Before we can understand what the hell is happening in Afghanistan, we must understand that the United States’ role in keeping Afghanistan a bit safer for its people could not last forever. At some point, the United States would have to leave. In a news conference, Biden recognizes, “There was never a good time to withdraw U.S. troops,” and he is 100% correct. It would never be an easy withdrawal from a war-torn country, not for Afghan women, not for Afghan children, not for U.S. troops. Especially with the Taliban always ready to strike.
The Taliban, by definition, are a group of extremists who hate women (they killed 50 women and girls just last year). They believe that no one should go against their beliefs and, if they do, they will be killed. Additionally, they mistreat and harm minorities and those of different religious beliefs. In Kabul, advertisements featuring women with their heads uncovered have been torn down for fear of repercussion. In an interview with NPR, the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. said that members of the extremist group “have been executing people summarily, they have been lashing women, they have been shutting down schools. They have been blowing up hospitals and infrastructure.” Human rights are irrelevant in the eyes of the Taliban.
Within the last few days, since the gradual withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken control of most of Afghanistan with force, with violence, with murder. According to NPR, “[T]he Taliban have pledged to do some things differently, such as allowing girls to go to school and breaking ties with al-Qaida.” But given the turmoil of the recent takeover, the Afghani people are skeptical, living under a heavy cloak of fear and uncertainty. Plus, says the author of “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden,” Peter Bergen, extremist groups all over the world are going to be invigorated by this perceived victory. “People are going to get excited about this. And they’re going to say, ‘Hey, the jihadis won. They defeated the superpower.’ That’s going to be a big rallying cry for people who are interested in this ideology.”
It started with the attack on American soil on September 11, 2001, by the militia group al-Qaida. By December 2001, the Taliban had been pushed out of power by U.S. troops and our allies. So, why stay past December? Why not take our troops out then? We went to war with Iraq in 2003 in search of weapons of mass destruction (which we never found) and to capture dictator Saddam Hussein, who stood trial and was executed in 2006.
In the time the U.S. fought a pointless war that killed more than 4,000 troops and more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians, the Taliban regrouped in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, coming back even stronger. In February 2009, President Obama sent troops to Afghanistan to assist in the resurgence. In December 2009, 30,000 additional troops were deployed to join the existing 68,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Two years later the head of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, was killed by U.S. forces. So why did the United States remain in Afghanistan for over 20 years? To try to stop the very thing that is happening right now: an extremist group taking over and ruling a country of people who want freedoms they cannot possibly have under Taliban control, especially women and girls.
In 2014, President Obama announced the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2016. Between 2014 – 2016, the United States continued to fight in Afghanistan. In that time period, the Taliban began taking responsibility for attacks in neighboring countries, like Pakistan. In 2016, education activist, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head as she traveled to school. To school.
The Afghan people want freedom. They want freedom so badly that many can be seen in the traumatic video airing on CNN and other news outlets, holding onto the plane filled with Afghan men, women, and children who supported the U.S. efforts over the years. Those who were not on planes jumped as the moving plane prepared to leave Afghanistan, and some fell to their deaths. With the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, and their efforts to recruit new people from countries like China, Russia, and Iran in full swing, they are quickly growing to become a threat to the U.S.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan had to begin at some point, and the full removal of them was only a matter of time. There are some who believe President Biden went about it the wrong way. There are some who believe it should have happened a long time ago. But no matter when it actually happened, it would not have been easy on anyone, especially the people of Afghanistan.
So, why does it matter to us, here in the United States, what is going on in Afghanistan? While democratic governments are not meant for every society or group of people, human rights are. The Taliban takes away human rights and replaces them with extreme beliefs and a kind of brutality I hope to never know. They are not only a threat to the United States, but a threat to the world. All eyes are on what is happening in Afghanistan right now. And for good reason.
I feel for all of the people of the Muslim faith here in the United States. I feel for all of the men here who are of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. I feel for the women who wear burqas and those who wear hijab and live in America. What’s next for them here? I worry for humanity — not only in Afghanistan but in the United States too. We had to rip the band-aid off at some point, and leave Afghanistan. I just wish we had left a better situation behind us.
If you’d like to help, here are two places you can: No One Left Behind and the International Refugee Assistance Project.