Editor’s Note: Abdul Rahman Rahmani is an Afghan Special Mission Wing Pilot and the author of Afghanistan: A Collection of Stories. Rahmani is an Expeditionary Warfare School graduate from Marine Corps University. Jason Criss Howk is a retired US Army FAO (foreign area officer) who has worked on Afghanistan issues since 2002. He is the author of The Qur’an: A Chronological Modern English Interpretation and has been an educator at various institutes focused on Islam and National Security. His intro-to-Islam podcast is called We’re Just Talking About It. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and are not an official policy or position of the USA or Afghanistan. View more opinion at CNN.
The recent news that the United States is closer to making a peace deal with the Taliban could lead to the precipitous withdrawal of US troops. This risks becoming another example of America abandoning Afghanistan completely.
A wise withdrawal ensures that America and Afghanistan stay connected in friendship on all security, economic and diplomatic concerns. We cannot lose the gains we have made together.
Have no doubt Afghans will defend themselves and the globe from the danger of terrorism. But, will the United States’ commitment to global security be there? Will America learn from or repeat its past mistakes in abandoning Afghanistan?
Afghans are standing on the front line of the global war on terrorists, sacrificing both human lives and natural resources for the cause of global security.
In 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani estimated that there had been over 28,000 military casualties since 2015. Afghans remain the target of state-sponsored and other types of terrorists, they lack global appreciation for their efforts and find themselves vulnerable to hasty decisions made 7,000 miles away in Washington.
Do Afghan sacrifices really count? Afghans stoically observe other nations talking about billions spent on defense, development and diplomacy in Afghanistan, while they fail to acknowledge the Afghans who sacrifice their lives and put their families in danger so that others can live in a safer world.
Afghanistan was abandoned by the United States after the Soviet War that happened from 1979-1989 and risks being abandoned in the near future if a hasty deal is made between the United States and the Taliban. Although an Afghan-owned and led peace process is the goal and would surely include a series of deals between multiple parties, no deal should sever the Afghan-US partnership forged in our blood.
The Afghanistan-American reciprocal diplomatic relationship took shape during WWII when Major Gordon Enders was dispatched to Kabul by the US War Department as a military attaché. This move, supported by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, spurred the State Department to move its embassy team from Tehran, Iran, to Kabul, as detailed by Leon B. Poullada and Leila D. J. Poullada in their book “The Kingdom of Afghanistan and the United States: 1828-1973.” Permanent diplomatic relations were established when the first US minister to Afghanistan, Cornelius Van H. Engert, met with King Zahir Shah in 1942.
Afghans are thankful for the current diplomatic mission to Kabul. Today they are also thankful for and trusting of the US Defense Department. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with us, our US military teammates have built our units, trained us and bled with us. We have proudly picked up the mantle and are fighting to ensure terrorists and militias never flourish in Afghanistan again. But we still need mentorship, some assistance and long-term partnership.
A more formal US diplomatic position towards Afghans can be traced back to India-Pakistan partition in 1947. Afterward, Washington chose to build a regional strategic partnership with Pakistan, because India had started to build a partnership with Soviet Union. The alliance concerned the United States.
In 1948, Afghan Prime Minister Shah Mahmud strongly pleaded for military aid from Secretary of State George C. Marshall to be able to confront the Soviet Union. Marshall broke out in derisive laughter at the suggestion that Afghans “could possibly oppose Soviet military might,” according to Poullada.
In 1951, Afghan Ambassador Prince Mohammed Naim pleaded with George C. McGhee, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, for the United States to reconsider the US position on providing military aid to Afghanistan. Naim hinted that without US military aid, Kabul might seek military assistance from the Soviet Union. Calling Naim’s perceived bluff, McGhee sarcastically handed the prince the phone number of the Soviet embassy.
Three years later, Prince Naim, now as Afghan foreign minister, was sent again to ask for military aid. Two months later, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles replied, “After careful consideration, extending military aid to Afghanistan would create problems not offset by the strength it would generate. Instead of asking for arms, Afghanistan should settle the Pashtunistan dispute with Pakistan.” The Pashtunistan conflict is a historic border dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan was left with little choice but to drift towards the Soviets and accept their offer of military aid.
By 1954 the United States had signed a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with Pakistan and established joint usage of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. This was a strategic agreement that would help the United States have access to the Middle East and help monitor the Soviet Union, bypassing Afghanistan.
The consequences of these abandonments arrived in 1979, when Afghans had to respond to a Soviet invasion and valiantly fight for their country. While victory was heavily due to US intelligence and military support, Afghans significantly sacrificed. Despite its mistreatment during the Cold War, Afghanistan remained a firm partner of the United States in its longest covert war. The result for the Afghans was that over a million people died, millions became refugees or internally displaced people and countless opportunities were lost.
The first set of abandonments in the Cold War brought a Soviet invasion and utter destruction.
The second wave of abandonment, from 1989 to 1992, left Afghans in grips of Islamist radicalization, leading to a civil war, the Taliban Khawarij movement and finally a terrorist safe haven for al Qaeda that had global consequences on September 11, 2001.
While testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in 2007, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates summarized it well. “I was deputy director of CIA and then deputy national security advisor during the period when the Soviets did withdraw from Afghanistan, and the United States essentially turned its back on Afghanistan. You know, one of the lessons that I think we have is that if we abandon these countries, once we are in there and engaged, there is a very real possibility that we will pay a higher price in the end,” Gates said.
Indeed, Afghans were hopeful that the United States would help the country heal and stand on its own. But unfortunately, they received more abandonment.
In 2017, President Donald Trump, in a speech about his strategy for Afghanistan, made clear that the United States would not be abandoning Afghanistan to ISIS and the Taliban. It was a statement that was not only welcomed by US allies, but especially by the Afghans. It made our shared enemies fear losing the war in Afghanistan – especially the Taliban, who later appealed to the American people to urge them to convince their government to end the war.
Fast forward to this year and President Trump’s tune may have changed. He recently made statements praising the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His remarks not only disappointed US allies, but also Afghans. It might have encouraged our enemies to hold on and wait the United States and NATO out.
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Unfortunately, after 17 years, Afghanistan is still vulnerable to terrorism. If it is abandoned again, and terrorists secure their grip on it, three possible things could occur:
1) Global terrorists could announce a victory over a superpower, encouraging more terrorist organizations to operate freely and aggressively around the world.
2) Afghanistan’s geostrategic location can make the region vulnerable to global terrorists while facilitating terrorists operating in the Europe and the United States.
3) Terrorists can increase the use of narcotics and Afghan natural resources to their advantage and plot more 9/11 style attacks.
These possible consequences must not be interpreted to mean that the United States must deploy tens of thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan forever, but instead retain the right mixture of United States and NATO capabilities needed to help Afghans tackle the continuing challenges of terrorism.
The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, the government and the people they represent have high morale right now. We have taken the lead in the fight against the enemies of the Afghan people for over four years and have grown more professional and lethal. Everyday our military skills improve and our intelligence about our enemies grows. Despite the high numbers of casualties, our forces and their families are proud to serve and sacrifice for peace. We will keep fighting until the enemies of Afghanistan come to the peace table and stop their illegal resistance of the Afghan people. We ask the world to help us finish this war.