops two years later. The push’s goal was to destroy the Taliban’s growing insurgency and establish Afghan institutions.
The second decade
The Obama administration fulfilled its aim of killing bin Laden, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, in 2011. He was murdered in Pakistan’s Abbottabad during a US special forces raid. By the end of 2014, NATO’s combat operation in Afghanistan had come to an end, leaving just around 12,500 foreign soldiers in the country, with roughly 10,000 of them Americans. They stayed to train Afghan forces to take over the nation and undertake anti-terrorist operations. However, as the Taliban’s insurgency grew, the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated further, with a branch of the Islamic State group becoming active in South Asia in 2015.
The start of negotiations
In 2018, the Trump administration began secret talks with the Taliban, proposing to remove troops in exchange for Taliban assurances that Afghanistan would not be used as a haven for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.
By 2020, the two sides had reached a historic agreement, clearing the door for a military withdrawal by May 2021 in exchange for Taliban security assurances and a commitment to undertake peace negotiations with the Afghan government.
Joe Biden takes over American Presidency
When US President Joe Biden entered office in 2021, military levels had dropped to 2,500, and President Biden pledged to honour the withdrawal agreement, intending to pull soldiers out by September 11 — a four-month postponement from the originally planned May deadline. Since the May deadline for withdrawal was postponed, the Taliban’s violence has increased, with the organisation waging a blistering attack that allowed it to take control of rural regions near major towns, raising worries that Afghan security forces would be defeated.
What lies in the future for Afghanistan?
Since Vice President Joe Biden declared an unconditional troop pullout by September 11, violence has erupted across Afghanistan. Peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Qatar, which were previously a condition of departure, are faltering, with the Taliban now controlling a quarter of the country’s districts. Some fear that after foreign troops leave, Afghanistan may descend even farther into civil conflict.
Even though the Taliban have declared victory, there will be no surrender or peace deal as America’s war in Afghanistan draws to a close. There will also be no definitive triumph or decisive loss. According to Pentagon officials, the Afghan government and security forces are in danger of collapsing within the next two years, if not sooner.
Key points summarised
- On the 2nd of July, the American troops handed the Bagram airfield over to the Afghan military.
- 650 American troops are to stay back in order to protect the American Embassy in Kabul indefinitely.
- In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda, which had found refuge in Afghanistan, the US advanced on the nation and its Taliban regime in 2001. The operation opened a military front in the US “war on terrorism,” and the Taliban, who had been in power since 1996, were overthrown within weeks by US-led forces.
- Barack Obama increased the US presence there to about 100,000 troops two years later. The push’s goal was to destroy the Taliban’s growing insurgency and establish Afghan institutions.
- In 2018, the Trump administration began secret talks with the Taliban, proposing to remove troops in exchange for Taliban assurances that Afghanistan would not be used as a haven for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.
- When US President Joe Biden entered office in 2021, military levels had dropped to 2,500, and Biden pledged to honour the withdrawal agreement, intending to pull soldiers out by September 11
- According to Pentagon officials, the Afghan government and security forces are in danger of collapsing within the next two years, if not sooner.