July 28, 2021

Afghanistan: Biden Vows to End Nation’s Longest War by 9/11 After Decades of Bloodshed & Destruction

14 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: The Biden administration has unveiled plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11th, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Biden will formally outline his plan today during a speech in the Treaty Room at the White House — the same room where President George W. Bush announced the start of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago, beginning what’s become the longest war in U.S. history. The war killed more than 100,000 Afghan civilians and over 2,300 U.S. servicemembers. It also cost the U.S. trillions of dollars. NATO forces are also expected to withdraw its 7,000 troops by September 11th.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki discussed Biden’s plans Tuesday.

PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: The president has been consistent in his view that there’s not a military solution to Afghanistan, that we have been there for far too long. That has been his view for some time, well documented, well reported on. He believes that — and he remains committed to supporting negotiations between the parties, which — many of you may be following — are resuming next week. And he also believes we need to focus our resources on fighting the threats we face today, 20 years — almost 20 years after the war began.

AMY GOODMAN: Biden’s announcement is coming just over a week before the scheduled start of a new round of peace talks in Istanbul between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government. But on Tuesday, the Taliban announced it will boycott the talks because Biden is reneging on a deal made by President Trump to have all 3,500 U.S. troops out by May 1st.
In recent weeks, the Taliban attacked a secret U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan, as well as Kandahar Airfield, which houses hundreds of U.S. troops. On Tuesday, a senior Biden administration official told reporters the president is committed to the withdrawal regardless of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. The official said, quote, “This is not conditions-based. The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”
We’re joined now by two guests. Zaher Wahab is an Afghan American professor who taught for decades at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education in Portland, Oregon. He was born in Afghanistan and has regularly returned since the U.S. war began, in an effort to rebuild Afghanistan’s educational system. He was a senior adviser to the minister of higher education in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2007. He also taught at the American University of Afghanistan for seven years. And we’re joined by Matthew Hoh. He’s a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy. In 2009, he resigned from the State Department in protest against the Obama administration’s escalation of the War in Afghanistan.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Wahab, let’s begin with you. What is your response? President Trump said the troops would be out by May 1st. President Biden has extended that to September 11th. It would end the longest war in U.S. history, the number of casualties in Afghanistan well over 100,000.
ZAHER WAHAB: Good morning, Amy and Juan. And good morning, Hoh. Hoh and I were on a program at the University of Oregon in Eugene some years ago. Thank you very much for having me, and it’s great being with you.
I approve of President Biden’s decision to withdraw all of its forces. But I want to point out that the United States and its allies should never have attacked and occupied Afghanistan. It was wrong. It was illegal. And I think it was immoral. But now the United States and NATO withdrawing, the war will end in some ways. But we have to point out that there’s a domestic dimension to the war, and the war amongst the Afghans will definitely continue.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the effect of this war for the last 20 years, and then what it means that at this Istanbul summit, one side, the Taliban, has pulled out, because they are protesting the fact that Biden is continuing beyond the May 1st deadline President Trump promised?
ZAHER WAHAB: Right. As you pointed out, you know, for the last 20 years, I have spent more than half of my time in Afghanistan. I have almost gone there every year and spent the last seven years there full-time. We must know that this invasion and occupation and the bloodshed have destroyed the country, its economy, its institutions, its infrastructure, its education, its way of life, relationships among the different ethnic groups. This occupation has been nothing short of a catastrophe.
And this is why I say, you know, there are three dimensions to the war. There’s the domestic dimension, the regional dimension and the global dimension. And we also should point out that many, many reports, by credible institutions and individuals, like SIGAR, The Washington Post and also the Afghanistan Analysts Network, have repeatedly demonstrated and documented that the ruling elite in Washington have been lying about the war, and so have the Afghan clique, whoever was in power. So, the war was wrong, to begin with. And, of course, an enormous amount of money and blood has been invested. And here we are, 20 years later, admitting to the world that this was a mistake and was a failure and it’s time to leave.
But leaving now would be highly irresponsible, because, as I said, domestically, Afghanistan is a very divided country. There are several major ethnic groups, and they’re — that are in conflict. We know that, for example, the price of guns is going up and that the very people who are actually, some of them — who are warlords — who were warlords and have an enormous amount of blood on their hand, while they’re going to be participating in this conference, if this happens, their people are also constituting militias and buying weapons.
So, while the United States may leave, the war may end for the United States, but the war will intensify for Afghanistan, unless something needs — must be done. And that is that we need to constitute a U.N. peacekeeping force immediately. And while the United States is withdrawing, the U.N. security force or peacekeeping force should move in and be in place. We also need to establish a trust fund, so that no dollars would go into Afghanistan except go into that trust fund and spent with the advice and guidance of an international cadre of development.
AMY GOODMAN: President Biden says that they’re going to withdraw troops — no conditions, no preconditions — by September 11th. Can you talk about what are the forces that are there? And do you believe that all those forces will leave, talking about NATO — he’s talking about U.S. troops, but what about mercenaries, private contractors?
ZAHER WAHAB: Yes. As we know, there are 3,500 known American troops, and there are some 6,000 contractors, many of them from third countries, and there are also some 10,000 NATO forces. Although some of the NATO countries have said that they will extend their stay in Afghanistan, most of them are likely to follow the U.S. example.
As I said, the United States should withdraw, because as long as the U.S. is in Afghanistan, the Taliban war against the Americans and all foreigners will continue. But the dilemma is that when there are no forces, outside forces, there will be a war, a civil war or multiple ethnic wars or proxy wars, in Afghanistan. And we must make sure that, as I said, there’s the U.N. peacekeeping force to maintain peace and law and order, so that people can have normal lives.
Right now the country is, in every way, unlivable. You know, tens and tens of people get assassinated every day, other than the war between the Taliban and the government forces. But also, if there are no foreign forces, no matter what the shape of the government might be, the Taliban are likely to prevail and take over in just about two months. That’s why we need some guarantee, international guarantee, with the presence of peacekeepers, to make sure that there’s peace, stability and tranquility in the country and so that the country can rebuild. But we also must make sure that no money is given to any Afghan government.
But also the problem is that while these delegations, for example, talk about going to Istanbul, there are right now disagreements amongst the members, the 19 members, of the government delegation, or the Afghan delegation, as to the nature of this agreement, its agenda and items, and what it portends for the country.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to bring in Matthew Hoh to the discussion, a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy. In 2009, he resigned from the State Department in protest against the Obama administration’s escalation of the War in Afghanistan. Matthew Hoh, welcome to Democracy Now! Could you talk about your reaction to the recent announcements in terms of the Biden administration policy for the future?
MATTHEW HOH: Good morning, Juan and Amy. Thank you for having me on. And, Professor Wahab, it’s good to be with you. I’ve learned a lot from you, sir.
This is potentially very good news for the Afghan people. The Afghan War has been going on for more than 40 years. This war begins in the late ’70s and has been going nonstop since then, so it’s really — it’s not correct for us to say it’s been 20 years, because it’s been more than 40 years. There hasn’t been a formal peace process in Afghanistan in over 30 years.
So, for this peace process to continue to go forward, foreign forces must be removed. Now, you know, Juan and Amy, I’ve been talking to you all for more than 11 years. And I was just thinking about how, 10 years ago, I was on with you the morning after the Osama bin Laden raid. And both of President Biden’s predecessors have said they would remove all the troops, you know, and so the idea that we may still be here talking about this is what really weight on me right now.
Also, regardless of whatever the intentions of the Biden administration are, the onus is now on the Taliban. Whatever they do can now give context or reason for the U.S. and NATO to say, “Look, we’re not going to withdraw anymore,” or even possibly resume offensive operations or maybe even send more troops. What this does, to me, and this may sound skeptical, but I think if you — again, understanding these post-Cold War wars, as well as all American wars, going back to the Native American genocide, this gives the U.S. and NATO a decent interval. This puts, again, the weight of responsibility on the Taliban for the next four or so months. And this allows the administration a reason to abrogate the withdrawal, to abrogate the peace process. And I say this, again, because of the evidence of the post-Cold War wars in the Muslim world, as well as, you know, just the general history of American military warfare.
The other thing I think it’s very important to remember is that this does not include the thousands of men and women who are part of U.S. special operation and NATO special operation teams, CIA teams, as well as the, literally, dozens of squadrons of attack aircraft and bombers, whether they be manned or drone, that are in the area, stationed either in land bases or on aircraft carriers outside of Afghanistan. So, the potential for the United States to remain involved militarily is quite high, even if all 3,500 acknowledged U.S. troops are withdrawn, as well as the NATO troops.
But again, this is potentially good news, because this is the step that is necessary for the peace process to go forward, and that’s what the Afghan people desperately need.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Matthew Hoh, could you talk about the toll on the Afghan people? You yourself served in the military in Afghanistan years back. Two-and-a-half million Afghans are now officially registered as refugees with the United Nations. The impact of this more than 20 — 20 years of the U.S. period, but then it was also the period before that, when the Soviets were occupying the country?
MATTHEW HOH: And this — you know, Juan, this precedes the Soviet occupation. This really begins in 1973, the same year I was born. So, 48 years ago, the king is deposed. And at that point, if you’re an Afghan, there has not — there has been hardly a single day without some type of violence or political chaos. By the time the Soviet Union invades in 1979, 100,000 Afghans have already been killed in the fighting. And it’s important to remember, because we want to remember what the role of the United States has been in Afghanistan, that the United States starts funding the mujahideen, the Islamic militants in Afghanistan, at least six months before the Soviet Union invades. This was a plan by Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to bait the Soviet Union into a trap in Afghanistan, to give them their own Vietnam.
And so, the effect on the Afghans has just been catastrophic. It has been well over 40 years of fighting. Millions of Afghans have been killed or wounded. The devastation on the Afghan people is hard to imagine. That two-and-a-half million refugees are what’s registered right now, but there have been millions and millions of refugees for the last 40 years. For most of these last 40 years, the Afghans have been the largest refugee population in the world, with the exception of a period of time when the Syrians were. But as the Syrians go back as that war has wound down, the Afghans, I believe, are once again the largest refugee population in the world.
It’s something like 70% of Afghans subsist on a dollar a day. There is no industry in Afghanistan to speak of. There is no infrastructure. The only industry you can speak about is the narcotics industry, which is heavily dominated by the Afghan government and the Afghan military. The Taliban have a role in it, but, for the most part, the chief players in the Afghan drug trade are the Afghan government or partners. The Afghan government itself is corrupt and predatory. The Taliban are hideous and horrendous, but the Afghan government is not much farther behind them in terms of human rights violations.
And, as well, too, this notion that somehow we have built democracy — you hear a lot about: “We can’t leave Afghanistan because of the gains we made, the progress we made.” And that’s all — it’s propaganda. The Afghan elections have been incredibly fraudulent since the United States invaded. They’ve only become more fraudulent with each one. So, this effect on the Afghan people has been incredibly disastrous. And the suffering that they have endured, and continue to endure, is — I think it’s something that we here in the United States cannot possibly imagine.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, Professor Wahab, I’d like to ask you, as well, the impact of this war on the Afghan people, as well, from your perspective, and the prospects — what you see for the prospects,, once the United States pulls out, for Afghanistan to finally have an era of peace and, somewhat, stability?
ZAHER WAHAB: Yes. Well, I totally agree with Matthew, and that is, a country has been destroyed. Ashraf Ghani himself said, you know, that 70% of the population lives on a dollar a day and that half of the government revenues are stolen. So, the government is highly corrupt, inefficient. You know, it’s sort of a rentier state, inefficient, ineffective, has no credibility, no legitimacy. The people live in constant fear. There are about a million-and-a-half internally displaced people, rather than the 3 million or so diaspora, Afghan diaspora. And there’s no infrastructure. The education system is horrible; healthcare. People still don’t have electricity in the capital, regular electricity, drinking water, food, you name it. There’s no work. There’s no employment. And anyone who can is in some way leaving the country. So, we have wrecked the country. You know, while occupying it and bombing it, we have not really attempted to build its institutions and its infrastructure.
So, while leaving, the forces, you know, may solve one of the U.S.’s problem, but, as I said, there are internal dynamics in Afghanistan, and that there’s going to be a resurgence of a civil war, proxy wars and multiple wars, because Afghanistan, as I said, is a highly polarized and divided country. Ethnics dislike each other, do not trust each other. Right now amongst the team members of the Afghan delegation, there are conflicts open. People are arguing, you know, as to who is who, and how many of which group, etc., etc. And unless we have solved the problems, you know, the war will resume, and in a more vicious way.
That’s why I say we must replace the U.S.-NATO forces with some kind of a U.N. peacekeeping force. And also, we must continue — the world community must continue to subsidize Afghanistan development, but it must be done very, very differently. Right now what we have done is we have empowered and resourced the very wrong people, the kind of people who should be on trial, you know, and the people who should probably be in jail. So I worry a great deal. While I agree and I welcome the U.S. withdrawal, but, as I said, you know, they’re leaving Afghanistan without any kind of a solution, without any certainty that the country will not go into a violent situation. So, I really argue for a U.N. peacekeeping force. Why don’t they? You know, because we have U.N. peacekeeping forces in several other countries, and it looks like it’s working. Why not Afghanistan? It will be much cheaper, efficient, effective, and ensure that the country can stand on its own feet.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, we have just 30 seconds, Professor, but Khalilzad, who has served under Trump, has served under Bush, from Iraq to Afghanistan — he’s Afghan American — serving now under Biden, do you hold out any faith in him?
ZAHER WAHAB: No. And Ashraf Ghani, I’m sorry to say, he’s a Ph.D., Johns Hopkins, World Bank, etc., but the man has no basis, no credibility, no legitimacy in his policies, his daily behavior, his disregard for the conditions, the terrible conditions of the people. These have made him — he cannot take a car. You know, he always has to fly places, just like the American ambassador, in the capital itself. As I said, when there’s no protection from abroad, he will be gone in two or three months, you can be sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Zaher Wahab, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Afghan American professor — I’m sure we’ll be getting back to you as this all develops — and Matthew Hoh, senior fellow with the Center for International Policy, who resigned under President Obama from the State Department because of his policy in Afghanistan.
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