[OPINION] Finally, we are out of the 20-year ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan: Time to re-channel our resources to building the lives of Americans

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

MY youngest son Lorenzo was barely 4 years old when we immigrated to the United States, and he celebrated his 4th birthday on September 11, 2001, the day the World Trade Center was bombed by Islamic terrorists on the biggest attack on the United States’ soil. America was never the same again after that.

That was 20 years ago. My son, and perhaps you, your own children and grandchildren, grew up to this new reality full of fear and doubt of being attacked again. Such tragedy shaped the United States’ foreign policy and international relations, a justification for the war on terror — the American-led global counterterrorism campaign launched in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

This war on terror also changed the way the United States allocated its finite resources — spending on wars more than investing in us, the American people, and in the future of our children. Basic social services suffered — from health care to education to the safety nets of ordinary hardworking Americans in the past 20 years.

Let us look back to how this “war on terror” evolved and why we had to end this war. And in President Joe Biden’s word, “stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interests of the United States” that this war in Afghanistan no longer serves.

By Britannica’s chronicle:

“The war on terrorism was a multidimensional campaign of almost limitless scope. Its military dimension involved major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, covert operations in Yemen and elsewhere, large-scale military-assistance programs for cooperative regimes, and major increases in military spending.

The successes of the first years of the war on terrorism included the arrest of hundreds of terrorist suspects around the world, the prevention of further large-scale terrorist attacks on the American mainland, the toppling of the Taliban regime and subsequent closure of terrorist-training camps in Afghanistan, the capture or elimination of many of al-Qaeda’s senior members, and increased levels of international cooperation in global counterterrorism efforts.

By the time of U.S. Pres. George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, the drawbacks of the war on terrorism were becoming apparent. In Iraq, U.S. forces had overthrown the government of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and U.S. war planners had underestimated the difficulties of building a functioning government from scratch and neglected to consider how this effort could be complicated by Iraq’s sectarian tensions, which had been held in check by Saddam’s repressive regime but were unleashed by his removal.

By late 2004 it was clear that Iraq was sinking into chaos and civil war; estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians killed during the period of maximum violence—roughly 2004 to 2007—vary widely but generally exceed 200,000. U.S. casualties during this period far outnumbered those suffered during the initial 2003 invasion.

Afghanistan, which for several years had seemed to be under control, soon followed a similar trajectory, and by 2006 the U.S. was facing a full-blown insurgency there led by a reconstituted Taliban.

By the last years of Bush’s presidency, public opinion had turned strongly negative concerning his handling of the Iraq War and other national security matters. This discontent helped Barack Obama, an outspoken critic of Bush’s foreign policy, win the presidency in 2008.

Under the new administration, the expression war on terrorism—still closely associated with Bush policies—quickly disappeared from official communications. Obama made the rejection explicit in a 2013 speech in which he stated that the United States would eschew a boundless, vaguely defined “global war on terrorism” in favour of more focused actions against specific hostile groups.

Under Obama, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were gradually wound down, although at the end of Obama’s presidency in 2016 there were still U.S. troops in both countries.

It is worth noting that beneath Obama’s rejection of the war on terrorism as a rhetorical device and as a conceptual framework for national security there were important continuities with the policies of his predecessor. The Obama administration, for example, greatly expanded the campaign of targeted killings carried out with drones, even eliminating several U.S. citizens abroad whom it deemed threatening.”

This led to the hunting down and killing of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader and the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

FAST FORWARD to the Biden Administration. President Joe Biden in April announced the United States would be pulling out of Afghanistan to end this longest war the United States had fought in by August 31, 2021.

He said we already accomplished our goal when we went to Afghanistan. Justice was served.  He explained that the terrorist threat has metastasized since then, and the United States will maintain its fight against it, adding that “We don’t need to fight a ground war to do it.”

On August 30, President Joe Biden was able to accomplish what his predecessors were not able to do in 20 years. The longest war we’ve been in ended, with the evacuation of the last U.S. troops from Afghanistan after the take over of Kabul by the Taliban.

Biden was criticized for the “chaotic” and tragic evacuation from Afghanistan. His critics argued that the presence of US troops should have been extended and even continued. They called for Biden’s resignation, labeled his move as “cowardice”, and blamed him for the deaths and collateral damage that resulted from the pull-out.

“I was not going to extend this forever war,” Biden told the American people in his remarks from the White House, “and I was not extending a forever exit.”

Responding to critics who called for a small force remaining in Afghanistan, Biden said, “There is nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war,” and reiterated that the United States remains committed to continuing to help the remaining Americans and Afghans who helped the United States in our mission leave the country.

President Biden pointed out the cost and burden of the war in Afghanistan to the American people: Nearly 2,500 U.S. service members have died over the 20-year war in Afghanistan, which cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

Biden said that people don’t understand “how much we have asked of the 1% [of Americans] who put on the military uniform”, the National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

For twenty years, the American people have been bleeding with an estimated $300 million a day —“ as well as human costs to veterans and their families — including, he said, the 18 U.S. veterans who die by suicide each day,” the president said in his speech.

The NPR reported that the U.S. has evacuated some 5,400 Americans from Afghanistan over the past month. According to Biden, 100 to 200 Americans remain in the country “with some intention to leave.” Most of them, he added, “are dual citizens, long-time residents who had earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan.”

“The bottom line” was that “90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave, and for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline” Biden said. ‘We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.”

Biden praised the service members and diplomats who worked to evacuate more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan in recent weeks, calling it an “extraordinary success,” the NPR reported.

In his speech, President Joe Biden said we must learn from our mistakes by setting clear goals when it goes to war and not becoming involved in nation-building.

“This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan, it’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” the President pointed out. “As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation over the last two decades, we’ve got to learn from our mistakes.”

As the season changes and as we move forward to the next chapter in our nation’s history, it is time for the United States to build our nation and invest in our people. Imagine how much we can help the American people with the money we have been spending for this war in Afghanistan — $300 million a day for 20 years — especially as we are still fighting the war against COVID-19?

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at gelrelos@icloud.com, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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