The “Forever War”: The U.S Withdrawal From Afghanistan

Gabriel Coffey, Managing Forum Editor

I hate when people say that time heals everything. We have so little time, and yet, we decide to fill it with our past transgressions – even if that past transgression is a very real war. Acceptance, action, and a whole lot of learning, now that is how we move forward. This is how the U.S ought to approach the Afghan crisis. 

In announcing the decision to pull U.S troops out of Afghanistan, Biden cited the cost, failed peace talks, and, intriguingly, the need to shift the focus of U.S foreign policy toward China: “the reality is that the United States has big strategic interests in the world.” While this statement exudes blunt disinterest, the reduction of troops will certainly require more than a perspective shift. With more than 7,000 foreign forces remaining in Afghanistan, we should expect to see the rest of these troops follow the lead of the U.S.

Yet, Afghanistan will remain a concern of the U.S for years to come. The rationale for pulling out, that is the inability to win, does not mean the U.S will be absolved of any blame if the Afghan state degrades. Thus, the U.S will be forced to listen to the echoes of history.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90s and exited Afghanistan, they did so with little to no transitional plan for the country. In other words, the Soviets left Afghanistan high and dry with zero capital supply. Then again, the Afghan state has a history of misusing U.S. funds, so continued capital must be contingent on outcomes (jobs, upholding human rights, etc.). In time, this money will need to be retracted but only when the treasury is balanced. To add to the post-occupation woes, the U.S will have to continue surveillance and peace talks. Yet, as the Taliban inevitably take complete control of the country, it will not be the U.S that suffers, but the Afghan people.

The Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center, in Kabul, is a prime example of this shifted burden. The group offers training for women in need of jobs, or even just a safe place to sleep. The center is filled with women fleeing abusive husbands and child brides escaping much the same. Afghanistan today is still a deeply patriarchal society more than twenty years on from Taliban rule. Centers like this one rebuke such trends and are representative of Afghanistan’s increased progressivism. When the U.S withdraws, it is likely that such groups will be shut down by Taliban forces. And yet, Mahbouba Seraj, who helps to run the center, is hopeful. Seraj said that “We have doctors now, we have people with master’s degrees and PhDs now. So many women and so many young people, so full of energy. They’re not going to give this up.” 

With the Taliban already occupying a vast swath of territory at present, they too are inextricably tied to the country. Over the past twenty years of fighting, they have proven that they play an integral role and that they aren’t going anywhere. Thus, the Taliban have won. 

With the scene set for U.S withdrawal and a slide into complete Taliban control, analysts must avoid assertions that misconstrue U.S passivity with a lack of candor or care. Furthermore, the decision to withdraw ought not to be viewed as a failure to follow through on commitments to NATO and the Afghan people. Rather, the Afghan situation ought to be viewed, for the first time, through the eyes of the Afghan people.

Suggesting such a perspective shift comes with myriad contradictions given the countless times the U.S has failed the Afghan people. Yet, the only way for the U.S to know definitively whether or not the Taliban will honor their promise of peace is through monitoring the situation from afar and letting things play out. Stark as that revelation may be, the U.S owes it to the Afghan people to not merely carry on with our imposed dysfunctional government. Ultimately, if you go to war, you must also be willing to end said war, even if it is a “Forever War.”