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Ending the Forever Wars Was Never Up to Us

Leaving Afghanistan will not stop terrorism or leave the threats the United States faces behind.

By , a U.S. representative from Illinois and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A U.S. Air Force aircraft takes off from the military airport in Kabul on Aug. 27.
A U.S. Air Force aircraft takes off from the military airport in Kabul on Aug. 27. Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

Leaving Afghanistan

The United States has not endured a single combat death in Afghanistan since February 2020. That ended Thursday, with 13 service members killed following the attacks by the Islamic State-Khorasan at the Kabul airport. The attack also claimed the lives of more than 100 Afghans and injured at least 200 people. This tragic loss of life is heartbreaking and marks a dark day in America’s ongoing fight against terrorism.

Leaving Afghanistan will not stop terrorism or leave the threats we in the United States face behind. The weakness we showed in kowtowing to the Taliban made us vulnerable and exposed our forces as a retreating rescue effort rather than a show of force in evacuating on our own terms. This desperate situation on the ground was made worse by the incompetence of our leadership—past and present.

The Taliban cannot be trusted—not before, not now, not ever. It’s shameful that our past president, Donald Trump, negotiated a deal with a terrorist organization. It’s appalling that our current president, Joe Biden, underestimated the impact of his withdrawal announcement and the chaos that would ensue. Worse, the lack of strength being shown by our commander in chief is embarrassing.

The United States has not endured a single combat death in Afghanistan since February 2020. That ended Thursday, with 13 service members killed following the attacks by the Islamic State-Khorasan at the Kabul airport. The attack also claimed the lives of more than 100 Afghans and injured at least 200 people. This tragic loss of life is heartbreaking and marks a dark day in America’s ongoing fight against terrorism.

Leaving Afghanistan will not stop terrorism or leave the threats we in the United States face behind. The weakness we showed in kowtowing to the Taliban made us vulnerable and exposed our forces as a retreating rescue effort rather than a show of force in evacuating on our own terms. This desperate situation on the ground was made worse by the incompetence of our leadership—past and present.

The Taliban cannot be trusted—not before, not now, not ever. It’s shameful that our past president, Donald Trump, negotiated a deal with a terrorist organization. It’s appalling that our current president, Joe Biden, underestimated the impact of his withdrawal announcement and the chaos that would ensue. Worse, the lack of strength being shown by our commander in chief is embarrassing.

We need leadership, here in the United States and on the world stage. The America I know—the one I signed up to serve and defend as an Air Force pilot and now as a member of Congress—stands firmly against terrorism and tyranny, and leaves no man, woman, or child behind.

Throughout our history, the United States has engaged with adversaries who have become allies. We’ve fought against oppressors and liberated freedom-loving people around the globe. Our diplomacy, our strength, and our mere presence have made effective change around the world. Afghanistan could have been one of those proud examples. But our leaders have failed us, and, more so, they’ve failed the Afghan people.

On both sides of the political spectrum, we’ve heard the “endless wars” rallying cry used to argue against America’s presence in the Middle East. We’ve heard the many fatigued Americans who complain about “forever wars.” Some are upset by the money spent, and others want our troops home, or both. Those who have lamented for years that our mission in Afghanistan was a disaster from the start are stepping up in droves to say they were right and that we should have left years ago—or never engaged at all.

I respectfully and vehemently disagree with all of it.

For one thing, our enemies have a say in the fight as well. Just because Americans are war-fatigued doesn’t mean our enemies are ready to stop fighting us. And we saw that on Thursday as our weakness was exploited and 13 brave Americans were killed as a result.

The United States has a mission to be an example of self-governance and compassion to a world drowning in chaos, desperate for a taste of what we have. America serves as a beacon of hope to freedom-loving people around the world. Our military is the strongest, most capable military in the world. Our failures in Afghanistan are not of military might or power, but a failure of our leadership.

This moment, the one we face now, will have long-lasting impacts, because our failure to follow through on our promise to our allies in Afghanistan will be a stain on America and our history, and put us in jeopardy for generations to come. We cannot be naive enough to think our troubles will end here. The fight for our freedom does not end; we will find ourselves at war again, and with this massive blunder on our record, our enemies will no longer fear us, and our allies will no longer trust us.

This is not a new phenomenon. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard before. But in the past, we’ve been smart enough to recognize the role we can play in the world when we have a seat at the table—when we have a presence on the ground.

The United States has maintained a substantial presence in both Japan and Germany in the many decades since World War II. Twenty years after the Korean War, a U.S. military presence of 40,000 troops remained. Today, over 60 years after the war’s end, we still maintain a significant military presence in South Korea with 28,500 troops to support our allies against an ever-encroaching North Korea. American troops are stationed all around the globe—from Kosovo to Australia to the United Kingdom, our presence is welcomed and valued.

Our global presence reflects, in part, the moral makeup of America’s altruistic heart and our commitment to human dignity. More importantly, it’s essential for our own security—national, economic, cyber, etc.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military presence was roughly 100,000 troops in 2010. And at the start of this year, we had less than 3,000 U.S. troops on the ground. Those forces were there to conduct air support, intelligence, counterterrorism, and train-and-assist operations. With the support of American intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets, the Afghan security forces have conducted the vast majority of security operations in the country, which is evident in the fact we have not suffered an American combat death in over 18 months. Simply put: Afghans were bearing the brunt of the fight, while both Afghans and Americans alike shared in the benefits.

Taliban rule will take away those gains made, and we’re watching that unfold now. America’s presence made an impact and could have continued to support our allies without a large footprint, just as we’ve done with other nations around the world—and continue to engage with today.

If we retreat from this fight now, we will watch the world collapse. We will have given in to terrorist attacks and left our people behind. This act will send ripple effects for generations to come and open the world to more chaos. Terrorists will run free across the Middle East and beyond. Human rights will be nonexistent, and bad actors in China and Russia will be emboldened by our retreat, giving them more control globally.

The moment is before us. Our military and our allies were attacked. Innocent lives were taken simply for their desire to live a better life than one under Taliban rule. The United States of America is better than what we’ve shown lately, and now we have to prove that. We have the strength, power, and fortitude to stand up for freedom—and we must take that stand now by pushing back on the arbitrary deadline the president has set for withdrawal, securing the airport, and expanding our efforts to ensure the safety and security of all Americans, Afghans with special visas, and our Afghan allies in danger. Anything less is unacceptable and un-American.

Adam Kinzinger is a U.S. representative for Illinois’s 16th Congressional District. He is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continues to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard.

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