US Presidents in Afghanistan

Explainer

From Bush to Biden: How each president handled America’s longest war in Afghanistan

By Maria Tomasch, Ian Toner, Mack Pittman

Responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 Americans, former President George W. Bush launched military operations in Afghanistan in October 2001 to target al-Qaeda, the Taliban and terrorist safe havens.

From killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to signing a bilateral agreement with the Taliban, four American presidents–Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden–made consequential decisions in the nearly 20 years that passed between the first strike authorized by President Bush and the full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Ian Toner: WAS THE U-S EXIT FROM AFGHANISTAN THE CORRECT DECISION OR A MASSIVE DEFEAT?

AS FINGER POINTING CONTINUES, ONE THING IS FOR CERTAIN – THE HUMAN TOLL FROM AMERICA’S LONGEST WAR IS STAGGERING. MORE THAN 121 THOUSAND PEOPLE DIED, NOT INCLUDING THE ENEMY. 

MORE THAN 24 HUNDRED AMERICAN SERVICE MEMBERS. THIRTY EIGHT HUNDRED CONTRACTORS. TENS OF THOUSANDS OF AFGHANS.

ONE SIDE SAYS ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: AFGHANISTAN NEEDS TO TAKE CARE OF  ITSELF–BUT THAT HASN’T HAPPENED.

OTHERS RAISE CONCERNS AFGHANISTAN’S WOMEN AND CHILDREN WILL SUFFER MOST AND NEED US ON A HUMANITARIAN LEVEL.

EITHER WAY, THERE’S PLENTY OF BLAME TO GO AROUND.  

NO MATTER HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THE DECISION TO WITHDRAW, MANY AGREE THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN IS A BIG MESS.

SO HOW DID WE GET HERE?

LET’S GET THE STRAIGHT.

WE HAVE TO START WITH PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH AND THE EVENTS OF NINE ELEVEN. TERRORISTS HIJACKED FOUR AIRLINERS, CRASHING TWO INTO THE TWIN TOWERS, ONE INTO THE PENTAGON, AND ONE INTO A FIELD IN PENNSYLVANIA.

2,977 AMERICANS DIED IN THE LARGEST ATTACK ON U-S SOIL. 

BUSH RESPONDED QUICKLY.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.

Ian Toner: THE SEARCH FOR OSAMA BIN LADEN WAS WELL UNDERWAY. U-S AND ALLIED FORCES FREED AFGHANISTAN FROM TALIBAN RULE. AL QAEDA AND THE TALIBAN FLED INTO THE MOUNTAINS ALONG THE PAKISTAN BORDER. 

THEN WITH A NEW GOVERNMENT IN PLACE, AFGHANISTAN HELD ITS FIRST DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS IN 2004.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA TOOK OFFICE IN 2009.

HE USHERED IN A NEW STRATEGY WITH U-S FORCES FOCUSED ON DEFENDING CIVILIANS AND ATTEMPTING TO BUILD A PEACE PROCESS BETWEEN THE AFGHAN GOVERNMENT AND THE TALIBAN.

IN 2010, OBAMA SENT AN ADDITIONAL 30,000 TROOPS, A FORCE LARGE ENOUGH TO ESCALATE THE WAR  BUT TOO SMALL TO WIN. 

U-S DRONE STRIKES INCREASED ALONG WITH SUICIDE BOMBINGS FROM MULTIPLE EXTREMIST GROUPS.

THEN IN 2011, VICTORY WAS AT HAND.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

TONER: AT THIS POINT, THE U-S CAPTURED BIN LADEN, KILLED HIGH LEVEL AL QAEDA TARGETS, AND STOPPED NUMEROUS TERRORIST ATTACKS.  THE TALIBAN NO LONGER RULED AFGHANISTAN.

SO WHY DIDN’T THE WAR END?

THE DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED GOVERNMENT OF AFGHANISTAN ONLY CONTROLLED ABOUT 90 PERCENT OF THE COUNTRY. 

AN ESTIMATED 20 OF THE 98 DESIGNATED TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS TRAINED IN THE AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN REGION.

THE REST OF AL QAEDA WAS STILL AT LARGE. 

THEN IT WAS PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S TURN.

HE ORCHESTRATED A SIGNIFICANT STEP TO END THE WAR AGAINST THE TALIBAN.

ON FEBRUARY 29, 2020, AFTER MORE THAN A YEAR OF NEGOTIATIONS, THE UNITED STATES AND THE TALIBAN SIGNED A BILATERAL AGREEMENT.

THE U-S WOULD WITHDRAW ALL ALLIED FORCES BY MAY 2021, AND THE TALIBAN WOULD PREVENT GROUPS LIKE AL QAEDA AND ISIS FROM USING AFGHANISTAN TO GAIN A FOOTHOLD.

PRESIDENT Donald Trump: I’D LIKE TO CONGRATULATE ALL THE INCREDIBLE PEOPLE WHO HAVE WORKED FOR SO LONG ON OUR ENDLESS WAR. WE’VE HAD VERY SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATIONS. WE THINK THEY WILL BE SUCCESSFUL IN THE END.

TONER: TRUMP WAS CRITICIZED ON BOTH SIDES OF THE POLITICAL AISLE FOR NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS AND EMPOWERING THE TALIBAN.

BUT BOTH SIDES EMBRACED THE WITHDRAWAL ITSELF.

WHICH BRINGS US TO TODAY. IN APRIL PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN ANNOUNCED THE U-S WOULD PULL ALL MILITARY FORCES FROM AFGHANISTAN BY THE END OF AUGUST.

PRESIDENT Joe Biden: I BELIEVED THAT OUR PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN SHOULD BE FOCUSED ON THE REASON WE WENT THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE. TO BE SURE AFGHANISTAN WOULD NOT BE USED AS A BASE FROM WHICH TO ATTACK OUR HOMELAND AGAIN. WE DID THAT.

TONER: THE LAST U-S PLANE CARRYING TROOPS FLEW OUT ONE DAY AHEAD OF SCHEDULE  ON AUGUST 30TH, ENDING THE 20 YEAR WAR.

BUT THE END DID NOT COME WITHOUT INCIDENT. THE TALIBAN OVERTOOK CITY AFTER CITY WITH LITTLE RESISTANCE. AFGHANISTAN’S ELECTED PRESIDENT FLED AND THE TALIBAN TOOK CONTROL OF THE GOVERNMENT — ONCE AGAIN. TERRORISTS KILLED AMERICAN SERVICE MEMBERS AND AFGHAN CIVILIANS DURING THE WITHDRAWAL.

IT’S NOT LIKE THE WORLD WAS UNAWARE OF WHAT COULD HAPPEN. BIDEN KEPT TROOPS NEARBY IN QATAR IN CASE THEY WERE NEEDED – AND THEY WERE.

EVEN MEMBERS OF CONGRESS STUDIED THE WITHDRAWAL. AFTER APPROPRIATING 144 BILLION DOLLARS FOR RECONSTRUCTION AND SECURITY FORCES – THEY WEREN’T GOING TO ‘NOT’ EXAMINE ITS IMPACT. 

SO WAS ALL THAT SPENDING AND SACRIFICE WORTH IT?

IN THE WIN COLUMN: OSAMA BIN LADEN IS GONE, NUMEROUS TERROR ATTACKS STOPPED, AND THE TALIBAN AGREED TO KEEP TERROR GROUPS LIKE AL QAEDA OUT OF AFGHANISTAN.

BUT IN THE LOSS COLUMN — THOUSANDS OF AMERICANS DIED. DESPITE TENS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF INVESTMENT, THERE’S NO DEMOCRACY FOR AFGHANISTAN, AND THE HUMAN RIGHTS TOLL IS YET TO BE DETERMINED.

WHAT DO YOU THINK –SHOULD WE HAVE STAYED LONGER OR GOTTEN OUT SOONER?

LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

 

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.

lock

Watch the video to unlock rating

Your Rating

Rating closes in 4 days

Total User Rating

eye icon

Rate to reveal

Community ratings are revealed after you rate the story.

comment bubbles

Responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 Americans, former President George W. Bush launched military operations in Afghanistan in October 2001 to target al-Qaeda, the Taliban and terrorist safe havens.

From killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to signing a bilateral agreement with the Taliban, four American presidents–Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden–made consequential decisions in the nearly 20 years that passed between the first strike authorized by President Bush and the full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Community Rating

Community ratings are revealed after you rate the story.

lock

Watch the video to unlock rating

Rate the bias

Keep us honest! Let us know if you thought this video was neutral or biased.

Comments are still pending approval. Rate this story to add your own thoughts below.