The withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in 2021 without adequate evacuating or protecting Afghan allies, including interpreters, drivers, and security personnel, has raised questions about America’s commitment to its allies and national security interests. These allies played a crucial role in supporting the US and coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan, risking their lives and the safety of their families. Advocates for Afghan allies argue that the US has a moral responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of those who assisted in the war effort, as leaving them behind could lead to dire consequences for these individuals and their families.
The safety of Afghan allies is crucial for American national security interests and trust, as abandoning them can erode trust and hinder future alliance building. To address this, efforts were made to create Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs and other mechanisms for the evacuation and resettlement of Afghan allies and their families in the US. However, these programs faced challenges, including bureaucratic delays. The US was divided on this issue, with some advocating for the safety of Afghan allies and others expressing concerns about potential security risks.
The treatment of Afghan allies raises questions about the legacy of America’s involvement in Afghanistan and the lessons learned from the conflict, emphasizing the importance of planning for the protection of allies during withdrawals. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan also impacted its global reputation, raising doubts about its commitment to international obligations. Afghanistan has faced numerous crises, including a humanitarian disaster affecting millions of Afghans, food insecurity, and the exclusion of young girls from schools.
The Taliban’s commitment to not seek retribution against those who fought for the Afghan government or supported international forces has not been met, with the country’s de facto authorities responsible for 218 extrajudicial killings, 14 enforced disappearances, over 144 instances of torture and ill-treatment, and 424 arbitrary arrests and detentions between August 15, 2021, and June 30, 2023.
The US has also failed to fulfil its commitments to Afghan partners, leaving tens of thousands at risk. President Joe Biden promised to provide safe evacuation for Afghan allies and partners, but the US left tens of thousands at risk. During the chaos of 2021, the US brought only 124,000 Afghan partners out of the country, with only 90,000 making it to the US. The rest are in third countries, and only 21,000 have been issued a special immigrant visa.
The US has granted humanitarian parole to tens of thousands of Afghans who have escaped Taliban rule, leaving them in legal limbo. The Department of Homeland Security authorizes this process, allowing Afghans to legally reside in the US while their visa applications are considered. However, Congress has failed to pass legislation to make the status of Afghans in the US permanent, allowing any new president to remove the parole.
The State Department’s inspector general, Diana Shaw, reports that 152,000 visa applicants remain in Afghanistan, including family members. Additionally, tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the US but do not qualify for protection remain in Afghanistan. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Afghan special forces remain in Afghanistan, some of whom have joined resistance groups like the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan. Additionally, thousands of Afghan prosecutors trained by the US and its allies are in fear for their lives in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
After the Taliban takeover, 60% of nearly 12,000 Afghan journalists ceased operating in the country. The US has pledged to help its Afghan partners which has practical benefits. Over 10,000 Afghans brought to the US have at least a college education, with 28.5% having master’s degrees and 5.8% having advanced medical training. The potential annual earnings of Afghan newcomers to the US are estimated at $1.71 billion, which could generate $227 million a year in federal tax revenue annually.
Afghans brought to the US could also provide indirect humanitarian aid in the form of remittances to Afghanistan, which comprised 4.4% of the country’s GDP at its peak in 2019. In December 2021, the US Treasury Department issued a general license authorizing banking transactions allowing Afghans in the US to send remittances home, potentially alleviating the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. The US retreated from Afghanistan, leaving behind an estimated $7 billion in military equipment, which has fallen into the hands of the Taliban or ended up on the black market.
Ensuring American Security and Protect Afghan Allies Act: A Response to the Taliban Threat
The Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal has led to a crisis in American security. The “Ensuring American Security and Protect Afghan Allies Act” is a response to this crisis, aiming to secure American interests and support Afghan allies who assisted U.S. forces during the two-decade conflict. The act was enacted to address the growing concern about the safety of Afghan nationals who worked alongside U.S. troops and diplomats during the conflict.
Many of these Afghan allies faced the threat of retribution from the Taliban due to their association with American forces. The Act significantly expands the Special Immigrant Visa program, allowing Afghan allies who worked with the U.S. government or military to apply for visas and relocate to the U.S., aiming to expedite the process and remove bureaucratic obstacles that have hindered SIV applications in the past.
The Ensuring American Security and Protect Afghan Allies Act is legislation that provides substantial funds for humanitarian assistance to Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons, including provisions for food, shelter, medical care, and education. It also provides security assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), including equipment, training, and financial aid to combat extremist groups.
The Act establishes oversight mechanisms to monitor the allocation and use of funds, preventing misuse and ensuring assistance reaches those in need. The Act has gained bipartisan support in Congress, recognizing the moral and strategic imperative of safeguarding Afghan allies and preventing a humanitarian catastrophe in the region. However, the Act faces challenges and controversies, including concerns about the legislation’s effectiveness in protecting Afghan allies and the long-term feasibility of providing security assistance to the Afghan government, given the growing influence of the Taliban.
Human Rights Violations in Afghanistan: Examining the Taliban’s Actions
The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan has raised concerns about human rights violations. The Taliban, known for their strict interpretation of Islamic law, previously ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, implementing harsh and oppressive policies. As they regain control, there are growing apprehensions about potential violations of human rights in the country. One alarming aspect of the Taliban’s rule is their approach to women’s rights.
During their previous regime, women were severely restricted in their daily lives, barred from education, employment, and leaving their homes without a male guardian. Recent reports suggest that the Taliban is imposing restrictive measures on women, including closing schools and forcing them to wear the burqa. This directly violates the fundamental rights of women, including their right to education and freedom of expression.
The Taliban’s control of the media and suppression of freedom of speech and press is causing concern in Afghanistan. Journalists and activists are facing threats, intimidation, and violence, affecting their ability to access information and express their views. The Taliban’s takeover has raised concerns about the future of political opposition in Afghanistan, as many Afghans fear reprisals if they oppose the regime.
Reports of persecution have also been reported against individuals associated with the previous government, security forces, and civil society. The suppression of the right to participate in political activities and express dissent undermines democracy and the rule of law. The recent events have triggered a humanitarian crisis, with thousands fleeing their homes to seek safety. The right to seek asylum and protection from persecution is enshrined in international law, and any violations are a grave concern.
U.S. and Afghanistan: Allies, the Taliban, and Shifting Alliances
The history of Afghanistan is complex and influenced by historical events and political dynamics. The 1980s saw the Soviet-Afghan War, where the US and other Western countries provided significant support to the Mujahideen, a group fighting against the Soviet Union. This support included weapons, funding, and training, as part of a Cold War strategy to weaken the Soviet Union. However, the end of the war in 1989 did not bring stability to Afghanistan, leading to a brutal civil war with various factions vying for control.
The US reduced its involvement in Afghanistan and focused on other global concerns. The vacuum left by the Soviet withdrawal and diminishing American interest allowed the Taliban to rise to power in the mid-1990s. The Taliban regime, known for its oppressive rule and support for international terrorists, was never officially recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan by the US or the international community.
The US-Afghan relationship changed significantly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The US launched Operation Enduring Freedom, a military campaign to dismantle Al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan. This led to alliances with Afghan factions, including the Northern Alliance, to dislodge the Taliban regime. The US-led coalition succeeded in toppling the Taliban, marking a new era of democratic elections and nation-building.
However, Afghanistan became a fragile democracy plagued by political corruption and an ongoing Taliban insurgency. The US remained engaged in the country, providing military and financial support to stabilize the nation. Public opinion soured as the conflict dragged on for nearly two decades, leading the US to seek an exit strategy. The Doha Agreement in 2020 marked a pivotal moment, with the US withdrawing troops in exchange for the Taliban’s commitment to renounce terrorism and engage in peace talks.
US Involvement in the Afghan War
The US military intervention in Afghanistan, spanning two decades, has been a controversial and protracted conflict. The most immediate trigger was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, led by Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda. The US demanded the extradition of bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders after 9/11. When the Taliban refused, the US initiated Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001, aiming to eliminate Al-Qaeda and dismantle the Taliban regime.
The US saw Afghanistan as a critical battleground in the global war on terror, aiming to prevent future attacks on American soil and enhance national security. Afghanistan’s strategic location, bordering Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asia, made it strategically significant in combating terrorism. The US’s involvement in Afghanistan has consumed significant resources, claimed countless lives, and raised questions about its origins and motivations.
The US’s involvement in Afghanistan aimed to promote democracy and human rights, aiming to establish a more inclusive and democratic government that would be less likely to harbour terrorists. The stability of Afghanistan was seen as intertwined with regional stability, as the prolonged conflict had created a breeding ground for extremism and insurgency. The US believed that a stable Afghanistan could help stabilize the entire region, particularly Pakistan, which faced its own challenges with extremism.
Afghanistan’s rich natural resources, such as minerals and energy reserves, were considered a potential source of US involvement. However, the economic benefits were not the primary driver of US policy in Afghanistan. The broader geopolitical landscape, including the presence of China, Russia, and Iran, added complexity to the conflict. The US sought to counter these rivals and maintain a foothold in Central Asia, crucial for regional dynamics and access to markets and resources.
The US committed significant resources to nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, including infrastructure development, education, and healthcare, to improve the lives of Afghans and support the broader counterinsurgency strategy. Over the two decades of US involvement, the objectives and strategies evolved, shifting from eliminating Al-Qaeda and toppling the Taliban to nation-building, counterinsurgency, and reconciliation with Afghan factions, making the Afghan War a highly complex and extended conflict.