War in Afghanistan

After the terrorist group al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, the American military was sent to Afghanistan to attack the Taliban, and destroy their governing position. The Taliban became the target of the U.S. because they had allowed Osama bin Laden to use their country as a training ground for terrorist activities directed against the United States. However, the U.S. is now bogged down in what seems to be an unwinnable war against Taliban insurgents that cross the border from Pakistan. Moreover, there are militants in Afghanistan who object to foreign troops being in their country, and they have apparently joined with the insurgents and continue fighting the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. This paper reviews the historical and contemporary causes of the war in Afghanistan, and critiques the positive outcomes as well as the negative outcomes of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.

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How American Became Involved in Afghanistan

Following the events of September 11, 2001 — the attacks on the World Trade Center, on the Pentagon, and the failed hijacking that led to the crash of a commercial jetliner in Pennsylvania — the George W. Bush Administration made plans to use force against the ruling government of Afghanistan, the Taliban. Less than a month after the September 11 attacks on the United States — on October 7, 2001 — American forces began a massive assault on the Taliban’s fortifications, on villages where the Taliban were suspected of hiding out, and on other targets. The U.S. dropped bombs from B-52 planes and attacked sites where the U.S. suspected there were Taliban officials. And according to professor Marc Herold (University of New Hampshire) those attacks also killed between 3,000 and 3,400 civilians between October 7, 2001, through March, 2002 (Herold, 2002, p. 1).

Herold, whose reports were based on articles in the Pakistan Observer, the Guardian, the Times of India and other journalists, asserts on his Web site that the U.S. strategy in those first months of the war was to bomb no matter that civilian lives “…be sacrificed” — and he points to the bombing of the Kajakai dam and addition power stations, the bombing of radio stations, telephone offices, and “trucks and busses filled with fleeing refugees” (Herold, p. 3).

Notwithstanding the terrible loss of life that may have resulted unintentionally from the attacks, the U.S. did succeed in either destroying Taliban operations or driving their principal leaders across the border into Pakistan. Amir Taheri writes in the peer-reviewed journal American Foreign Policy Interests that the United Nations had “endorsed” the American war in Afghanistan as a temporary campaign to attack those that had attacked the United States. And by attacking the Taliban in Afghanistan the Americans had three key interests, Taheri explains.

The first interest was to show “friend and foe alike that it could not be attacked with impunity” (Taheri, 2009, 365). It is worth mentioning that the U.S. had been attacked before, including the “mass murder of 241 Marines in Beirut” in 1983, and the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, but the U.S. “…had not hit back in ways that might have dissuaded future aggressors,” Taheri explains (365). Hence, it was important to make a loud and forceful statement the America would not cower in the face of assaults from terrorists.

The second interest that was served by the invasion of Afghanistan was, as mentioned, to find and destroy the bases from which the terrorists trained to attack America on September 11, 2001. Thirdly, Taheri continues, the U.S. wanted to help the Afghanistan people replace the Taliban with a government that suited American desires to see democracy thrive in this third world country.

Taheri points out that by 2005, America had achieved all the objectives mentioned previously, and was in a position to “declare victory in Afghanistan and start to reduce its military footprint in preparation for disengagement” (366). However, The Bush Administration did not want to simply walk away from Afghanistan. Bush believed the public saw it as “the good war” while the war in Iraq was being perceived as “the bad war” — partly because the rhetoric used by Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq, the presence of “weapons of mass destruction” were nowhere to be found, Taheri, 366.

A second reason why Bush did not want to pull out of Afghanistan was that the “enterprise had developed a momentum of its own” and that momentum raised a series of potential “objectives that had little or no relation” to the national interests of the United States, Taheri continues (366). Those objectives included: a) destroying the opium trade; b) reviving the agriculture of Afghanistan; c) helping to improve the status of women and increasing the number of children who are able to go to school; and d) launching a “Western-style judiciary” (366).

Taheri explains on page 367 that while the initial involvement in Afghanistan was a laudable objective from the point-of-view of hitting back on those who attacked America, and had a “realistic chance of being achieved,” the goals that Bush envisioned after the Taliban had been pretty much chased across the border into Pakistan were goals “no outsider could hope to attain.”

The Ramifications and Analysis of Bush’s “War on Terror”

An important part of the historical context of the Bush Administration’s decision to quickly attack the Taliban in Afghanistan is an understanding of the bigger picture that Bush attempted to project to the world. In his inauguration speech, Bush was “…trying to rally the nation to a spiritual revitalization through a collective attack on sin” (Chernus, 2004, p. 415). His speech established the precedent that faith-based organizations (think conservative Christian organizations that helped elect Bush) would, thanks to his policies, receive “billions of federal dollars” which would help the “Republican party and especially its conservative wing” (Chernus, 416). It was part of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” that was to be part of the president’s rhetoric — until September 11. From the moment the World Trade Center’s towers came thundering down, Bush’s standard rhetorical theme changed from a rallying cry towards a more religious path to a call to “stand together to win the war against terrorism” (Chernus, 417).

That is, the Bush “War on Terrorism” became in fact a war against evil, an “apocalyptic crusade against sin” — and it became his passion to justify an all-out military engagement against not only terrorism but against nations that harbor terrorists or support terrorist in some way (Chernus, 418). And if this crusade was to be a “global war of faith against sin, [then] supporting U.S. policies had to become the test of any religion’s virtue and truth,” Chernus explains (418).

The “logical corollary” that Chernus sees from Bush in his post-9/11 nationalistic / moral fervor is that “All opposition to U.S. policies had to constitute sin”; America was the country on God’s side because God has a “special affiliation with and providence for the American way of life” (Chernus, 420). To summarize what Bush was saying to the world as the U.S. prepared to bomb suspected Taliban operations centers in Afghanistan, Chernus asserts that the president was presenting “…a distinct image of a nation carrying compassion in one hand and violent justice in the other. ‘This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger’,” Bush told a public prayer service. Moreover, the U.S. will have not have “…any compassion for any state that sponsors [terrorists]” (Chernus, 424). This of course included Afghanistan, and Pakistan in particular.

Afghanistan and Pakistan — In the Bush Bull’s Eye

Meanwhile, it is clear to anyone researching the American military engagement in Afghanistan, that any discussion of the dynamics of Afghanistan must also include its huge and sometimes shifty, suspicious neighbor, Pakistan.

Prior to the September 11 attacks, the relationship between the U.S. And Pakistan was best defined “…as strained” (Zakheim, 2011, p. 4). Washington had hit Pakistan hard with sanctions after they had tested a nuclear device; in fact the U.S. stopped selling F-16s to Pakistan, notwithstanding a contract the two countries had engaged in. Pakistan had already received 28 F-16s and paid for them when the U.S. slapped the sanctions on Islamabad, Zakheim explains. After shutting down their sale of weapons to Pakistan and invoking other sanctions, the U.S. became more friendly with Pakistan’s neighbor and nemesis, India, which further exacerbated the tension between the U.S. And Pakistan.

However, after the September 11 attacks on the U.S., Bush began cozying up to Islamabad again, notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan had been what Zakheim called a “strong supporter of the Taliban.” And faced with a decision — should he support the U.S. In its war against terrorism and against the Taliban, or continue to support the Taliban — the Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf decided to go with the powerful United States. The catch was, Musharraf told Bush he couldn’t use his Pakistani troops against the Taliban unless he received cash from the U.S. To fund the troops, Zakheim explains (4).

By December, 2001, the money began to flow to Pakistan from the Pentagon, and a “complete reversal of the atmosphere” that had been created by the American sanctions was now in evidence, Zakheim continued. Pakistan of course knew full well that the Taliban were operating their shady terrorism in the remote region call the tribal areas of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. And they pledged to attack those tribal area now that they were basically paid billions of American dollars to do so. Money makes a big difference when there is a shaky diplomatic relationship between two countries but one country, in this case the United States, has the cash to spend, and has the need for support against terrorism.

Not only did the United States provide Pakistan with “billions of dollars” for military purposes, according to Zakheim, but the U.S. also initiated an enormous aid program as well. Still, as the song goes, “Money can’t buy me love,” and indeed there was “mutual suspicion” between the two countries that verged on “outright hostility” (Zakheim, 4). Part of the suspicion and paranoia on the part of Islamabad resulted from the American use of “drone attacks” inside Pakistani territory. The American reasons for suspicions were well founded in that they truly had good reason to doubt that Pakistan would so quickly turn on their recent allies, the Taliban. As for Pakistan, they were concerned that India would become involved in Afghanistan, and moreover that India would in effect “surround” Pakistan by becoming active in Afghanistan.

The Americans had every reason in the world to suspect that despite the gifts the American taxpayers were laying on Islamabad — billions in domestic and military aid — the Pakistanis were pulling a fast one. To wit, the strained relations between the two countries became even more tension-filled after Navy SEALS entered Pakistani territory, using stealth helicopter technology, and killed bin Laden, who had been living “in plain sight of Pakistan’s military academy” (Zakheim, 5). How could the political leaders in Pakistan not have known that the world’s most notorious terrorist was living just 40 or so miles from the capital of Islamabad, and a couple blocks from the main military training facility? It certainly stretched credulity for Pakistani leaders to argue that they didn’t know of his whereabouts.

The War in Afghanistan / Pakistan — Ten Years Later in 2011

As to what the situation is today in Afghanistan, and across the border into Pakistan, there has been “no result” worth commenting on other than “…the devastation and increasing threat to world’s peace and security,” according to professor Mazhar (Mazhar, et al., 2011, p. 272). There is a “lack of consensus with the U.S. administration itself,” Mazhar explains. President Obama announced in 2011 that the U.S. would be leaving Afghanistan in 2014, presumably after assuring that the interim government of Hamid Karazai had sufficient means to protect the sovereign rights of Afghanistan against insurgencies (the Taliban has come back, or they never left, key geographic regions of Afghanistan).

Earlier in his administration, in 2009, in an attempt to bottle up and destroy the newly insurgent Taliban (and other fringe terrorist groups) Obama sent a surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, but obviously that strategic move has not stopped the Taliban from conducting suicide missions and other attacks. In fact the only clear successes that American forces have had in terms of eliminating terrorists and securing the safety of citizens in Afghanistan is through the drone technologies. These are small warplanes with no pilots, operated by sophisticated high-tech controls handled by operators in distant locations. These robot planes are called “Predators and Reapers” and they have video capabilities that allow them to focus on specific targets where terrorist leaders are suspected of hiding out.

As for Mazhar’s viewpoint, the drones “blow up funerals and family dinners and children” in addition to targeting terrorists; in 2009 the drones “killed more than 700 civilians,” which the author claims is “14 times the number killed in the 7/7 attacks in London” (273).

Certainly there have been attacks by the robot planes that have killed civilians; it would be impossible to imagine that every explosive missile launched from a robot plane would be precise enough to hit terrorists exclusively. But the drones have also killed “militants,” according to the Long War Journal (Roggio). Predators attack a suspected stronghold of the Taliban in North Waziristan in Pakistan on October 29, 2011; six missiles were fired “at a vehicle and compound” killing “six militants,’ Roggio writes. The drones killed 20 alleged “terrorists” in the tribal area of Pakistan, near South Waziristan, according to a story in The Hindu (2011). This attack was launched Wednesday, November 16, the day after an earlier attack by drones in North Waziristan (The Hindu).

On the other side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, suicide bombers are also taking a toll, leaving many Western observers to question the rationality of keeping American and NATO troops in a country where terrorists can, at will it seems, kill people in key venues. On October 28, a suicide bomber killed 13 Americans (5 service members and 8 civilian contractors); the bomber attacked an armored military bus in downtown Kabul (Baktash, et al., 2011). The bombing “represents a propaganda coup for the Taliban, which claimed responsibility in text messages to news organizations” (Baktash).

Another suicide bombing took place on November 5, 2011, as two suicide bombers cruelly, brutally targeted “worshippers on a key Muslim festival in northern Afghanistan, killing seven” including a pair of police commanders (Associated Press). As worshippers were leaving a mosque, a bomber blew himself up in the midst of the group, injuring 18 others. It is fair to say that Afghanistan is very much unsafe and should be considered vulnerable to attack at any moment.

Federico Manfredi explains in the peer-reviewed journal World Policy Institute that basically the war in Afghanistan has been a failure. Yes, he admits, Afghanistan “…now has a democratic constitution, a democratically elected president, and a democratically elected legislature” (Manfredi, 2008, p. 24). But these accomplishments cannot “mask the shortcomings of a nation-building endeavor gone awry,” Manfredi continues on page 24. The authority of the Afghan government does not extend out into the country much at all, and even Kabul, the capitol, is not safe. Moreover, the Karzai government “does not hold sway,” and it is “notoriously corrupt and inefficient, with a rapacious police force and scarce to non-existent public services” (Manfredi, 24).

In conclusion, while Obama inherited this war from Bush — who probably should have withdrawn troops once the Taliban was shoved out of the country and the original goals had been met — it is now his war. He was smart to indicate he would extract American troops by 2014, but the question is, why even stay that long? With over 100,000 NATO and U.S. troops in the country it still is clearly vulnerable to assaults. With an unlimited stream of radicals, insurgents, militants, terrorists — whatever term one chooses to describe them — flowing over the porous Afghan-Pakistani border like a river of violence, it is a cause that no longer justifies the loss of additional American and NATO lives.

Works Cited

Associated Press. (2011). Suicide Bombers Kill Worshippers In Afghanistan. Retrieved November, 2011, from http://www.npr.com.

This is an article that brought to light the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, in specifics the proverbial suicide bomber situation, where an radical Islamic terrorist is willing to blow himself up in order to kill others. In this case the people killed with fellow Muslims — worse yet, he killed people exiting a mosque following their worship services — but clearly the message to the world was this: the NATO and U.S. presence in Afghanistan will never stop terrorists from doing whatever they want to do whenever they wish to do it.

Baktash, Hashmat, and Magnier, Mark. (2011). Suicide bombing in Kabul kills as many as 13

Americans. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 19, 2011, from http://www.latimes.com

The thirteen Americans killed in Afghanistan on October 28 in Kabul — the capitol of the country — were riding in an “armored military bus” when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives. The reporters quoted a spokesperson for the United Nations who said violence in Afghanistan “…is at its worst since the war started in 2001.”

Chernus, Ira. (2004). George W. Bush’s War on Terrorism and Sin. Political Theology, 5(4),


This scholarly article goes into intimate detail regarding how George W. Bush began his presidency on a crusade to help fund conservative Christian churches in the U.S., but soon after 9/11 Bush was on another crusade. His “war on terrorism” basically asserted that America was the country on God’s side and any country harboring terrorists is considered evil.

Herold, Marc W. (2002). A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting. Retrieved November 18, 2011, from http://cursor.org/stories/civilian_deaths.htm.

Herold’s article is not peer-reviewed, but he uses reasonably reliable sources to point out the number of civilians in Afghanistan that were killed in America’s initial bombing raids.

Manfredi, Federico. (2008). Rethinking U.S. Policy in Afghanistan. World Policy Institute.

25(4), 23-30.

Manfredi’s scholarly piece criticizes the war in Afghanistan, point out that Afghani people see the NATO and American troops as “an affront to the traditional spirit of independence” that the natives had come to enjoy. He says the country is terribly corrupt and urges Obama to leave.

Mazhar, Muhammad Saleem, Goraya, Naheed S., and Kataria, Jafar R. (2011). War Against

Terrorism: Implications for Pakistan. Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, 3(3), 270-282.

This article is useful because in addition to criticizing the U.S. use of drone (robot) planes to fire missiles at suspected terrorist targets (and the civilians that are killed during those strikes), it presents the perspective of the U.S. paying billions to Pakistani leaders to get them to go after the Taliban in their own country, a dubious strategy that has not worked out well.

Roggio, Bill. (2011). U.S. Drones kill 6 ‘militants’ in al Qaeda hub of Datta Khel. The Long War

Journal. Retrieved November 20, 2011, from http://www.longwarjournal.org.

Roggio’s report is basically regarding drone strikes against suspected militants in Pakistan.

Taheri, Amir. (2009). Afghanistan. American Foreign Policy Interests. 31(6), 364-375.

Taheri goes into specific and useful detail pointing how the U.S. got bogged down in Afghanistan. Bush had accomplished all the initial goals by 2005, but instead of leaving Afghanistan to the Afghanis, Bush saw a chance to do some nation building, and stayed.

The Hindu. (2011). U.S. Drones Kill 20 in Pakistan. Retrieved November 20, 2011, from http://www.thehindu.com.

Journalist Anita Joshua relates the facts of another American drone strike in the tribal region of Pakistan.

Zakheim, Dov S. (2011). What 9/11 Has Wrought. Middle East Quarterly, 18(4), 1-11.

The Zakheim article is a wonderfully specific review of the way the world changed after 9/11, and how the United States removed sanctions it had placed on Pakistan once the U.S. needed Pakistan to attack the Taliban. This is a fairly objective overview of how 9/11 created a new way for the U.S. To be thinking about enemies, about terrorism, and about allies.