Afghanistan in Turmoil: An Opinion Piece

U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan leaves behind a humanitarian crisis, turning back the clock on democracy and freedom for Afghan girls and women


U.S. Central Command Public Affa

Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) fly to Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 17. Marines are assisting the Department of State with an orderly drawdown of designated personnel in Afghanistan.

After 20 years and almost $1 trillion invested, U.S. presence in Afghanistan will finally come to an end. Even as the country erupted in mayhem, President Biden continued to back his decision to pull all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by August 31. 


The media televised thousands of Afghans storming Kabul airport in mid-August, desperately hoping to flee the country as the Taliban recaptured the capital and U.S. planes took off with our diplomats and troops. The humanitarian crisis spurred by President Biden’s decision will likely be remembered as one of the most heartless and costly mistakes of his presidency. 


U.S. troops first entered Afghanistan in 2001, following terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Former President George W. Bush responded to the 9/11 attacks swiftly, promising to “win the war against terrorism” and authorizing military efforts to combat Taliban and al Qaeda forces. By December 9, 2001, the Taliban had surrendered at Afghan city Kandahar, demonstrating the strength of the U.S. military. However, Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader who had orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, remained unfound.


Afghanistan soon moved into a period of reconstruction. In 2004, with 8,000 remaining U.S. troops to provide protection, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad stated: “Afghans have seized the opportunity provided by the United States and its international partners to lay the foundation for democratic institutions and provide a framework for national elections.” The first democratic elections were held since the fall of the Taliban, with registered voter turnout near 80% and a new president elected. Though corruption and turmoil remained, increased safety and an improved quality of life emerged. For Afghan women in particular, who had been barred under Taliban rule from attending schools, holding jobs, or appearing in public without full-body coverings and a male relative, the arrival of U.S. troops changed their lives.


Following a surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden was finally found and killed during a military raid in Pakistan on May 1, 2011. The defeat of Osama bin Laden, who had been the face of terrorism for Americans, sparked debate over whether U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan. With pressure in Congress and polls showing increasing public discontent with the war, the withdrawal of U.S. troops began. In early 2020, former President Donald Trump reached an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw American forces by May 1, 2021, and in return, the Taliban agreed not to attack American forces until that time.


That deadline proved overly ambitious. President Biden sought to complete the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the seemingly endless war and soon set a revised deadline of September 11, which was subsequently pulled into August 31. “Let me ask those who wanted us to stay: How many more? How many thousands more of America’s daughters and sons are you willing to risk?” asked Biden in July.

The President argued that after years of equipping and training Afghan troops, the country must learn to defend itself. On August 14, President Biden remarked that prolonging the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan “would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.”


When President Biden took office, only 2,500 U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan, as compared to 100,000 at the height of the war. Now, just months after Biden commenced the final withdrawal of U.S. troops, Afghanistan has already succumbed to Taliban control. What is life like now in Afghanistan? Chaos: women flee their schools and jobs, airports flood with terrified Afghans, and those who had helped the U.S. fear for their lives. 


Aliya Kazimy, a 27-year old Afghan woman tells The New York Times: “I am from the generation that had a lot of opportunities after the fall of the Taliban 20 years ago… I was able to achieve my goals of studying, and for a year I’ve been a university professor… Now my future is dark and uncertain. All these years of working hard and dreaming were for nothing. And the little girls who are just starting out, what future awaits them?” 

Afghan women in Kabul now fear for their future after Biden’s decision to remove the majority of US troops from Afghanistan.

President Biden could have prevented this humanitarian crisis had he not executed the final withdrawal of U.S. troops, but kept a small and symbolic presence in Afghanistan. Within months, the progress made by 20 years of U.S. efforts has been effectively destroyed. America’s credibility as the protector of democracy around the world has been seriously questioned. Our safety has been compromised with the return of Afghanistan to Taliban rule. As this tragedy unfolds, the world awaits America’s next move.