February 3, 2023

Mountain Progressive Review

A Community-Led News Organization

Three Administrations of Broken Promises: When Will the War in Afghanistan Truly End?

The war in Afghanistan has been raging since October 7, 2001, making it nearly 20 years old. The war has left 2,420 US troops dead and 20,660 wounded. Nearly 40,000 civilians and many more alleged Taliban fighters have been killed. The consequences are tremendous. Afghanistan has been left shattered. The Taliban now controls more of the country than ever before, and the US has spent over a trillion dollars on the war. It’s safe to say the war has been a complete disaster for both the American and Afghan people. Former presidents Obama and Trump both promised to pull out of the war, yet collectively they had 12 years to do so and did not. Now, President Biden has promised to withdraw completely by the end of the year. Let’s take a look at all three leaders and their promises.

In 2008, part of former president Barack Obama’s campaign was based on turning Bush’s Afghanistan war around. He pledged to send two additional brigades of soldiers (around 10,000) to Afghanistan and an additional $1 billion in civilian assistance. Before Obama took office, there were 38,000 US combat troops in Afghanistan. By the end of his first year, there were approximately 65,000. Two years later, in 2011, there were 110,000 US soldiers stationed on Afghan soil. At the end of that year, Obama announced that the threat of the Taliban had been dealt with and that the United States military would be out of Afghanistan by 2014. However, in December 2014, there were still 9,800 US combat troops in Afghanistan.

Former president Barack Obama announced in October 2016 that troop levels would be reduced to 5,500, but reversed his decision two months later in December, stating that there would be 8,800 soldiers left in Afghanistan at the end of his final term. The former president had broken his promise to end the war and instead escalated it to levels exceeding the Bush administration.

“For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan. America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.”

Former president Barack Obama speaking to US soldiers in 2012.

Before his presidency, Donald Trump was vocally supportive of pulling out of the Middle East. Trump, in a post on Twitter, called the war in Afghanistan “a complete waste.” In another tweet, he said, “We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the US first.”

Little was said, however, about Afghanistan by either former president Donald Trump or presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during their 2016 presidential campaign. In 2017, despite Trump’s earlier statements regarding the war, troop levels increased from 8,800 to more than 14,000. In 2018, that number increased to 15,000. Even while increasing our numbers in the Middle East, he continued to rail against the endless wars. In February of 2020, Trump’s administration and the Taliban negotiated a deal to end hostilities and reduce troop levels to 8,800 within 14 months. In 2020, during the middle of a pandemic, Congress and the presidential administration worked their hardest to fear-monger and stop the withdrawal from the war. They made up rumors about Russian bounties, then Iranian bounties, and then Chinese bounties. By January 2021, US soldiers in Afghanistan were numbered at 2,500, however, nearly 18,000 “off-the-book” private contractors remained—that’s far from pulling out of the country.

Trump made a deadline of completely pulling troops out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, but that withdrawal didn’t include military advisors, CIA operatives, or private contractors. President Joe Biden pushed forward this date to September 11 of this year. However, it remains unclear whether Biden wants to follow Trump’s plan of leaving thousands of unofficial US operatives in Afghanistan, or if he wants a real withdrawal. In 2012, Biden promised that the US would be completely out of Afghanistan by 2014.

“We are leaving. We are leaving in 2014, period.”

Joe Biden on Afghanistan during the vice presidential debate in 2012.

President Biden broke his promises before—who’s to say he won’t do it again? Even now, mainstream media and the political establishment are gearing up for a political pressure campaign to force him into submission. Known war hawks and proponents of war crimes such as Hillary Clinton have already come out against the withdrawal on September 11, with Clinton warning “…of huge consequences”.

The political establishment, no matter what populist rhetoric they may spit out or how much they seem to care about democracy, does not care what we, the American people, actually want or need. The overwhelming majority of Americans wish to pull out of Afghanistan. Without accountability and reform in the political system, the United States will remain an oligarchy, because, as of now, it seems that the more money you have, the more your voice is heard.

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