Most people have heard about what is going on in Afghanistan currently, whether that be through the news, through people around them, or through social media. But many people do not really know about the events that led up to what happened.
The U.S. entered Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. They were there looking for Osama bin Laden, who was being protected by the Taliban at the time. The U.S. came in after they refused to let go of bin Laden. It wasn’t until 2011 that he was found hiding in Pakistan and subsequently killed, but American troops remained in Afghanistan to try to establish a democracy there.
The Taliban rapidly took over the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, Aug. 15. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and the Taliban took control. The Biden administration stated that all Americans had to be evacuated by Sept. 11. Twenty-four hundred Americans died in Afghanistan and thousands were wounded over the 20 year time period of the war.
On the day that the U.S. was to leave, there was a suicide bomber that killed 170 Afghans and 13 American service members. The group ISIS-K said they were responsible.
History teacher and veteran Ben Riley thinks that the way the U.S. responded and tried to get out of the country was not handled correctly.
“It was totally mismanaged,” Riley said. “Our administration has been totally bungled. For years, it’s been in the making. You can’t tell someone like the Taliban ‘we’re gonna leave on Tuesday at 3 p.m.’ Then they just sit and wait, and as soon as the Americans leave, havoc ensues. I don’t know if there is a good way to do it, but I do know that there is a better way than what just happened. I think we should have had criteria, and once those criteria were met, we leave. Because we’ve already removed a lot of our assets, a lot of our equipment and people, there’s really nothing we can do right now. Afghanistan could be worse off than when we initially went there, and it’s irresponsible for us to go in there and leave it in a worse situation.”
Riley believes that the U.S. staying in Afghanistan brought about some great changes, but things have gone downhill since.
“We’ve been there for twenty years, and I think initially the goal was to try to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorism, and I think they’ve achieved some awesome milestones with that, but here in the last few years it’s kind of taken a downturn,” Riley said. “The goal would be to train the Afghan military and government to try to deal with problems themselves, and then when they did that we would get out. The problem that Afghanistan has been having is that they’ve lived in an area that’s been at war forever. It’s not something we can do in five years. It’s not something we can do in ten years, maybe not even twenty years. How do we get them to be more like us, to be more democratic, to have checks on corruption? It’s not an easy thing even for developed countries.”
According to Riley, it will take a long time for the U.S. to make significant, lasting changes.
“The changes have to be long term,” Riley said. “The generation right now that is against democracy, someday they will be gone and the next generation will take over. If we’re there for a hundred years, we might be able to make some change. But that would take a lot of money, and possibly a lot of American lives.”
The issue with Afghanistan is not that people do not want to fight, it is that the situation is extremely precarious.
“Right now, [the problem] is the collapse of the government,” Riley said. “I don’t even fault the government or the military. It’s going to take a lot longer for there to be a cultural change there. Honestly, with some of the Taliban constantly fighting and killing people, it makes sense why they’re not ready. It’s not that these people aren’t good fighters, aren’t good policemen, it’s just so dangerous to deal with people like the Taliban.”
Despite everything going on in Afghanistan, Riley warns against seeing a whole country as just a base for terrorism and destruction.
“Afghanistan is a really amazing place,” Riley said. “There’s a very rich culture. We miss all the glory and majesty of the people because we’re so focused on terrorism.”