After Osama bin Laden launched his attack against the U.S. on September 11, 2001, we responded with a military operation to destroy him and his terrorist network. We started with an air attack on his bases in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, and soon followed up on the ground with a relatively small fighting force. Bin Laden unfortunately escaped, but he and his cutthroats were forced out of Afghanistan and his Afghan hosts, the Taliban, were removed from power.
Despite having an opportunity to consolidate our remarkable success and help Afghanistan get back on its feet, the U.S. allowed despotic warlords and corrupt politicians to take control of the country. Worse yet, we decided to invade Iraq on the false pretense that it had played a part in the 9-11 attack.
Instead of taking advantage of the good will we had established with the Afghans as a result of lifting the oppressive rule of the Taliban, we shifted vital equipment and military personnel to the costly wild goose chase in Iraq. More than anything else, the virtual abandonment of Afghanistan in order to depose Saddam Hussein doomed any chance of a favorable outcome for the Afghans.
After 18 years of struggle in Afghanistan with no happy ending in sight, the U.S. is trying to negotiate a departure from the country that will not look like an admission of failure. It is taking on the look of declaring a partial victory and then bugging out of the country, much like we did in Vietnam.
It is odd that the negotiations do not involve the government of Afghanistan since it obviously has a vital interest in the outcome. And, it appears the substance of the negotiations primarily relates to when U.S. troops will leave the country. We seem to be willing to commit to a troop withdrawal schedule so long as the Taliban officials promise to be good boys.
The Taliban also say they will try to work out some sort of deal with the official government but there is no indication of what that would look like. The Taliban can’t speak for the Islamic State in Afghanistan, which is a serious and growing danger to the U.S. Is ISIS going to be free to plot attacks on America from Afghanistan like Bin Laden did? The proposal is silent about the ISIS threat.
The negotiating posture of our side has not been helped by the President, who is desperate to bail out of Afghanistan before the 2020 election. Just after he appointed his lead negotiator, Trump surprised his advisers last December by declaring he wanted to immediately withdraw half of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan–probably not the best negotiating technique. It might be best for the President to refrain from publicly making unilateral concessions that undercut his negotiators.
The sacrifices of American troops, who fought so hard for an honorable outcome, demand that we negotiate an outcome that does not amount to cutting and running. A definite and workable settlement between the Taliban and Afghan government should be a requirement for any U.S. troop withdrawal. There should be assurance of protection of womens’ rights. The Taliban should firmly commit to intensify its fight against ISIS. It should face military consequences if it fails to honor its obligations.
America is also honor bound, regardless of how the negotiations turn out, to offer refuge in our country to those Afghans who put themselves at risk by protecting and helping our troops. The U.S. has a special visa program for these folks but there are nearly 20,000 Afghans desperately waiting in line while the number of visas issued has slowed to a trickle. We owe it to these people who put their lives at risk to help our forces.
More special visas will be needed following almost any settlement and the Congress should act immediately to substantially increase the number authorized. I am still haunted by our abandonment of so many of our South Vietnamese friends to a horrible fate at the hands of the communists in 1975. Let’s not repeat that national disgrace again with our Afghan friends.