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Our view: A sad anniversary

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It’s been just over a year now since the U.S. withdrew its military presence from the war-torn landscape of Afghanistan. As a reader pointed out to us recently — and rightly so — it’s a sad anniversary that has not received nearly enough attention from the media. It follows a military excursion that cost us dearly in terms of blood and treasure — tragically, the blood of American soldiers, among others.

Our presence in Afghanistan began as a reaction — an overreaction, many have concluded — to the 9/11 tragedy. Three weeks following the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, then-President George W. Bush sent U.S. armed forces, assisted by some of our NATO partners, to take control of the dirt-poor country. The goal, Bush announced, was to crush the Taliban and destroy al-Qaida, terrorist organizations that operated freely there.

We succeeded, initially, in chasing them into holes (including 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, who would survive on the run until U.S. forces killed him on May 2, 2011).

We then invested more than $150 billion in trying to “bring civilization” to a nation that didn’t want us there.

We had some limited successes, especially in terms of the lives of women, who were allowed more personal freedom, including access to education and jobs. But in many ways, we broke the country. Poverty and corruption remained entrenched in many Afghan areas. Our allies there depended on America’s power, presence and riches to maintain some semblance of peace.

In the years that followed, we lost more than 3,500 U.S. and coalition soldiers — more than 2,400 of them from the U.S., including from North Carolina. And our departure has proved equally disastrous. Afghanistan now is a painful picture of religious oppression and state-sponsored tyranny, with starvation, torture and despair the norm in much of the country. Whatever anyone’s complaint about former President Trump, his desire to extricate America from its involvement in Afghanistan, ending “America’s longest war,” was correct. The plan for withdrawal was formulated and its beginning implemented on his watch.

This required the unsavory but necessary task of negotiating with the Taliban.

After winning the 2020 election, President Biden expressed his commitment to following the diplomatic agreement, though he delayed the negotiated withdrawal of U.S. personnel from May 2021 until August 2021. “It is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself, but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something,” he said. “We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit,” Biden said. “We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately, and safely.” But things did not go as smoothly as he hoped. Even before we’d completed our evacuation, Taliban troops began taking control of various parts of the country. When Taliban fighters entered the Afghanistan capital Kabul on Aug. 15, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

The U.S. conducted a mass evacuation, trying to clear the country of U.S. personnel as well as the Afghans who had assisted us over the years. The situation was chaotic.

On Aug. 26, suicide bombers struck the Kabul airport. They killed 183 people, including 13 U.S. service members, from states as distant from us as Massachusetts and California; as close as Tennessee.

The U.S. retaliated with drone strikes, but that did nothing to return those we lost. It was, perhaps, as our reader suggested, Biden’s worst day in office (so far). The excuses he offered for what seemed a fumbled operation are of little comfort and have led many to question his competence. It’s of some comfort, perhaps, that the courageous U.S. soldiers who died in Kabul did so while trying to help others achieve the freedom and security that we take for granted. There can hardly be a more noble cause.

Tens of thousands of refugees have come here from there. All told, about 12,000 Afghan refugees were expected to settle in North Carolina — some 30 or 40 in Winston-Salem. We can honor the memory of those who sacrificed their lives by continuing to support these refugees, by doing what we can to keep the doors of freedom open to those who have earned their place here through their support for the American way of life.

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