Looking back at the end of the Afghanistan war
By Matthew Fraser, Editor in Chief
I can’t imagine how two decades of warfare could not drive thousands to arms. Why wouldn’t someone who had known Ahmadi to be a good man all his life not hate the people who killed him so callously?
I remember a few years ago seeing an interview or a news broadcast where someone stated simply that the War on Terror would soon be claiming US military personnel born after the war had begun. They were not wrong. Unfortunately, this view neglects the reality of those in the Middle East where thousands of lives have been claimed, many of whom were born only after the first American boots touched the ground or the first bombs were detonated. However, it might be even more tragic to realize that our North American views, driven almost entirely by the United States media, long sympathetic to the war effort, were never meant to view the casualties on the other side as wrong. We were not asked to see the children and families literally bombed to pieces as tragic. Instead, we were to accept their deaths as deserved and to ignore as statistics the civilian casualty.
When Joe Biden began his withdrawal from Afghanistan the optimists and the anti-war activists saw it as the end of a blood-thirsty and dark era. I saw it that way too. It was the first time in my life where it felt like someone at the top of the power structure was choosing to buck the war instinct and withdraw the hand of death from another’s land. Certainly, it was not enough by itself, but it signalled hope and the beginnings of something that we could champion. But it quickly began to spiral out of control.
Suddenly, the fear of the Afghan masses was broadcasted to the world. Every day on our TV screens, through our phones, and across social media, the terror that hurtled through the people of Afghanistan as the Taliban swept back to power was transmitted to us. The Afghans in the cities who had adjusted to western oversight, the women who had a modicum of freedom and independence returned to them panicked. And how could they not? They either remembered the days, 20 years before when the Taliban ruled their lives, or they had been warned by the elders around them. Their lives, hopes, and dreams were to be upended as the American-led coalition returned home.
As I talked to my politically-minded friends, I frequently found myself making the dry and cynical joke that the US government spent 20 years, billions of dollars, and far too many lives to replace the Taliban with the Taliban. That is, only after the CIA gave funding and training to the organizations that would birth the Taliban.
Not that it’s better, there is in fact accounting for the dollars spent and the number of lives lost. As published by BuzzFeed News it consists of $887 billion spent by various arms of the US government, 47,245 Afghan civilians killed, 24,099 Pakistani civilians killed, 458 aid workers killed, 74 journalists killed, and 2,312 US military deaths.
I hope you weren’t as shocked as me to find out that the US was bombing Pakistan in the thousands,
One of the best things to come from the end of this gruesome campaign is the scaling back of the drone bombing offensive. Not because Congress had acted against the heinous and immoral strikes that were occurring. Not because a public uproar like that which met the Vietnam war forced it. But because the end of the Afghan war meant that there was little to no justification—however flimsy it was to begin with—to keep bombing from afar and with such wanton impunity.
Shortly after the election of Donald Trump, The Atlantic published an article entitled “Obama’s Weak Defense of His Record on Drone Killings.” Throughout it, Conor Friedersdorf walks readers through the heinous record of killings that make up the drone war record. The record outlined begins with 41 Pakistani civilians killed at a funeral by a drone strike. The record continues with 2009 receiving its 100th CIA drone strike.
Friedersdorf pulls no punches when he says: “Obama chose to allow the CIA, a secretive entity with a long history of unjust killings, to carry out strikes; he chose to keep the very fact of drone killings classified, deliberately invoking the state-secrets privilege in a way guaranteed to stymie oversight, public debate, and legal accountability…” Friedersdorf cuts Obama no slack for letting the CIA run loose and unrestricted; he sees the propensity for easy kills in the name of vengeance for the ultimate evil that it really is. In a sense, that makes the circumstances and result of the “final” drone strike of the war all the more macabre.
As detailed by the New York Times, Zemari Ahmadi rose on the final day of his life completely unaware of the tragedy that would strike him and decimate his family. Through numerous interviews and reviewing both drone and security footage, reporters were able to piece together a day without any violent intent. Ahmadi left his house, picked up coworkers, delivered food and water to the poor, and returned home with water for his family. Yet it is the final moments of his life that must bear the most weight: “As he pulled into the narrow street where he lived with his three brothers and their families, many of their children, seeing his white Toyota Corolla, rushed out to greet him… Some clambered onto the car in the street, one jumped in while others gathered in the narrow courtyard of the compound as he pulled in.” It was at that moment that the $100,000 Hellfire missile struck.
Ten people died that day, seven of them were children. The youngest casualty was a two-year-old named Hayat. There were two three-year-old girls named Malika and Somaya, six-year-old Benyamin, seven-year-old Arwin, ten-year-old Farzad, and 16-year-old Faisal rounded out the children.
When the government announced the strike, they were triumphant. Words like “retribution” and “reprisal” littered the newspapers. The killings were packaged as if they single handily stopped another terrorist bombing or saved an American life. Maybe, if they hadn’t highlighted this one so brazenly it would have slipped away into statistics the way the thousands before it had. In a sense, it’s only because of hubris that we would eventually know these names.
Yet it should be of high importance that we start to know the names of these faraway victims; after all, it’s hard to imagine how their deaths would not serve to fuel terrorism. I can’t imagine how two decades of warfare could not drive thousands to arms. Why wouldn’t someone who had known Ahmadi to be a good man all his life not hate the people who killed him so callously? Why wouldn’t the anguished and terrified screams of the survivors and left behind not pollinate ceaseless rage for the country that caused it? Is not vengeance a human emotion?
But maybe there is little to worry about now that the Taliban has taken over and the troops have returned home. Instead of drone strikes, the fear of the land has centred on women’s freedoms and the impending humanitarian crisis. In fact, the two are so closely linked that a recent Business Insider article quotes Zahra Mohammadi who says of the Taliban leaders: “They spend so much of their time worrying about us women when they could be helping the millions in need.” Unfortunately, the preoccupation with women and the lack of focus on the crisis has led to fears from UNICEF. According to a UN News report, an estimated 3.2 million children are acutely malnourished while 1.1 million children risk dying due to severe malnutrition.
Then again, one of the first diplomatic meeting the Taliban held was with China and initially, they vowed to be better on the issues of human rights. It might just work out that as the crises deepens, and Afghanistan desperately requires more and more aid, the Taliban will be forced to slide in a more moderate and accepting direction. Provided that China is not able to capitalize on the anger undoubtedly grown over the past two decades, western countries may be able to pull the Taliban away from their more negative teachings.
As I was writing this a line from “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath kept running through my mind: “Evil minds that plot destruction/Sorcerers of death’s construction/In the fields, the bodies burning/As the war machine keeps turning/Death and hatred to mankind/Poisoning their brainwashed minds.”
The war on terror that hasn’t touched North American shores in two decades, has become the deliverance of terror to the Middles East for the same period. It’s not easy to tell whether the issue has reached its zenith and will slowly subside into a scar of the past or if it will just transform into a different and easier to conceal atrocity. We can only hope that it is the former, not the latter, but who knows what the war machine is chewing up at this moment.