We Are No Longer in Afghanistan – That is a Good Thing.

Before I continue, let me clarify the basis from which I speak today.  I am a retired Marine. I served my last tour in Viet Nam just prior to its take-over by the North Vietnamese.  I was part of the forces charged with executing the “peace treaty” negotiated by Henry Kissinger and President Nixon.  It wasn’t pretty then, and it ain’t any prettier today.  Talk about a dé·jà vu moment, the evacuation of Kabul looked pretty much like the evacuation of Saigon.

Our entry into Viet Nam was misguided and unfortunately, we didn’t learn that lesson when we went into Afghanistan.  President Bush declared the “war on terror” in Afghanistan in October 2001. I got that.  We had just experienced unfathomable terror in our homeland.  But then, it evolved into nation-building – creating a democracy where there was tribal conflict. We don’t do that very well.  The fact of the matter is that our misguided attempts to create a western Democracy in a tribal country was a 20-year exercise in futility.

The Afghan government was corrupt, the Afghan military leadership was corrupt, the bureaucrats were corrupt…and the Afghan people got screwed.

In 2014, General John R. Allen, who was at that time, in charge of the international force in Afghanistan, told a U. S. Senate Foreign Relations SubcommitteeThe great challenge to Afghanistan’s future isn’t the Taliban, or the Pakistani safe havens or even an incipiently hostile Pakistan“. “The existential threat to the long-term viability of modern Afghanistan is corruption.” He stated that the insurgency, criminal patronage networks, and drug traffickers had formed “an unholy alliance”.

You wonder why how the Taliban took over the country?  This is one of the big reasons.

The U.S. didn’t lose the Afghan war…it wasn’t our war to lose.  It was the Afghans’ war to win or lose.  Our country did our damnedest to help them win it, but their leadership had neither the will, the honesty, nor the competence to create a central government that represented all of the people of Afghanistan, and the Afghan people didn’t trust their government. There was a systemic failure across the board – corruption in the government, Afghan military, and police units hollowed out by desertions, low recruitment rates, poor morale, the theft of pay and equipment by commanders, and high casualties that were not sustainable.  The Afghans couldn’t get it together to win the war for their own country.

Hundreds of American Military members have been killed by insider attacks perpetrated by Afghan forces…these are the people we were trying to help.   In 2012, 15% of all Coalition deaths were caused by Green on Blue insider attacks.  My son lost his mentor and former Commanding Officer to a rifle shot from the Afghan soldier he was training.  This wasn’t a nice war where you can tell the enemy by his uniform.

Biden did the right thing. It was not pretty, but it had to be done and he’s the first President since 2001 who had the balls to make it happen.  The President accurately noted, “after nearly 20 years of war, it was clear that the U.S. military could not transform Afghanistan into a modern, stable democracy.”

Responding in July to critics of the withdrawal, the President asked: “Let me ask those who wanted us to stay: How many more? How many thousands more of America’s daughters and sons are you willing to risk?”

It’s the right question but it falls on the wrong ears because less than 1% of Americans serve in the military. Most politicians and Americans have never served in the military, so they have no skin in the game and it’s these same people who are willing to throw the Military into the fire with little concern for their sacrifice…except to say, “thank you for your service”.

Don’t thank me for my service when you’ve not served.  You don’t know enough to understand.    It rings hollow, it’s trite, and it’s superficial. The general population has no idea about what service to our country means…the military does.

So, how was August 31 set for the withdrawal?

Let’s remember, it was Donald Trump who negotiated an agreement with the Taliban in February 2020 that all U.S. forces would withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.  He left the execution of the withdrawal to his successor…President Biden.  We will never know if Trump would have had the balls to complete the withdrawal, had he not lost the election.

The United States began withdrawing forces before the February 2020 agreement was reached and continued to do so afterwards until troop levels reached 2,500.  On April 14, 2021, President Biden announced that the United States would begin a “final withdrawal” on May 1, to be completed by September 11, 2021, of the remaining 2,500 US troops, several thousand NATO soldiers, and some 16,000 civilian contractors out of the country.  Could the evacuation have been executed better?  I can’t answer the question because I wasn’t on the ground, I wasn’t in the know and I’m not going to second guess any decision made.  It had to be done, it’s done and it’s time to move on.

As of August 31, 2021, the evacuation has been completed and our footprint in Afghanistan is no longer. Could the U. S. gotten more of our Afghan allies into the U.S. earlier…we sure could have but the Trump Administration intentionally slowed the entry for all refugees — including allies who aided American soldiers in Afghanistan. In arguing for the slow-down, Stephen Miller, then a top advisor to Trump asked incredulously, “What do you guys want?” according to one person in the room. “A bunch of Iraqs and ‘Stans across the country?” This was an unconscionable action by the Trump administration.

President Bush got us into Afghanistan to destroy bin Laden and Al Qaeda after the terror attack on our homeland and I supported that action…it was the right thing to do for a host of reasons.  However, the terrorists aren’t stupid. They simply moved over to Pakistan where they had a safe haven.  In December 2001, U.S. troops had bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora but Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy R. Franks, Bush’s Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided not to commit the troops to get him.  Talk about not getting it right.

It took another 10 years before the U.S. found and killed bin Laden and that should have ended it right there. But there was always a reason to stay a couple more years, and then a couple more years, and on and on.

In May 2014, Obama stated he wanted to pull all but 9,800 troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and all the troops out by the end of 2016. Again, it didn’t happen.

Trump promised to pull out of Afghanistan in his election rhetoric.  It didn’t happen.  So he handcuffed the incoming President with the treaty he negotiated with the Taliban committing to a May 2021 complete withdrawal.

Even though the United States has spent at least $4 billion a year on the Afghan military, an intelligence assessment conducted this spring said Afghanistan could fall largely under Taliban control within two to three years after the departure of international forces.

The assessment was too optimistic…it took only a couple of weeks.  The Afghan President and his cronies fled the country with, I suspect, millions of U.S. dollars, deserted his people, and turned it over to the Taliban.  For this, we spent 20 years, almost a trillion dollars, and the loss of 2,448+ military personnel, 3,846 U. S. contractors, 444 AID workers, 72 Journalists along with 110,000 Afghan military and civilians, and about 320 wounded Military personnel.  So, tell me, how was this worth it?

Afghanistan lost the war and one more month, one more year or 20 more years wouldn’t change the outcome.

It doesn’t matter who the President was that made the decision to get out of Afghanistan, it was going to be messy, there were going to be screw-ups and there were going to be casualties, both military and civilian – that’s war.  There also were going to be plenty of armchair generals who think they know more than anyone else and want to make sure everyone knows it but all they do is blather and pontificate with nothing meaningful to say. And we have the media who find fault with everything that was being done just because they don’t like the guy who had the guts to pull the trigger.  It’s awfully easy to sit back and criticize when you have no skin in the game and don’t have to be the one who makes the decisions or fights the battles.

A fitting closing are these comments by President Biden:

“The status quo was not an option. Staying would have meant U.S. troops taking casualties; American men and women back in the middle of a civil war.  And we would have run the risk of having to send more troops back into Afghanistan to defend our remaining troops.

Once that agreement with the Taliban had been made, staying with a bare minimum force was no longer possible.

So let me ask those who wanted us to stay: How many more — how many thousands more of America’s daughters and sons are you willing to risk?  How long would you have them stay?

Already we have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago.  Would you send their children and their grandchildren as well?  Would you send your own son or daughter?

After 20 years — a trillion dollars spent training and equipping hundreds of thousands of Afghan National Security and Defense Forces, 2,448 Americans killed, 20,722 more wounded, and untold thousands coming home with unseen trauma to their mental health — I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.

The United States cannot afford to remain tethered to policies creating a response to a world as it was 20 years ago.  We need to meet the threats where they are today.”


Joe Anderson
Joe Anderson
JOE is a partner at Anderson Performance Partners LLC , a certified woman/veteran-owned business, working with organizations to facilitate problem solving through workforce energy and innovation. He is a retired Marine Officer and a seasoned senior business executive with more than 30 years leadership experience as a senior business executive in several Fortune 500 companies and as a business owner.

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    • Thanks Bonnie and thanks for the service of your sons. Our son is a Marine and we have met many of his Mairnes who served multiple times in Afghanistan…it was a tough job. Please give your sons a “thank you” from a retired Marine Mustang. Semper fi.

  1. Jim, thanks for your thoughtful comments. American democracy is unique to America…you just can’t take it to a country like Afghanistan, plop it down and think it will work. Afghanistan is a tribal country, the people’s loyalty is to the tribe…not the central government. The Taliban will not have any better success than the Americans did. If we remember back to 2001, it was several of the tribes that aligned themselves with the Americans to help drive out the Taliban and that, I suspect, will happen again. The show isn’t over and I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out. I agree, there will be some suffering among the Afghan people and that is so unfortunate. Joe

  2. Thanks for this, Joe. It really does put everything into perspective. I really with that everyone in your country could read this. They would clearly see both the parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam. It’s a tough, and these days especially, a mostly thankless job standing up for democracy around the world. I have always personally maintained that the culture in the middle east is so different from the west’s perception of it, that it’s always a bit of shock to the systems to experience it first hand. My heart goes out to all the people who will be executed as collaberators, and all the women who will be abused and denied opportunity under the Taliban.