The War in Afghanistan Is Not Over
If President Biden wants to end “forever wars”, he must work with Congress to repeal the 2001 AUMF
Last week, President Biden announced that the United States is ending the war in Afghanistan.
As troops pulled out of Afghanistan in the past several weeks, U.S. officials noted that the withdrawal is “essentially complete”. President Biden stated that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will officially conclude on August 31st of this year, and that we will finally end “America’s longest war”.
However, at this moment, a rapid Taliban resurgence is occurring in Afghanistan. Violence has escalated, threatening thousands of Afghans and their families. Republican leadership, as well as some Democrats, argue that withdrawing U.S. troops will lead to a further escalation of violence and will surrender Afghanistan to the Taliban. Former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice have warned that a withdrawal of U.S. troops could lead to a resurgence of the Taliban, a collapse of the Afghan government, a refugee crisis, and a civil war.
Parts of these arguments are not inaccurate — the Taliban started taking over more districts as soon as the U.S. and NATO began their withdrawal from Afghanistan on May 1st, seeking to fill a power vacuum they feel a lack of U.S. presence will leave behind. Many fear what a widespread Taliban resurgence will mean, particularly for women and girls in the region.
However, U.S. boots on the ground will not solve this issue in Afghanistan, nor get rid of the Taliban.
For a long time, the war in Afghanistan had no solution in sight, no achievable objective. A U.S. special operations unit shot and killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011, more than a decade ago, for his role in orchestrating the September 11th attacks in 2001 that killed 2,996 people. Since then, the broad language of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force — which was introduced and passed days after 9/11 — has been used and abused for the U.S. to conduct counterterrorism operations in dozens of countries 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, and to use military force without the consent of Congress.
It is this authorization — which is just 60 words in length — that has allowed the U.S. troops in Afghanistan in the first place. Without repealing this authorization, this war can be relaunched at any time, for any reason, without the consent of Congress.
The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) allowed these “forever wars” to continue, wars that President Biden and Democratic leadership recently vowed to end. It allowed for airstrikes to be conducted in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, killing and displacing innocent civilians. It allowed for the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and for operations to be conducted in 18 other countries. It enabled the displacement of 21 million civilians from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria, who now live as refugees. Operations authorized from both the 2001 AUMF, as well as the 2002 AUMF against Iraq, have created even more terrorist groups and terrorist activity. This all cost the U.S. $6.4 trillion, and thousands of American troops who lost their lives overseas, who came home suffering from PTSD, who suffer sicknesses from burn pits, a loss of limbs, or succumbing to suicide.
Oftentimes, wars and operations launched using the 2001 AUMF as a legal justification did not achieve any objective to confront those who attacked the U.S. on 9/11, which is what the authorization called to do. The U.S. operations in Syria starting in 2014 — using the 2001 AUMF as a legal justification — sometimes achieved the opposite of the intentions of the 2001 AUMF, with reports that U.S. weapons have ended up in the hands of Al Nusra, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, and that the CIA armed and trained rebels who ended up joining Al Nusra and other extremist groups. Meanwhile, many years have passed and Syria is in no better place today than before the U.S. intervention, and with more terrorist groups and terrorist activity than before. The U.S. intervention in Libya was also justified by President Obama under the 2001 AUMF. Obama later considered the U.S. intervention in Libya the “worst mistake” of his presidency.
In 2019, the Afghanistan Papers published by The Washington Post have cited that top advisors on the war in Afghanistan during the Bush and Obama administrations were “devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan”, that they “didn’t have the foggiest notion” of what they were undertaking, and that the war had become “unwinnable”. The papers have cited that U.S. strategy was “fatally flawed”, wasted enormous sums of money trying to “fix” Afghanistan (40% of US aid to Afghanistan wound up in the pockets of corrupt officials, warlords, and insurgents), and that Americans were “constantly” and “deliberately” lied to regarding the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, several members of Congress have called for inquiries relating to the findings of the Afghanistan Papers that have gone unanswered.
Former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, recently stated in an interview that the United States has failed Afghanistan. He said that we failed in the past 20 years at fighting extremism in Afghanistan, failed to bring any sort of stability to the region, and that the average Afghan civilian is not in a better place today. “Extremism is at the highest point today”, he said, stating that the U.S. legacy in Afghanistan has been one of a “total disgrace and disaster”. Karzai said that Afghanistan will be “better off” without US military presence, and that it should ultimately be up to Afghanistan to defend their country and take responsibility for their future.
NATO, who is also withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, stated that “there is no military solution to the challenges Afghanistan faces”, and that they will continue to support a diplomatic peace process. Even with the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, 650 troops will still remain in Afghanistan, mostly to assist Turkish troops with providing security at the Kabul airport. The CIA and other intelligence partners will still have capabilities in the country to perform counterterrorism measures. This can also have an impact on the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban in which the U.S. pledged to fully remove its troops.
President Biden also responded to some of the arguments alluding that the Afghanistan issues cannot be solved without a robust military presence. “Look, I know there are many who will loudly insist that diplomacy cannot succeed without a robust U.S. military presence to stand as leverage. We gave that argument a decade,” President Biden remarked this April, “It’s never proved effective — not when we had 98,000 troops in Afghanistan, and not when we were down to a few thousand.”
On the campaign trail, and while serving as President, Biden has pledged to end “forever wars”. The Democratic Platform, which Biden has campaigned on, also pledged to not only end the war in Afghanistan, but to work with Congress “to repeal decades-old authorizations for the use of military force”.
If President Biden wants to hold true to his pledge to end forever wars, he would not only remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but to repeal the 2001 AUMF. This AUMF has allowed the United States to not only remain in Afghanistan, but to conduct counterproductive missions elsewhere without the consent of Congress, killing and displacing millions of civilians in the process.
Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee voted to include Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s amendment within the defense budget to repeal the 2001 AUMF after eight months, allowing Congress a chance to rewrite the authorization, as well as outright ending the 2002 AUMF that has authorized the devastating war in Iraq. While this amendment has been introduced for the past several years in former defense budgets (Congresswoman Lee was famously the sole member of the House to vote against the 2001 AUMF), it has never survived Senate negotiations.
The White House stated that President Biden is committed to working with Congress to ensure “that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats.” This must not be limited to the 2002 AUMF, but include the 2001 AUMF. While the 2002 AUMF was rarely recently invoked to justify the military engagement, the 2001 AUMF has provided the United States a blank check to act with utmost impunity in the Middle East and worldwide in the name of counterterrorism.
Critics will argue that repealing the 2001 AUMF will open the U.S. to attack and vulnerability, or remove our teeth from counterterrorism measures. This is fundamentally untrue. The President still has constitutional authority to use our military when our country is in imminent danger. Secondly, the initial 2001 AUMF was passed within days following the 9/11 attacks. If our national security was at risk, nothing is preventing the President from using our military to defend our country, and Congress can quickly pass a new AUMF if need be.
Our need to repeal the 2001 AUMF is necessary because of the broad blank check it has provided for so long — all without the consent of Congress. This has gone long and far enough. Congress — elected representatives of the American people — need to have a say in when our military is exercised. We cannot use and abuse decades-old authorization to continue endless wars in the Middle East. Our focus must be narrowed down and specified. And while counterterrorism measures are important for the safety of our country, they must comply with international law and provide a sunset clause.
It is long enough that we end these forever wars. If President Biden wants to keep his campaign promises, he would work with Congress to repeal the 2001 AUMF that has led to so much waste, counterproductivity, carnage, and loss of human life. And together, we must reexamine the role that the United States has played in the world, and the senseless suffering enabled for decades.