The United States of America has been fighting a vicious war of attrition with the Taliban since 2001. The Taliban regime had openly aided Al-Qaeda, an unacceptable state of affairs after the monstrous terrorism of 9/11, so Americans entered the war with an apparently simple objective: remove the Taliban and establish a stable and democratic government in Kabul. American troops fought and bled for 20 years for this, but they weren’t alone in that, they had the courageous help of thousands of Afghan allies who helped the efforts of the international coalition.
Although the initial phase of the operation was a quick success, with the Taliban overthrown in less than a month, the efforts of the United States and its allies to create a stable and democratic government in Afghanistan proved to be a quagmire. Despite the amount of blood and treasure poured into the war effort, the Taliban presence in the rural areas of the country was simply impossible to eradicate.
The war, the last vestige of Bush’s global “War on Terror” that came after 9/11, became a heavy and unpopular burden for at least four administrations. As America faces new challenges with a rising China in Asia and a defying Russia in Europe, the war in Afghanistan began to look like an unnecessary and costly effort that was simply too much to bear.
Both presidents Obama and Trump promised they would end the war in their term, however, it is President Biden who finally gave the order for American forces to get out of the Asian country by September 11.
Twenty years after the nefarious 9/11 terrorist attacks which precipitated the Afghan invasion, American soldiers withdraw from the conflict, leaving a weak Afghan government to resist the imminent onslaught of Taliban forces.
The dark reality is that, despite the best and valiant efforts of both American and Afghan troops, it is extremely likely that the same terrorists who were deposed twenty years ago will end up retaking the control of the country. Instead of leaving a country able to stand on its own, the U.S is preparing to watch how its longest war in history ends up in defeat.
This is a terrifying prospect to the thousands of courageous Afghans who risked their lives in support of the international coalition. If the Taliban continue their apparently unstoppable march towards Kabul, they will be the first to be executed.
Will 2021 Kabul be like 1975 Saigon?
America’s hasty retreat from Afghanisthan brings to memory the similar ending of another lost war (albeit a more traumatic one) Vietnam. American involvement in the southeast of Asia meant the loss of more than 50,000 servicemen plus thousands more wounded in a conflict that tore American society apart. After many years, in 1973, the US withdrew from South Vietnam and left the Saigon government to fend for itself against the incoming forces of communist North Vietnam.
Just two years after the retreat, the North began a blistering campaign that brought down the South Vietnamese government. As the North Vietnamese approached the southern capital, hundreds of Vietnamese allies rushed to the American embassy with the hope of getting on board the helicopters before the city fell and they suffered communist reprisals. The images of hundreds of Vietnamese and Americans lining up to board the helicopters became an iconic image of the American failure in Vietnam.
They were right to be afraid, in the following years after the end of the war hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese were sent to “re-education camps“, where they endured forced labor, low rations, and had to agree with the official dogma spoused by the Hanoi government.
Today America’s Afghan allies face a similar (maybe even worst) situation than the one in Saigon in 1975. The Taliban are well known for being brutal in their reprisals, and they will spare no cruelty if they get control of Kabul, which they are currently on their way to do so. Translators, civil workers, and many other Afghan allies would be in immediate danger, as the Taliban would punish them for helping American troops in their task of stabilizing Afghanistan.
It is both America’s moral duty and national interest to do its best to ensure the survival of those who helped the U.S.
Providing safe haven
Currently, Afghan interpreters and others who supported the U.S need to apply for a Special Visa, a process that can take up to six to seven years in normal circumstances. As of today, up to 18,000 afghan allies and their families are still waiting for their visa paperwork to get processed. However, with Americans expected to leave by September 11th, time is running short and the swift speed of the Taliban offensives does not respect the time-consuming intricate processes of the U.S immigration bureaucracy.
Defending America’s Afghan allies is crucial for the standing of the U.S around the world. Any challenge that the U.S wants to tackle will require the help of allies, and if Washington DC shows disregard for its allies (like it did with the Kurds in 2019) then how can it expect to convince other actors to join them in any future endeavor? Is this the best strategy to contain China or Russia?
Furthermore, helping an ally goes beyond merely strategical or geopolitical reasoning. Thousands of afghans risked their lives because they believed in the work done by the International Coalition in their own country. Is it morally correct to abandon them as the Taliban are poised to overrun the goverment?
Many lawmakers have understood this, with the House overwhelmingly approving a set of bills that would expedite the process, with some bills allowing for many of the previous requirements (like getting a medical check) to be done outside of Afghanistan. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) has also introduced similar legislation in the Senate, while President Biden has said Afghan allies “will not be left behind”.
One can only hope that the typically slow wheels of American policymaking and bureaucracy get in gear, for the sake of the lives of thousands of courageous afghans