Afghanistan War lasted 20 years and cost $2 trillion. Enough is enough.
The media have been in a feeding frenzy in the criticism of the Biden administration’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
“Laser focused on blaming Biden for a military defeat two decades in the making, while wildly overplaying the evacuation story in terms of historical context, the press seems genuinely eager to echo GOP spin and denounce the White House, as well as demand weird public acts of contrition,” wrote media columnist Eric Boehlert in his Press Run newsletter. “… Many in the media remain utterly convinced they know exactly what the military withdrawal from a largely government-less country where the U.S. has been waging a losing war for 20 years should have looked like.”
Oh, really? How many times have these same Beltway armchair warriors been to Afghanistan? President Biden has visited Iraq and Afghanistan 21 times over the course of those two wars, both as a senator and as vice president. It’s one of the reasons he was against the surge of troops into Afghanistan in 2009, disagreeing with President Obama.
The public has long been in favor of troop withdrawal, saying that 20 years and over $2 trillion spent is enough. Of course, after a weekend of media frenzy about the Taliban taking over, public support for withdrawal has dropped. How could it not, when every media outlet is hell-bent on showing “chaos” and running heart-rending stories of what might happen to Afghan women?
All true. It’s front-page news that the Taliban will again use Sharia law, the Islamic system of justice. Hey, guess who else uses Sharia law: Saudi Arabia, one of the closest allies the U.S. has in the Middle East. Which is also the country that murdered and dismembered Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, under the orders of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
So why was it so important to get out of Afghanistan? There are $2 trillion worth of reasons.
Thirteen years of investigations from SIGAR, or the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, detailed some of the wasteful spending in the money that went down the Afghan sinkhole over the last 20 years.
“While most of that money went to the U.S. military, billions of dollars got wasted along the way, in some cases aggravating efforts to build ties with the Afghan people Americans meant to be helping,” said a story in Bloomberg News. “… While wars are always wasteful, the misspent American funds stand out because the U.S. had 20 years to shift course.”
The Afghan War was corruption and waste on steroids. Here are just a few of the examples:
$549 million in planes that were sold as scrap. “An effort to build up an Afghan air force included spending at least $549 million for 20 refurbished Italian-made G222 twin-turboprop aircraft. But 16 of the planes were left languishing in the weeds of Kabul’s international airport after persistent maintenance issues made them unflyable,” said the Bloomberg story. “They were eventually sold as scrap for 6 cents a pound, or $32,000.”
Woodland camouflage that wasn’t. “The U.S. spent as much as $28 million buying uniforms for the Afghan military with camouflage patterns that didn’t match the environment. But Pentagon officials said the design was chosen because Afghanistan’s minister of defense at the time thought it looked good.”
Failed war on drugs. “Over a 15-year period, the U.S. spent about $8.6 billion on Afghan counternarcotics efforts. Still, by 2017, poppy cultivation and opium production reached record highs and ‘drug production and trafficking remain entrenched,’ SIGAR wrote.”
Much of the $2 trillion went to line the pockets of local warlords and higher-ups in the Afghan military. Much was spent on building luxury mansions in suburban neighborhoods known as the Beverly Hills of Kabul. Most have remained vacant for years — or were rented out to foreign journalists. Now, the Taliban has moved into those mansions as leaders in the Afghan government and military fled. But there are bargains: You can rent or buy many of these mansions at reduced prices.
“The extraordinary costs were meant to serve a purpose — though the definition of that purpose evolved over time,” says the most recent SIGAR report from July. “At various points, the U.S. government hoped to eliminate al-Qaeda, decimate the Taliban movement that hosted it, deny all terrorist groups a safe haven in Afghanistan, build Afghan security forces so they could deny terrorists a safe haven in the future, and help the civilian government become legitimate and capable enough to win the trust of Afghans.” To say the results have been mixed is putting it kindly.
There have been improvements, in areas such as health care and education, but they are fleeting. “Despite these gains, the key question is whether they are commensurate with the U.S. investment or sustainable after a U.S. drawdown. In SIGAR’s analysis, they are neither. As one former senior DOD official told SIGAR, ‘When you look at how much we spent and what we got for it, it’s mind boggling.’ “
So now it’s time for the hard work and hard choices. The U.S. is continuing the evacuation of U.S. citizens and allies (12,000 since the end of July), and Biden promises that the evacuations will continue until everyone who needs to leave can do so. Could everything have gone more smoothly? Of course, and there will be congressional investigations and administration introspection.
Pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan isn’t winning Biden any popularity points with the Beltway media. But it was way past time — and the right thing to do.