You can divide media and political opinion on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan roughly into two camps. One believes the United States should’ve stayed — and, in fact, should re-intervene in the country this very minute — to protect Afghan human rights and fight the country’s terrorists. This was more or less the position pushed over the past few weeks by the establishment press and national security mavens like former Trump adviser H. R. McMaster, who, among other things, straight-up lied to cable news viewers when he claimed that the local ISIS affiliate responsible for last week’s attack on Kabul was “a cutout for the Taliban so they could humiliate us on the way out.”
On the other side, largely among left-wing and independent media and antiwar political figures, you’ve got voices arguing that the main threat to Afghan human rights was the foreign presence in Afghanistan itself, and that ending US involvement is the best in a sea of bad choices. Continuing the US-led war, they argue, would only mean more American lives and wealth squandered and siphoned off by unscrupulous profiteers, and add to the list of atrocities against Afghans that made them resentful enough to consider giving the Taliban a second chance in the first place.
When ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) attacked the Kabul airport last week, killing at least 170 Afghans and thirteen US soldiers, the event was, predictably, seized on by the pro-war faction as a rationale to keep troops in the country.
“Today’s casualties also cast doubt on a core claim that Biden has used to justify the troop pullout — that even without a military presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. can still stave off terrorist attacks,” wrote one.
“The temptation will be to accelerate America’’ withdrawal and that of our allies,” wrote another. “This would be a mistake. . . . More than before, we should be prepared to leave troops in the country past President Joe Biden’s arbitrary deadline of Tuesday.”
But, as the events that followed soon showed, this is exactly the wrong lesson to take away from the terrible events going on in Afghanistan. Vowing to ISIS-K that he would “hunt you down and make you pay” — and no doubt keen to save face and project “toughness” at a time when he and the withdrawal are being savaged at home and abroad — Biden ordered an air strike on the men who planned the attack on Friday, followed by another “defensive strike” against a suspected ISIS-K terrorist on Sunday.
The whole affair swiftly turned into a microcosm for the entire, foolish twenty-year war. We now know Sunday’s drone strike killed ten members of two Kabul families, seven of them children, two of them as young as two years old. Even more tragically, being government workers, the families were due to be airlifted out of Kabul, and the car they were in had been attacked by a US drone just as the kids had packed into it to learn how to drive in time for their move to the United States. In other words, at the behest of hawks who have used the plight of Afghan translators and government workers to try and maintain the US war there, the military just murdered these very same Afghans.
Neighbors told Al Jazeera the blast turned their house into a “horror scene,” its walls plastered with blood and bits of human flesh, and bones scattered in the bushes. The atrocity understandably inflamed anger in the neighborhood, with one of the neighbors telling the news outlet: “If you can’t manage to hit the right target, then leave Afghanistan to the Afghans.”
This is exactly what was happening throughout this entire, horrible war: US and allied forces, claiming to stand for human rights and the fight against terrorism, launch reckless, imprecise attacks on targets, usually from a distance to avoid the political fallout that would result from their own troops getting killed; whether or not the attacks actually kill their intended targets, they also slaughter many more civilians, sometimes dozens of them at a time, including whole families; and in the fallout, anti-American sentiment grows, attacks on Americans and their local allies become more likely, and the hand of the insurgent force that the coalition is ostensibly fighting becomes strengthened.
This is what whistleblower Daniel Hale, who had worked on the US drone program in Afghanistan and elsewhere, saw firsthand. Of course, he is now in jail for telling the public how distinctly un-surgical these attacks are, while those who slaughtered these children on Sunday will be fine: they did their jobs, in the twisted logic of the national security state.
These demands from hawks that US forces stay past Biden’s deadline will only ensure that the vicious cycle continues, costing more American lives in a double whammy: staying longer will leave US forces vulnerable to attacks by ISIS-K and the other terrorist groups who are hostile to the Taliban; and violating the deadline would also likely invite attacks from the Taliban itself, which is tolerating an ongoing US presence strictly up to tomorrow.
As a bonus for the war hawks, the more US soldiers are killed, the more pressure there is on US leadership to avenge the deaths and remain militarily involved in the country, feeding the cycle further, while ensuring many more innocent Afghans are blown to smithereens.
No, the events in Kabul are not an argument for US forces to stay in Afghanistan; they’re a vivid demonstration of why the decision to get out was the right one, and why the Biden administration must stick to the deadline it has set and leave tomorrow.