US Exit From Afghanistan Was Tragic, But There Are Other Lessons To Learn From

The swift recapture of Afghanistan by the Taliban came as a shock after two decades of American presence in that country training Afghan soldiers, providing high-tech weaponry, establishing a stable government and some semblance of women and religious minorities rights absent in the country for ages. As soon as the US withdrew militarily, American intelligence had not anticipated the Afghan secular government set up by the US would fall as quickly as it did.

The speedy take over leaves questions about the efficacy of American intelligence, how much of an asset really were our allies there whom we trusted and helped, and finally were the Taliban already set and ready (enemies already outside the “Trojan horse” mingling among Kabul and key areas) to strike.

There are many theories that will be examined why Afghanistan fell. But the fact will remain in the history books that the US exit was tragic and will be reminiscent of the US exit from Vietnam, both were chaotic and full of painfully lasting imagery of American allies desperately fleeing.

Collapse inevitable

Perhaps the hope after the US left was for the Afghan government to be in power long enough for the new model of governance to be accepted, respected and valued enough for the Afghanistan people to fight and defend it.

It’s arguable that all along the regular Afghan masses saw the US-backed Afghan government as a proxy, foreign US government. So when the US left, there was little confidence in it to survive, which could explain the little to no resistance put up against the Taliban.

Clearly, the US had prepared soldiers and the US had equipped them to mount a formidable defense. It could be fair to say, given the literal sidestepping of Afghan forces to the Taliban, there wasn’t enough of a will to maintain what was set up by the US.

Why? Change, values, and revolution (cultural transformation) must always come from within, from the people among their own community. History shows foreign occupation, no matter how long, it’s usually temporary.

Some historians would say the recent fall was inevitable and that people of any region — who share cultural, historical connections – always must set up their own government for it to be lasting.

In other words, the Afghans ultimately must determine their own destiny.

The US had already been there for two decades. And staying there any longer then eventually leaving, most likely, wouldn’t have changed much in results.

At the same time, there is always the possibility from our two decades there, enough Afghans have come to appreciate their new rights and could perhaps mount a challenge to take back Kabul.

Leaving was the right move
In the end, though, the US presence there was long enough. And President Joe Biden was right to begin our withdrawal. President Barack Obama talked about withdrawing, then later actually did the opposite and ordered a surge of soldiers to Afghanistan. President Donald Trump signed a peace deal with the Taliban in 2020 for a complete withdrawal last May. President George W. Bush, who led the US there in the first place, wasn’t very clear about what conditions would warrant a withdrawal.

All the US presidents who led during the Afghanistan war — our longest war in US history that cost more than $2 trillion and at least 2,448 American service members’ lives – share in the blame that radical forces, the Taliban, eventually did and arguably would have taken over as soon as US forces left.

Americans who feel that our soldiers’ lives lost were in vain – that’s understandable given the results. Americans feeling that the $2 trillion spent went to waste – that too is understandable given the outcome.

For an idea of how much $2 trillion is, the American Rescue Plan (latest Covid relief bill) which was touted as the most expensive in stimulus ever in US history, was $1.9 trillion. We see how much of a relief the ARP provided to Americans through direct stimulus, aid to our businesses, hospitals, state government, the unemployed, and so forth. What did Americans benefit from Afghanistan?

Lessons learned
Specifically, with regard to the fall of Afghanistan the lesson learned is there must be a well-prepared and executed exit strategy in any future American occupation. It’s fair to note that evacuations are still in progress so our allies have not just been left behind. It’s also fair to note that the Taliban are assisting in the evacuation process.

The larger lesson learned:  there must be greater forethought and stating of a clear mission before committing US troops to war in the first place.

Twenty years of presence there was unacceptable. There was also ample historical precedence by other empires that we could have learned from.  Empires have fought long drawn out wars in Afghanistan only to leave feeling defeated.

The original mission to invade Afghanistan was to capture Osama bin Laden who was deemed the architect of the 9/11 attacks. When that was accomplished, at that very moment, there should have been a careful, well-thought out withdrawal process put in action. If that had happened then, perhaps the war there would have felt more worth the sacrifice.

Another lesson: the US leading a foreign government in nation-building must not be repeated.

We have so much of nation-building of our own to work on from updating our infrastructure, transitioning to smarter energy, providing greater access to affordable health care coverage, improving our education. The list goes on and on. We have rampant violence of our own in epidemic gun violence.

We must reprioritize our values. We must enlist our NATO allies to take on a greater burden when international crisis occurs that would require a military response. We must not give into the war hawks’ (many of whom profited from the Afghanistan war) expediency to continue this US never-ending war cycle. Let’s work on nation-building domestically. It’s long overdue.

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