Afghanistan: A Year After the Fall

The summer of 2021 was a particularly bad one. Aside from the ravages of Covid-19 and various government responses to the pandemic, we witnessed the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the government which America had spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to build and maintain.

We all remember what happened. Then-President Donald Trump signed an agreement with the Taliban that America would withdraw all its forces in February of 2021. President Biden extended this date by 6 months to ensure the withdrawal could happen properly. Then, in late July, provincial capitals began to fall like dominoes. Kabul, the capital city, surrendered to the Taliban on August 15, with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country.

American forces constructed a perimeter around the airport there as a last line of defense. Taliban soldiers marched the streets as panicked Afghans swarmed the airport, hoping to get on a flight out of the country. Chaos reigned; people clung to the outside of an airplane as it was taking off. Nearly two hundred Afghans and thirteen United States Marines were killed by a suicide bomber. Babies were handed over strands of concertina wire, parents willingly passing their babies to strangers just to get them out of the violence.

Then, on August 30, one year ago today, we left. The last US flight departed Afghanistan, with Major General Chris Donahue being the last American soldier to remain on the ground.

The last American soldier leaving Afghan soil.

Since then, our greatest fears for the people of Afghanistan have been realized. Women and girls are oppressed, forced to wear burkhas and forbidden from school. Men are forbidden from shaving. The ruling Taliban violently put down any dissension or demonstrations. People are starving, children are sold into marriage or slavery, and the country is still not at peace. Anti-Taliban factions, as well as other radical Islamic jihadist groups, are at war with the Taliban.

My heart breaks for the people of Afghanistan. The country has been a hotbed of conflict and violence since the Soviet invasion of 1979. For over 40 years, Afghans have known nothing but warfare and occupation. Their economy is one of the weakest in the world, people making a living on $10 a week. There is almost no modern infrastructure. The literacy rate is barely above 40%.

When I first joined the Marines twelve years ago, I did so because I wanted vengeance for 9/11. I wanted to make the people who killed my countrymen, and anyone who helped them, pay for what they did. By the time I deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and saw the reality of the situation there, once I’d seen an old man blown to pieces by an IED while his family watched, once I’d seen a young boy killed in an explosion in front of his own home, what I really wanted to do was keep the Afghan people safe from the Taliban. I wanted them to have the same life, opportunities, and safety that I had in America.

Despite my best efforts, Afghanistan is no closer to those things than it was 30 years ago. All we can do now is hope and pray for the people there to one day find peace. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll actually get to see it in our lifetimes.

8 thoughts on “Afghanistan: A Year After the Fall

  1. When we went into Afghanistan after 9/11, I too wanted what you wanted when you joined. Vengeance for 9/11 and an opportunity for the Afghan people to tear away from the Taliban. But it required something of us that we weren’t able to do. Focus and commitment. The thing though is that even with those things, I now question whether our goals were ever possible. Shortly after we went in, a British diplomat by the name of Rory Stewart hiked through Afghanistan and wrote a book about his experience. I read that book and realized that we really couldn’t achieve our goals. Sure, we could get veneance, but we could never end the terrorist threat against us and by being there, we were just giving the terrorists more ammo for their recruiting efforts. But “reform” Afghanistan and provide opportunity to all Afghans? This is what Stewart’s book told me was a pipe dream. It was never going to happen. The culture of clan and tribes and shifting alliances and so much more is so ingrained in that country, Western style democracy and opportunity was beyond our abilities and resources.

    I honor and respect your service and your efforts and those of every other soldier who served there. I only wish we had achieved more success.

    Liked by 2 people

      • One of the things Stewart mentioned was the incredibly high percentage of Afghanis who had never been more than five miles from their home villages. You can argue that doesn’t necessarily prevent the kind of progress and political system the U.S. was trying to advance there, but I get the sense that for million of Afghanis, the idea of a central government is somewhat of a mythical thing. Far more important is their clan and their tribe. And those clans and tribes are not on friendly terms with each other for whatever reason.

        Liked by 1 person

      • He’s exactly right. In talking to the local Afghans (an Afghani is their currency, not a correct name for the people) didn’t give a damn about the government in Kabul. A lot of them had barely an identity with Afghanistan, preferring to identify with their tribe (Pashtun), as a Sunni or Shia Muslim, with their family, and their village.

        That’s why nation-building in Afghanistan is doomed to fail because that country lacks a sense of nationality among large swathes of its citizens and I don’t suppose that will ever change.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. I couldn’t remember whether it was Afghans or Afghanis.

        And everything else you stated is accurate with what I got out of the Stewart book and other stuff I was reading back then.

        As horrible as the withdrawal was, it had to happen. By the way, a friend and co-worker went to school with the mother of the soldier was the most grievously injured in the attack at the Kabul airport. My friend has known that soldier since he was a very small child.

        Liked by 2 people

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