Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Three Part Feature on the 15 Years of the Global War On Terror | Part 1: Afghanistan

By I.M. Kero

For those who didn’t get the title’s pun, it is the use of the phonetic alphabet for WTF. That is the current situation in Middle East and throughout the entire Global War on Terror. The GWOT is its actual name since 2001; sometimes I have to remind myself. Remembering so is the first step to understanding why so many countries are involved. Right now, the key states of main conflict are Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Within fifteen years, so much has happened, and eventually future TAMIU students will likely be spending a semester studying the topic, but I’ll be here to explain it the best I can for you understand.

So this story begins on a sad day that I unfortunately remember vividly. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was seven years old and on my way to elementary school. I was also living in Long Island, NY which was about two hours away from downtown Manhattan. I’ve seen the Twin Towers growing up. I knew what they looked like, and through television, I saw them collapse. My mom cried all morning, school was cancelled, and the entire country had no idea what was next.

This is where it began, the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. It was one well-coordinated terrorist attack, about 3,000 innocent people died, and officially ended the Post-Cold War era. The free world would unite in grief as a response was being planned.

The organization that claimed responsibility for the attack was an international terrorist organization known as Al-Qaeda. This organization was led by a guy named Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden was once a rebel who fought against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. The United States funded and supported him and his followers. It was a different time, and America was fighting communism. However, after that war ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States did not pay any attention to what was brewing in this war-torn, practically uncivilized South Asian country (Afghanistan is NOT in the Middle East).

After the attacks on 9/11, the Bush Administration with overwhelming public favor reacted towards Al-Qaeda. The government asked the Afghan government to surrender Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda affiliates or else. Afghanistan chose “else.” The Afghan government at the time was dominated by the Taliban. The Taliban was a fundamental radical Islamic political party. They ruled with the worst interpretation of Islam, and used it to justify their totalitarian government.

The American government and people, fueled with vengeance, left no room for diplomacy and began a military response. The autumn of 2001 was mainly airstrikes and CIA covert operations. The most prominent was Tora Bora. Tora Bora was the place where it was supposed to end, but really where it all began. Bin Laden and the key Al-Qaeda leadership were held up there. CIA and Special Forces were to assault and kill/capture all of them, but they got away and crossed the border to Pakistan and other places.

The United States then invaded formally. They overthrew the Taliban government, and aimed to create a new stable democratic government. In the meantime, NATO created a coalition known as the International Security Assistance Force or ISAF. Many nations cooperated and deployed soldiers to Afghanistan where they would provide a military occupation and security as the new Afghanistan was built. Losing Bin Laden, the Bush Administration had new aims in Iraq, but we’ll get to that another time. Having to change focus from Afghanistan to Iraq, Afghanistan, to original field of 9/11, was sidelined until the 44th President.

In 2009, Barack Obama wasted no time in resurging the forces in Afghanistan. 30,000 troops were sent in what was seen as the “re-invasion” of Afghanistan. The goal was different. This time the forces were focus to help preserve civilization from the remnants of the Taliban who wished to destroy schools and oppress girls who attended. The allied forces were to combat those threats while preserving the prospect of potential Afghan democracy. This was to be the final effort before handing over duties entirely to the newly formed Afghan army and police. The stategey was that focus on sustaining the public school. As long as Afghanistan had children going to school with a decent education, they would avoid the influence of the Taliban or other radicalizations. Though much idealism, this still came at the expense of much violence.

On May 1, 2011, President Obama addressed the nation informed of a successfully mission that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. It had been almost ten years since the attacks. The announcement came by midnight to a unified and celebrating nation. By this point onwards, most of AL-Qaeda’s leadership began to dwindle, and the proud terrorist organization that coordinated 9/11 is now nothing compared to what it once was.

Originally, while running for re-election, President Obama stated that US soldiers would be gone by the end of 2014. Most of the coalition forces had already pulled out, and all prospects of full withdrawal looked promising, but then it all got worse. The recent rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has made leaving Afghanistan more troublesome. ISIL and a resurgent Taliban has been continuing violence across different parts of the nation. With ISAF mostly withdrawn, the new Afghan forces have been fighting these threats. However, the US presence is still in danger, and a return of more ground troops is likely. Like how President Bush passed the duties to President Obama, Obama will likely do the same with his successor. At the moment, there is a small return back to Afghanistan. Troops having been on the ground already, so the question of send ground forces in not as relevant. Currently, we are seeing a likelihood of 10,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

Afghanistan is country that has been at war for a very long time. The British tried to conquer it three times and failed each attempt. The Soviets had their own version of the Vietnam War there during the 1980s. The war was so troubling, it was large factor to the collapse of the USSR. During the 1990s, the wartorn country of practically no civilization was a breeding ground for terrorism and radicalism. The United States has been at war in it for more than a decade. With so much war, the transition to peace and stability will take time and effort.

Why is it all important? Afghanistan is still very important even though there major strategic value or oil there. Realistically, Afghanistan cannot fall back to the hands of the Taliban or ISIL to which the country’s government sponsors or harbors terrorism as it did during and before 9/11. Ideally, America cannot afford to have another Vietnam. Luckily, Afghanistan does not have a northern polar opposite that would invade once the troops left, but billions of dollars have been invested in this country in the hopes that it would be a new democracy, and that would be all worth it. If America can win Afghanistan, America will win the 21st century.

“Part II: Iraq” coming in April


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