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Editorial: Afghanistan troop withdrawal a debacle for United States

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The United States’ withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan has been a debacle, and it seems inconceivable that President Joe Biden, intelligence agencies or military experts couldn’t have predicted how swiftly the Taliban would take over the country.

Thousands and thousands of U.S. citizens and allies such as Afghan interpreters were trapped in the chaos.

There are too many unknowns for a final verdict on the mess. But the picture looks grim.

The United States struggled Thursday to pick up the pace of American and Afghan evacuations at Kabul airport, constrained by obstacles ranging from armed Taliban checkpoints to paperwork problems.

As of Thursday afternoon, our military was still evacuating people out of Kabul in scenes reminiscent of the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. But that came an additional two years after the United States withdrew troops from that Southeast Asian country. The timeline here is far shorter.

It’s clear that many Afghans who helped the United States in this lengthy conflict will be left behind, likely to a horrific fate.

Afghanistan will be a blemish on Biden’s legacy, whatever that may be, and could corrode any successes he has in leading the country in its battle against COVID-19.

The Afghanistan war lasted 20 years, of course, so it’s also a stain on the legacy of every president since George W. Bush. There’s plenty of blame to go around regarding the conflict, which is the longest war in our country’s history and started as a reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

Leaving Afghanistan was undoubtedly the right move to make for the United States, but how this has been handled is the problem.

While there are plenty of questions about when America should have cut the line and cut the losses – perhaps a decade ago, perhaps longer – no one in their right mind is advocating staying in Afghanistan forever. That’s what it would have taken to prevent the Taliban from taking power.

But a more graceful exit could have occurred, perhaps a better staggered troop withdrawal with firm deadlines for U.S. citizens to leave the country and other dates targeted for our allies to escape. That sort of lengthier, organized effort wouldn’t have left so many people in danger and it wouldn’t have made the United States look so pathetic and weak.

Obviously, it’s not a great look for the United States to retreat from jihadists. This hasty exit could lead to more challenges from foreign countries, as well as terrorists.

Additional conflict in the Middle East or elsewhere should be of concern to any American, and not only for the toll on the United States’ budget and economy. The toll in human life from Afghanistan has been high, too.

According to the Associated Press, through April, nearly 2,448 American service members had been killed in Iraq, along with more than 3,846 U.S. contractors.

NATO member states and other allied service members lost another 1,144 troops. Another 444 aid workers lost their lives in Afghanistan, as well as 72 journalists.

The brunt of the casualties for our side, of course, are comprised of Afghans. The death toll for the Afghan national military and police is roughly 66,000. Another 47,245 Afghan civilians were killed, as well, according to the Associated Press.

And Afghans who helped us will be the victims of this brutal Taliban regime. The public relations campaign by this terrorist group, which is attempting a rebranding as a kinder and gentler organization, is laughable. The Taliban has a history of torturing and murdering its enemies, as well as repressing women in hideous fashion.

The Taliban’s façade and restraint will surely fall once the United States and most journalists have left Afghanistan once and for all. Afghans know this. That’s why the scene at the Kabul airport is so desperate.

We should have had the foresight to get our citizens and friends out of trouble before we left.

We have a responsibility to the people who helped us in the last 20 years in Afghanistan, and it’s upsetting that we have condemned many of them to die at the hands of the Taliban.


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