End of war in Afghanistan causes controversy

After decades of conflict, the longest-running war in American history has ended, with President Joe Biden pulling all US troops out of Afghanistan at the end of August. The move sparked hostile reactions on both sides of the aisle, however, after the swift exit caused many American-allied families to be left stranded without protection when the Taliban took control of the country. 

US involvement in Afghanistan began in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, and led to a 20-year-long war. Feb. 1, 2020, marked the Doha Agreement, which required the full withdrawal of all NATO forces from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021 (a 14-month period), in exchange for the Taliban cutting ties with Al-Qaeda and not attacking US forces. 

“I think the decision to leave Afghanistan was a good one,” said freshman John Overend. “I think that perpetual war wasn’t a beneficial machine for our country, and I think it was a waste of money for a war that was just a stalemate.”

On Aug 15, 2021, the Taliban, an Islamist religious and political movement and military organization, gained control of the capital, Kabul, and chaos swept the nation. 

“I don’t really feel impacted, personally, by the Taliban controlling Afghanistan, but I can only imagine how hard it is for those living under their rule,” said sophomore Jaia Alli.

The Hamid Karzai International Airport, deemed the safest route out of Afghanistan, was swarmed by desperate Afghans. People tried to mob the runways, cling to the wings of jets, and even hold on to the body of the plane itself; there were more than six Afghan deaths, at least two shot by American soldiers trying to contain the chaos.

“It’s tempting to look at a parallel in Vietnam,” said Upper School history teacher David Abraham. “America spent twenty years attempting to impose a certain American style of democracy, and ended up failing spectacularly with people leaving airstrips in a similarly dramatic fashion.”

On Aug 26, a bombing by the Taliban occurred in the Hamid Karzai airport, detonated by a suicide bomber, after which Taliban soldiers opened fire. Among the deaths were thirteen US service members: eleven marines, one army soldier, and one member of the navy. This event marks one of the deadliest days for American forces in the Afghanistan war.

“I am incredibly saddened by the thirteen members of our armed forces that we lost during the evacuation,” said Tina Davis, an Upper School chemistry teacher with family connections to the military.  

Instead of on May 1, as the Doha Agreement stipulated, the Biden administration first decided to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan on Sept. 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. However, this was soon scrapped for an earlier date, Aug. 31, 2021, which proved to be incredibly difficult for the government to carry out. 

Amid worries that American citizens would be left behind, secretary of state Antony Blinken and White House press secretary Jen Psaki again stated  the decision to help prioritize the move of US citizens out of the country. As of Aug. 14, according to Blinken, there were around 100 Americans with an intent to leave in Afghanistan. 

The Biden administration’s decisions regarding the evacuation have faced some criticism. 

“It could have been handled better,” said Abraham. “One thing that comes to mind is, after the fall of South Vietnam, America could have done a better job, [for example] the Carter administration was very good at making sure that those people who were pro-American were able to get to the United States, and that seems like something the Biden administration has been less diligent at.” 

Public opinion mirrors this; an NBC poll indicates that 74 percent of Americans think that the removal of the troops had been handled badly by the United States.

“Biden indicated that it was unavoidable, and they had contingencies for everything,” said Davis. “From a layperson’s perspective, that’s not in the know in terms of military decisions, it certainly didn’t seem that we had contingency plans for everything.”

“I think that the execution was mishandled, and I think that it should have been anticipated that the Taliban would quickly take over, and I’m not sure I agree with the decision to leave the diplomats, or to evacuate the military before the diplomats,” said Overend.

While the withdrawal has drawn a large amount of censure, there are some who still defend aspects of the deal. 

“It was not handled well, but I’m not sure there was a way to handle such a withdrawal well,” said Christine Chen, Upper School history teacher. “I think there was definitely a misunderstanding of the Afghan army’s capabilities and where that misunderstanding happened and whose fault it is isn’t exactly clear yet. Obviously, it wasn’t handled super well, but we evacuated a huge number of people in very limited time, under really intense circumstances, so in that sense, you could argue it was impressive, but especially in the beginning, it was really sloppy, and unnecessary deaths occurred.”

Currently, there are over 2.2 million Afghans that have fled to neighboring countries, and more than 3.5 million who were displaced from their homes within Afghanistan’s borders. This fact has resulted in many countries, including the United States, stating their desire to protect and support these refugees, with smaller charities, like No One Left Behind, being created to help the new Afghan refugees. 

“The newly formed Social Change Leadership Council is addressing this issue right now…and will get the whole student body involved,” said Meghan James, the director of civic engagement at Westminster. “I would definitely suggest reaching out [to] and following our local organizations that work to support our refugee population, which would be IRC, New American Pathways, and Catholic Charities.”