The Lives Left Behind

Cassie Weymouth, Editor-in-Training

No student in Dulaney today has lived through the terror and tragedy of September 9th, 2001, or the aftershocks that ran through the entire nation that day. To high schoolers today, 9/11 is an event in history and US involvement in Afghanistan seems like it’s always been a constant unchanging thing. However, that is not the case.

The US ended a nearly 20-year occupancy in Afghanistan as of Monday, August 30 when the last evacuation plane left the tarmac in Kabul; this will be the closing of a major chapter in American history. US involvement in the tempestuous politics of Afghanistan can be dated all the way back to the Cold War, though our timeline will start directly before 9/11.

The Taliban first arose in the aftermath of Afghanistan’s Soviet- Civil War, being officially founded in September of 1994. The Taliban and the al- Qaeda often cooperated with each other, this becoming especially notable when on September 9, 2001 Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives. Massoud, a notable commander of the Northern Alliance, is believed to have been assassinated as the result of a protection deal made with the Taliban to protect Osama bin Laden.

Just three days after the assassination of Massoud, al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four commercial planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The fourth plane that crashed into the field is believed to have been headed to Washington DC, either to the Capitol Building or the White House. It was because of the actions of the civilians on board that the plane crashed into the field 20 minutes away from reaching its target, killing all 44 passengers. By the end nearly 3,000 civilians died that day with over 6,000 being injured. The news of this attack rippled around the world that day and became permanently known as 9/11.

A week later on September 18, the president at the time, George W. Bush signed into law a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against those responsible for the attack. October 7, the US military officially began a bombing campaign against the Taliban and the first wave of US ground troops arrived twelve days later. As Taliban strongholds started to crumble due to the joint attacks of the Anti-Taliban Coalition and Northern Alliance, bin Laden escaped in December leaving around 20 of his men to be captured. An interim government was put into place with the help of the United Nations and the Taliban Regime officially collapsed December 9, 2001. 

A fragile transitional government was put into place in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005, with a constitution, the first elected president, considered to be a major victory as Afghans had not gone to polls since 1969 in parliamentary elections, and perhaps most notably women in government positions. This peace quickly ended as bombing more than quintupled and coalition state members came to disagreements on how to proceed.

By the start of President Obama’s term in 2008, 17,000 more US troops had been committed to Afghanistan with no end in sight. Pakistan is eventually involved due to al-Qaeda’s hold and at this point US troops have been stationed in Afghanistan for nearly ten years with Osama bin Laden still active and the end goal becoming blurrier. December 2009 brings another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan on top of the 68,000 already stationed. Even with Osama bin Laden’s eventual assassination in 2011, the Afghan war rages on with tense elections, increased bombings and death, and constant changing of US policy and several failed peace talks. The war has now been handed down to four separate presidents and administrations. This changes when in April of 2021 Biden announces his full withdrawal of the 3,500 troops that remain by 9/11. 

As the evacuation starts, it is only early August when the Taliban have taken all but two of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals. Though Biden managed to to complete his goal, he is forced to defend his actions as the evacuation falls into chaos trying to get both American troops and Afghans who have assisted the US in the past out; actions that are partly to blame for the 13 service members killed, 18 injured  and nearly 170 Afghan deaths at a checkpoint outside of the Kabul airport after an attack. With rather empty sounding promises of future evacuations, Afghanistan’s future now hangs in the balance.   

The US has been so entrenched in Afghanistan wars and politics that after nearly two decades, this withdrawal will be sure to have rippling effects around the world. There is no question that the US has had a large hand in shaping recent Afghan history and this evacuation will become a defining moment in Biden’s presidency. Many lives have been lost, from both the American troops trying to return home and the refugees searching for a better life. The last remaining question now being was it worth it?