America’s Intervention in Afghanistan and its Consequential Damages
Grace Cassineri | Jan 22, 2023
While the grounds on which America remained in Afghanistan are debatable at best, it is undeniable that America's presence and interference in Afghanistan was detrimental to Afghan society. While America partially achieved its national security goals of capturing and killing terrorists, America went beyond this by attempting to build a government and society that would be sympathetic to American interests. As a result, America dug its own grave by failing to take Afghan culture into account. American involvement in Afghanistan overreached its boundaries and ultimately was damaging to America national security interests, as well as the human rights of the Afghan people.
The invasion and intervention in Afghanistan began as a mission to capture, kill and intimidate Al Qaeda leaders, as well as to punish the Taliban for their relationship with Al Qaeda and for not cooperating with American demands. From the beginning, President Bush acknowledged that the intervention, known as Operation Enduring Freedom, would last for a long time (Zucchino, 2021). By April of 2002, however, American political and military objectives changed when America decided to become involved in nation building. Bush even compared American intervention to the Marshall plan that followed World War II (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021). Even though it was early in the War, America was already beginning to overstep its initial goals as related to its security interests, and was instead pursuing self-serving political objectives that likely would come at the expense of the Afghan people.
America, along with various other western countries and organizations, pledged significant amounts of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. While foreign aid organizations appeared to assist in humanitarian efforts by building schools and hospitals, these victories were shadowed with corruption, since much of the money that was intended for aid ended up in the pockets of government officials. Corruption continued as a theme when it came to the Afghan government that was set up by the United States. Though it appeared to be supportive of western initiatives, it was unable to provide social services necessary to the people in Afghanistan. Outside of cities, the Afghan government was unable to hold very much authority over its constituents (Zucchino, 2021). This is further evidence of American disregard for the health, happiness and rights of the Afghan people.
One of America’s most detrimental mistakes to its efforts in Afghanistan was invading Iraq. To the muslim world, this decision was evidence of Osama bin Laden’s claims that America hated Islam. Afghan public support for American intervention began to dwindle. President Bush made the decision to invade Iraq without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council. Many Americans, alongside American allies such as Germany, denounced the decision to go to war in Iraq, citing it’s potential to seriously damage America’s reputation along with the fact that it would be a war of prevention (Burns, 2003). The invasion of Iraq redirected American financial and human resources away from Afghanistan, causing many of the small successes to tumble. In addition, the invasion of Iraq inspired many people, especially foreigners, to join the fight against the United States on the grounds that they were islamophobic and oppressive. The invasion of Iraq was self-defeating to American national security interests, since it increased opposition support and severely damaged America’s international reputation. Correspondingly, Afghan human rights were put at risk as terrorist groups recollected and strengthened and social services struggled with minimal American presence.
In 2009, America recommitted to Afghanistan following President Barack Obama’s February 17th announcement (Council on Foreign Relations, 2021). America’s “surge” in Afghanistan, by heavily increasing the number of troops and soldiers present in Afghanistan, only strengthened the Taliban and Taliban support (Zucchino, 2021). NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan became detrimental to the wellbeing of Afghan citizens as well, since it’s attempt at multilateralism failed due to varying styles and differing goals. The creation of provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) harmed the aid organizations in Afghanistan as well, since they became associated with the military and targeted by terrorist groups. America’s presence in Afghanistan has gone far beyond American national security needs, and again resulted in disregard for Afghan needs and security.
Of America’s entire history of intervention in Afghanistan, possibly the most harmful event was the decision to withdraw. Despite the horrible things that occurred in Afghanistan due to American presence, withdrawal created far more problems than it solved. Though U.S. intelligence indicated that the Afghan government would fall to Taliban forces about two years after American withdrawal, in reality, it fell much quicker (Zucchino, 2021). The Afghan government was incapable of standing on its own without foreign support, due to Ashraf Ghani’s long-term focused style of governance (Ahmady, 2021). Seemingly all of America’s accomplishments in Afghanistan evaporated following Taliban control of the country.
President Biden, in defense of the withdrawal, claimed that the alternative would have been to increase America’s presence in Afghanistan and to elevate the level of fighting (Shear, 2021). It seems as though this decision was made with limited consideration or care for the future of Afghanistan. With the Taliban in power, the rights of many citizens, particularly women, are at severe risk. This outcome was inevitable, whether the Afghan government fell in two years or two weeks. While America had to withdraw from Afghanistan eventually, the lack of support for the establishments built during intervention caused them to collapse when put under the pressure of the Taliban. America likely should have had a slower approach to withdrawal that allowed for Afghans to leave the country prior to the impending Taliban rule (when leaving the country would have likely been far more difficult). American withdrawal from Afghanistan did not support the human rights of the Afghan people, and essentially diminished all progress that had been made in Afghanistan.
America went beyond national security interests during the war in Afghanistan by attempting to build a nation and a government that were sympathetic to American interests. The security and wellbeing of Afghan people suffered due to American ignorance and hubris. The decision to withdraw from Afghanistan caused many Afghan people to struggle even more under Taliban rule. Now that America has completed its military withdrawal, it has an obligation to protect the rights of the Afghan people via diplomatic relations with the Taliban. America needs to protect the women who are currently living in Afghanistan, as well as offer refuge to Afghans seeking to flee. Should America adopt policies similar to these, it will set a precedent for all western nations who may become involved (or over-involved) in the affairs of other countries. It is the responsibility of the invading country to heal the wounds it directly and indirectly inflicts.
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Burns, D. (2003). Bush Orders Start of War on Iraq; Missiles Said to Be Aimed at Hussein. The New York Times. 19 Mar. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/19/international/bush-orders-start-of-war-on-iraq-missiles-sai d-to-be-aimed-at.html.
Council on Foreign Relations (2021). A Timeline of the U.S. War in Afghanistan. Council on Foreign Relations. Available at: https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-war-afghanistan.
Shear, M.D. and Tankersley, J. (2021). Biden Defends Afghan Pullout and Declares an End to Nation-Building. The New York Times. 1 Sep. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/31/us/politics/biden-defends-afghanistan-withdrawal.html.
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Zucchino, D. (2021). The War in Afghanistan: How It Started, and How It Ended. The New York Times. 23 Apr. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/article/afghanistan-war-us.html.