Jim Crawford: There was no easy way to end the war in Afghanistan
Like the visual memories of the fall of Saigon, helicopters rising from rooftops, to being expelled from Iraq after disposing of its brutal leader, Saddam Hussein, the men clinging to the wheels of a U.S. military aircraft as it left Kabul will always be the first memory of U.S. forces leaving Afghanistan.
History has once again taught us that there is no good way to exit a lost cause.
Donald Trump was, to his credit, right about Afghanistan being an endless drain on our resources, our wealth and our men and women in uniform, with no plan to win the war with the Taliban there. Trump did plan to leave Afghanistan, but only once he was re-elected and immune from the ugly exit that would close this chapter of American hubris.
Joe Biden became the president that was willing to pay that price, and he is paying today as the U.S. conducts the largest civilian evacuation in history. Over 100,000 people have been evacuated to date.
The Taliban has cooperated in getting Americans and Afghanis out of the country, but there are still cameras capturing the chaos as more and more civilians hope to escape the regime of the Taliban.
No matter how long we stayed at the Kabul airport the crowds would continue, for the Taliban’s history will haunt them forever.
History may treat Biden’s exit more kindly than the cameras today, for the war in Afghanistan was lost long before Biden became president.
The enemy, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, has a long-held saying, that their enemies have the watches, but they have the time.
Indeed, once again, the evidence is that this ungovernable tribal land, with its extreme terrain and weather, has provided the ability to hide and outwait their enemies over 200 years, waiting patiently in the hills and mountains, and in neighboring Pakistan to outlast every enemy from the British to the Russians to the American coalition.
In this, Pakistan has often played a decisive role in undermining our efforts and protecting the enemy within its territory. Pakistan did more than harbor Bin Laden.
Throughout the war, Taliban fighters needed only to cross into Pakistan to avoid defeat from Allied forces. Pakistan offered us limited cooperation while funding and helping our enemy escape defeat, rest and plan their next attack.
For Pakistan, Afghanistan has served as a buffer to Indian and Russian expansion throughout their history. Using geography and its nuclear weapon arsenal, Pakistan has had the ability to quietly protect the warlords of Afghanistan from falling to foreign powers. Victory for the U.S. was always impossible with the border porous for the Taliban, but rigid for U.S. forces.
But the end, was and is, indeed ugly.
The now ex-president of Afghanistan has escaped with an estimated $160 million in U.S. dollars of newfound wealth from a government we always knew to be corrupt.
The Afghan Army, left to fight without U.S. air support, and worried about losing their next paycheck from U.S. cash infusions, decided not to fight at all in most situations. They chose to walk away and make peace with their new overlords, the Taliban. This, knowing their wives and daughters would pay the price for the surrender.
American veterans, who once served beside Afghan troops, have come forward to praise the courage of the Afghans, but laying down their weapons, with so much at stake to their families suggest that the 20-year training of the Afghan Army was without success in any way.
America spent over $2 trillion dollars of our wealth in Afghanistan and over $4 trillion in Iraq, both wars without victory possible.
It is time to stop fighting spending on programs that will help Americans and stop funding endless wars that find willing support in our Congress.
Jim Crawford is a retired educator, political enthusiast and award-winning columnist living here in the Tri-State.