Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

As the crisis in Afghanistan unfolds, Yalies connected to the country and region shared their views on the situation with the News, with reactions ranging from anger at U.S. leadership to regret of the withdrawal itself. Some students have also organized a fundraiser for at-risk groups in the country.  

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with the public goals of defeating al-Qaeda and removing the Taliban government from power. In 2020, President Donald Trump signed an agreement with the Taliban, pledging to pull all U.S. forces out of the country by May 2021.

“While reasonable people disagree, I believe that the American withdrawal was misguided,” said Ted Wittenstein, the executive director of the International Security Studies program, in an email to the News.

The U.S. ended combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, and has since seen the number of American casualties fall dramatically. The bombing at Kabul airport on Aug. 26, when 13 American troops died, was the deadliest day in the war since 2011, with no American deaths in the preceding 18 months. 169 Afghan civilians died that day, with more than 71,000 civilian casualties over the course of the war, according to an April 2021 study from Brown University’s Watson Institute of International & Public Affairs.

Wittenstein also praised the success of the counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan, describing it as “cost effective,” while also noting the immense sacrifice of the Afghan security forces. He argued, however, that the Biden administration presented a false choice between withdrawal or escalation, noting that the administration should have adopted the “path of least resistance: stay the course.” 

Rory Stewart, senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, concurred, saying that there is “no evidence at all” to back up the administration’s argument that the U.S. either had to send in further troops or pull out entirely.

Stewart also laid the blame of the Taliban takeover at the feet of the Biden and Trump administrations, for signing and following through on an agreement which, he said, essentially handed Afghanistan over to the Taliban. Stewart argued that before the U.S. had signed the treaty, the Taliban stood no chance of taking over the country in the way they did, given U.S. contracting and air support. 

“That situation changed in an instant and there is only one thing that changed it: not that the Taliban somehow mysteriously after seven years suddenly got a new burst of energy,” Stewart said. “The only thing that changed was that the U.S. removed 18,000 contractors and thus disabled the entire Afghan air force and then pulled out their own operators.”

Wittenstein further criticized the evacuation itself, describing it as rushed and poorly conceived.

Wittenstein said that the departure from Bagram Air Base in particular, which occurred in the middle of the night without notifying the Afghan commander, reinforced the sense of abandonment and “created a cascading effect.”

Zahra Yarali ’24, the political action chair for the Muslim Students Association, objected to the military intervention of the U.S. in the first place, claiming that the humanitarian reasons for operations like those in Afghanistan often serve as a guise for more selfish reasons, from global hegemony to resource competition.

“One would hope that we have learned the lessons of history and [have] accepted that if Western powers go into the Middle East with somewhat selfish intentions, you really can’t hope for any quality of life to be secured for these people,” Yarali told the News.

Yarali and Stewart agreed on the need to continue aiding the Afghan population.

Stewart said that the U.S. government needs to immediately assure that people involved in humanitarian work will not be caught up in sanctions and should maintain very generous levels of USAID funding for education and health facilities in the country.

Yarali and the MSA have been focused on providing aid to at-risk groups. Most recently and successfully, the MSA organized an online fundraiser for three Afghan charities.

The campaign raised about $2,400 which went to three organizations helping Afghan people in need: Mothers of Afghanistan, which supports widowed mothers in the country, the Child Foundation, which helps children living in poverty stay in school, and Enable Children, which supports orphaned or abandoned children suffering from disabilities. 

These charities were appealing, according to Yarali, because they are modeled on mutual aid funds, in which the money donated is given directly to those in need via PayPal. 

As thousands of Afghan refugees prepare to arrive in the U.S., Yarali called on private citizens to bear the responsibility of integrating them in an attempt to avoid large bureaucracy as much as possible. 

Wittenstein agreed that “the United States has an obligation to the Afghans who aided the American effort for the past 20 years. At great personal risk, hundreds of thousands of Afghans were encouraged to step up and help forge a civil society. Every effort must be made to identify, rescue and ultimately resettle these brave refugees.”

Reflecting on 20 years of conflict, Wittenstein was pessimistic about the future of U.S. national security as a direct result of the withdrawal.

“Direct U.S. involvement in the war may be over, but the war itself is not at all over,” Wittenstein wrote. “Indeed, the conflict is entering a dangerous new phase of Taliban reprisals and civil war. These are precisely the conditions that enabled al-Qa’ida to establish safe haven prior to 9/11.”

The last U.S. troops left Afghanistan on Aug. 30, 2021. 

PHILIP MOUSAVIZADEH
Philip Mousavizadeh covers the Jackson Institute. He is a first year student in Trumbull College studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics