After the terrorist group al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, the American military was sent to Afghanistan to attack the Taliban, and destroy their governing position. The Taliban became the target of the U.S. because they had allowed Osama bin Laden to use their country as a training ground for terrorist activities directed against the United States. However, the U.S. is now bogged down in what seems to be an unwinnable war against Taliban insurgents that cross the border from Pakistan. Moreover, there are militants in Afghanistan who object to foreign troops being in their country, and they have apparently joined with the insurgents and continue fighting the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. This paper reviews the historical and contemporary causes of the war in Afghanistan, and critiques the positive outcomes as well as the negative outcomes of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.
How American Became Involved in Afghanistan
Following the events of September 11, 2001 -- the attacks on the World Trade Center, on the Pentagon, and the failed hijacking that led to the crash of a commercial jetliner in Pennsylvania -- the George W. Bush Administration made plans to use force against the ruling government of Afghanistan, the Taliban. Less than a month after the September 11 attacks on the United States -- on October 7, 2001 -- American forces began a massive assault on the Taliban's fortifications, on villages where the Taliban were suspected of hiding out, and on other targets. The U.S. dropped bombs from B-52 planes and attacked sites where the U.S. suspected there were Taliban officials. And according to professor Marc Herold (University of New Hampshire) those attacks also killed between 3,000 and 3,400 civilians between October 7, 2001, through March, 2002 (Herold, 2002, p. 1).
Herold, whose reports were based on articles in the Pakistan Observer, the Guardian, the Times of India and other journalists, asserts on his Web site that the U.S. strategy in those first months of the war was to bomb no matter that civilian lives "…be sacrificed" -- and he points to the bombing of the Kajakai dam and addition power stations, the bombing of radio stations, telephone offices, and "trucks and busses filled with fleeing refugees" (Herold, p. 3).
Notwithstanding the terrible loss of life that may have resulted unintentionally from the attacks, the U.S. did succeed in either destroying Taliban operations or driving their principal leaders across the border into Pakistan. Amir Taheri writes in the peer-reviewed journal American Foreign Policy Interests that the United Nations had "endorsed" the American war in Afghanistan as a temporary campaign to attack those that had attacked the United States. And by attacking the Taliban in Afghanistan the Americans had three key interests, Taheri explains.
The first interest was to show "friend and foe alike that it could not be attacked with impunity" (Taheri, 2009, 365). It is worth mentioning that the U.S. had been attacked before, including the "mass murder of 241 Marines in Beirut" in 1983, and the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, but the U.S. "…had not hit back in ways that might have dissuaded future aggressors," Taheri explains (365). Hence, it was important to make a loud and forceful statement the America would not cower in the face of assaults from terrorists.
The second interest that was served by the invasion of Afghanistan was, as mentioned, to find and destroy the bases from which the terrorists trained to attack America on September 11, 2001. Thirdly, Taheri continues, the U.S. wanted to help the Afghanistan people replace the Taliban with a government that suited American desires to see democracy thrive in this third world country.
Taheri points out that by 2005, America had achieved all the objectives mentioned previously, and was in a position to "declare victory in Afghanistan and start to reduce its military footprint in preparation for disengagement" (366). However, The Bush Administration did not want to simply walk away from Afghanistan. Bush believed the public saw it as "the good war" while the war in Iraq was being perceived as "the bad war" -- partly because the rhetoric used by Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq, the presence of "weapons of mass destruction" were nowhere to be found, Taheri, 366.
A second reason why Bush did not want to pull out of Afghanistan was that the "enterprise had developed a momentum of its own" and that momentum raised a series of potential "objectives that had little or no relation" to the national interests of the United States, Taheri continues (366). Those objectives included: a) destroying the opium trade; b) reviving the agriculture of Afghanistan; c) helping to improve the status of women and increasing the number of children who are able to go to school; and d) launching a "Western-style judiciary" (366).
Taheri explains on page 367 that while the initial involvement in Afghanistan was a laudable objective from the point-of-view of hitting back on those who attacked America, and had a "realistic chance of being achieved," the goals that Bush envisioned after the Taliban had been pretty much chased across the border into Pakistan were goals "no outsider could hope to attain."
The Ramifications and Analysis of Bush's "War on Terror"
An important part of the historical context of the Bush Administration's decision to quickly attack the Taliban in Afghanistan is an understanding of the bigger picture that Bush attempted to project to the world. In his inauguration speech, Bush was "…trying to rally the nation to a spiritual revitalization through a collective attack on sin" (Chernus, 2004, p. 415). His speech established the precedent that faith-based organizations (think conservative Christian organizations that helped elect Bush) would, thanks to his policies, receive "billions of federal dollars" which would help the "Republican party and especially its conservative wing" (Chernus, 416). It was part of Bush's "compassionate conservatism" that was to be part of the president's rhetoric -- until September 11. From the moment the World Trade Center's towers came thundering down, Bush's standard rhetorical theme changed from a rallying cry towards a more religious path to a call to "stand together to win the war against terrorism" (Chernus, 417).
That is, the Bush "War on Terrorism" became in fact a war against evil, an "apocalyptic crusade against sin" -- and it became his passion to justify an all-out military engagement against not only terrorism but against nations that harbor terrorists or support terrorist in some way (Chernus, 418). And if this crusade was to be a "global war of faith against sin, [then] supporting U.S. policies had to become the test of any religion's virtue and truth," Chernus explains (418).
The "logical corollary" that Chernus sees from Bush in his post-9/11 nationalistic / moral fervor is that "All opposition to U.S. policies had to constitute sin"; America was the country on God's side because God has a "special affiliation with and providence for the American way of life" (Chernus, 420). To summarize what Bush was saying to the world as the U.S. prepared to bomb suspected Taliban operations centers in Afghanistan, Chernus asserts that the president was presenting "…a distinct image of a nation carrying compassion in one hand and violent justice in the other. 'This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger'," Bush told a public prayer service. Moreover, the U.S. will have not have "…any compassion for any state that sponsors [terrorists]" (Chernus, 424). This of course included Afghanistan, and Pakistan in particular.
Afghanistan and Pakistan -- In the Bush Bull's Eye
Meanwhile, it is clear to anyone researching the American military engagement in Afghanistan, that any discussion of the dynamics of Afghanistan must also include its huge and sometimes shifty, suspicious neighbor, Pakistan.
Prior to the September 11 attacks, the relationship between the U.S. And Pakistan was best defined "…as strained" (Zakheim, 2011, p. 4). Washington had hit Pakistan hard with sanctions after they had tested a nuclear device; in fact the U.S. stopped selling F-16s to Pakistan, notwithstanding a contract the two countries had engaged in. Pakistan had already received 28 F-16s and paid for them when the U.S. slapped the sanctions on Islamabad, Zakheim explains. After shutting down their sale of weapons to Pakistan and invoking other sanctions, the U.S. became more friendly with Pakistan's neighbor and nemesis, India, which further exacerbated the tension between the U.S. And Pakistan.
However, after the September 11 attacks on the U.S., Bush began cozying up to Islamabad again, notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan had been what Zakheim called a "strong supporter of the Taliban." And faced with a decision -- should he support the U.S. In its war against terrorism and against the Taliban, or continue to support the Taliban -- the Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf decided to go with the powerful United States. The catch was, Musharraf told Bush he couldn't use his Pakistani troops against the Taliban unless he received cash from the U.S. To fund the…