America failed Afghanistan
And that is a direct result of our dysfunctional political system
Author’s note: I worked in Afghanistan as a government contractor training the national police force from 2011-2012. I dedicate these words and this essay to the memory of my friend Iqbal and to all the Afghans who have suffered for the egos of American and Afghan politicians.
Above are a few photos from my time in Afghanistan. The bottom two photos have been modified in case either of the translators I worked with is still alive. The reality is that they have probably been murdered by now. Even at the height of the occupation by NATO/America, brave Afghans who worked with foreigners were targeted. My program, national police training, had a pool of about 20 translators. They commuted to work through the busy streets of Kabul six days a week.
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One morning, one of them, named Iqbal, was missing. When we asked where Iqbal was, the others told us that he had been surrounded by a gang on his way to work and, stabbed to death with screwdrivers, then left lying in a gutter.
We stayed in Afghanistan for 20 years. Long enough to have a generation of young Afghans who had never experienced the barbarity of Taliban rule.
A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.1
Twenty years was never going to be enough to make Afghanistan functional, and every senior leader involved in Afghanistan knew that. A century of occupation might have been enough, but American politics are too dysfunctional ever to sustain a 100-year occupation. So instead, we abandoned an entire generation of English-speaking, Western-thinking young Afghans to a cruel fate: living under a fundamentalist Islamic hardline regime.
Both parties were in control at various times, and they both lied about how things were going.
Since 2001, more than 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action, according to Defense Department figures.2
As a nation, we flushed 2,300 Americans down the toilet. At least a quarter million locals were killed by our occupation.3 There are other ripples in the fabric of time and space. There are 2.6 million Afghan refugees in the world. There are 23 million Afghans who don't know where the next meal is coming from and 9 million malnourished children.4 This isn't the fault of one American political party or the other. Blame is shared between both of them.
Before we abandoned the country, half of Afghanistan’s population was in acute psychological distress. In a country of 40 million people, 20 million of whom need mental health help due to trauma; there were 300 mental health professionals. That was before the Taliban retook the entire country. I suspect that in 2022 zero mental health professionals are operating in Afghanistan. The brand of Islam practiced by hardliners in charge of the country does not believe in mental health problems, science, or modern medical care.
We were never going to win in Afghanistan because we aren’t a reliable partner. Our nation is bipolar, split down the middle between people who want to move forward and a cult of millions hell-bent on social regression, whites first, and thoughts and prayers.
When we broke all our promises and fled, I received many desperate calls and emails from allies and friends I’d made. All of them were trying to get out of Afghanistan before they were murdered for wanting their country to move forward. It made me sick to my stomach, and it could happen here. We are on the cusp.
The USA does not need MAGA. The USA needs a reckoning and a reboot. Eat the rich and punish the capitalist oligarchs. Stop the two-party duopoly. It’s toxic. It is time to demand better from ourselves and our nation, and the human domain in general.