President Joe Biden told us on Monday he faced two choices: … either follow through on an agreement wrought between President Donald Trump and the Taliban to withdraw the remaining 2,500 or so U.S. troops in Afghanistan “or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season.”
“There would have been no cease-fire after May 1,” President Biden said in his response to what he called “the unfolding situation in Afghanistan.
“There was no agreement protecting our forces after May 1. There was no status quo of stability without American casualties after May 1. There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, and lurching into the third decade of conflict,” he said.
Our mission there never was nationbuilding, but to “get those who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, and make sure Al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again,” which he says we did.
As Americans, we can agree with his summation of mission and options or not.
As Americans, we can agree with his choice of option or not.
But as Americans we cannot call our country’s exit anything other than what it is — a shameful debacle that not only left an estimated 15,000-plus American civilians and contractors in harm’s way but left our allies, the men and women who aligned themselves with our mission, our promise, of Operation Enduring Freedom, to face the wrath of those who will now fill the void.
The photos of the desperate fleeing to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are heartbreaking.
The fear of the desperate who believe, based on history and door-knocking reality, that Taliban retribution is inevitable is palatable.
And the condemnation for the lack of both foresight and planning by this administration is both accurate and earned.
For while President Biden is absolutely correct in his statement that he inherited a withdrawal “deal,” he did not inherit a withdrawal plan.
Nor did his administration prepare one, despite its claim that it was “cleareyed about the risks” and had “planned for every contingency.”
Every contingency except for what did “unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”
Except that “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country.”
Except that “The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.” And in just 11 days, not the six months projected in recently revealed intelligence reports.
Except that the Taliban not only took over the country but the weaponry — and cash — left behind by the collapsed government we spent a literal trillion dollars to establish, equip and support.
Now there are those who call this “Bush’s War.”
Fair enough. George W. Bush was president on Sept. 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked through a plan executed by Al Qaeda, which then was using Afghanistan as a base of operations under Taliban protection.
It was, indeed, President Bush who quickly began airstrikes when the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden, deemed the plot’s mastermind.
It was President Bush who first deployed U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
But — how soon we forget — America was not the only country that thought action, and troops, were the proper response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Also deploying troops were Great Britian, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, France and Poland. The United Nations signed on and in with 60 countries ultimately then supporting the core effort of the initiative: To develop Afghan national security forces.
U.S. troops ultimately “surged” under President Obama under whose presidency the combat mission of both the U.S. and NATO concluded in 2014 — not, with President Trump’s withdrawal-of-troops agreement with the Taliban in 2020.
Under President Obama, on Dec. 28, 2014, Operation Enduring Freedom became Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support respectively when the U.S. and NATO roles became one of training, and support.
President Biden, then a U.S. senator from Delaware, supported the unanimous decision of the use of military force following 9/11. He apparently forgets that in 2001 he also supported “nationbuilding” in Afghanistan, telling Politico, that “the alternative to nationbuilding is chaos, a chaos that churns out bloodthirsty warlords, drug traffickers and terrorists.”
But Americans, especially those of us who had sons and daughters enlist, deploy and risk their health and their lives for the folks now abandoned without concerted forethought, have not forgotten why we went or what such sacrifice was intended to accomplish.
President Biden on Wednesday said, deadline or no, U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan until all Americans are out. Though he said those who fear Taliban reprisal can blame their own military and government for their lack of will, he said his administration will work to get those who were our allies out as well. He has pledged additional troop support to accomplish these things.
These assurances are proper, if late. As President Biden himself said, “The buck stops with me.”
We agree: It does.
To all who served through America’s “longest war,” we thank you.
To all the families that sacrificed, we thank you.
To all of our allies left behind, we thank you. May this administration still do right by you, with America’s support.