I disagree with all the different news outlets repeating that we lost the war in Afghanistan. Instead we lost a long-term battle.
There was no officially declared war with the nation of Afghanistan, or for that matter, with the Taliban. We went into Afghanistan to destroy a terrorist group as part of the real war we are in — the one against terrorism.
In that war, we basically fought two battles in Afghanistan. The first battle was against the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, as associated with Osama bin Laden. The second battle was to change a geopolitically located society into a different country, one with a central government, hopefully democratic, so that the territory would no longer be a fertile ground for terrorism.
We won the first battle against Al-Qaeda which finally ended when Osama bin Laden was killed.
We lost the second battle we waged to prevent terrorism. We were unable to change the will of a people. For whatever reason, Afghanis did not want the kind of change we sought to give them. How we failed in that particular 20-year campaign is well-worth an in-depth analysis, but when something isn’t working or costs too much, ending it makes sense.
And what we have been witnessing since August 14th, is the final piece of the ending of the “change Afghanistan” battle and a retreat from that particular battlefield. Battles, of course, are just components of war — the war itself, against terrorism continues.
This country has retreated during and after battles before in our history. At the beginning of World War Two in the Philippines against the Japanese, General MacArthur removed his forces from the island of Luzon to the Bataan Peninsula. From there, the combined US Army and Philippines forces endured a 3-month retreat southward before finally surrendering to the Japanese. It was a terrible defeat, but the war did not end there and eventually the Japanese were removed from the Philippines.
One of my favorite generals of the Revolutionary War was Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox.” He was well known for his strategic retreats. (Personal note: One of my ancestors served under Marion, so I have a bias towards him.)
During the fight with the British in the Carolinas, time after time, Marion’s forces undertook small battles with the Red Coats, Green Coats or Loyalist regiments, destroying supplies, capturing prisoners and horses, and wounding and killing British troops. Then Marion and his troops would slip away, the moment just before the British might turn the tide and inflict serious damage to the Swamp Fox’s militia and Continental soldiers.
Retreats are often necessary in wars. They can keep you in the field to fight another day by preventing serious damage. And they can be a useful way to end bad decisions and bad policies, even when, in the moment, the retreat, itself, looks bad.
I for one applaud Biden’s strategic retreat from a battle that otherwise had no end in sight. A battle where the terrain did not match our goals and where successes were outweighed by our losses.
It is tragic that there is the upheaval and lose of life we have been witnessing. I do fear for the women and children and men who will struggle under a Taliban government. But who knows what the future holds for them. They have had 20 years to look at alternate possibilities.
Although we lost this battle, I think that the airlift, when completed, will go a long way to diminish the moral obligation we created with our personal Afghan allies and their families.
And I am hopeful that the $143 — $300 million spent per day in Afghanistan, during the last 20 years, can now be redirected into different methods to both help Afghanistan in the future and help provide a safer and more prosperous nation at home.