On Sept. 9, 2019, President Trump announced that he will suspend peace talks with the Taliban. According to an Aljazeera article, the reason for Trump’s abrupt end to the peace talks was due to a “Taliban attack” that killed one American soldier, resulting in complete shock. In the same article, Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, stated that it was “astonishing for us because we had already concluded the peace agreement with the American negotiating team.”
Media reaction about Trump’s withdrawal has been mixed. In Stephan Walt’s article from Politico, he mentioned that the reason for the talks with the Taliban is to “conceal a major strategic failure, after 18 years of war, thousands of lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars squandered.” This can reflect back to the Vietnam War in which Cold War presidents like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon did not want to take the blame in losing the war. Many believe that due to their pride, the Vietnam War did not end until 1975. By then, millions of dollars and equipment were squandered, and an American public was left bewildered about both its government and the reason why we sent many soldiers to a war that was fought among Vietnamese.
In Afghanistan, progress is never achieved by the military officials, partly because of efforts to turn Afghanistan into a “Western-style democracy,” according to Walt’s article. To understand past resentment of the Taliban, it would be necessary to reflect on the past that goes back to 1999. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) website, conflict in Afghanistan started on Oct. 15, 1999, when the United Nations (UN) labeled the Taliban and al-Qaeda as “terrorist entities.” These entities would become known when 9/11 occurred.
At that time, the American public was shocked and appalled to see the twin towers crumble. Out of the ashes, the question of who orchestrated the attack stirred in the minds of Americans. It was later discovered by American officials that the attack was coordinated by Osama Bin Laden, who was part of al-Qaeda. Following the attack, President Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in order to “stop the Taliban in providing a safe haven to all al-Qaeda,” according to a Cable News Network (CNN) timeline. Around 2003, President Bush went after Saddam Hussein in Iraq to dispose of his rule. The result was mixed in which American forces were left to nation build Iraq after Hussein was taken out of power, but resentment from Iraqis grew. It would take a decade later to eliminate Bin Laden and for the U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq.
Initially, President Barack Obama’s plan was to withdraw troops from Afghanistan; however, his plan never came to fruition. On the other hand, President Obama did withdraw troops from Iraq, but in doing so, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) came into existence and terrorized Iraqi civilians. Once again, the American troops were called again to serve and protect. When President Trump came into Middle Eastern affairs, he had a longing desire of wanting to get the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Currently, it seems that he too is in a predicament.
As its 18 year anniversary as well as the longest war fought by American forces, we ask: What does the war in Afghanistan mean for WCU students?
Cavan, a freshman student from WCU, stated that the reason for the war in Afghanistan to process this long is due to its “natural resources of the area.” When asked about the idea of war’s continuation decades later, Cavan says that he “does not see what we are getting out of it.” These feelings could relate to how the American public felt about Vietnam, in which many were unsure about the actual motive of a stay in a foreign country.
In regards to the topic of another insurgency if the U.S. were to pull out of Afghanistan, Cavan ponders: “It is unlikely if we pulled out, but I would not say it is possible.” The major concern that Cavan sees as a potential problem is civilian life. “As for the peace deal,” Cavan says, “[it’s] not possible for radicals [such as the Taliban], but it is possible for civilian leaders.”
Overall, the quagmire war in Afghanistan will never be fully over until peace can be achieved through cool heads and better policy making.
Nicholas Bartelmo is a fourth-year student majoring in history. NB790429@wcupa.edu