The withdrawal from Afghanistan happened too fast and will have consequences
The proof was established with the news that the daughter of the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan was kidnapped in Islamabad and “held for several hours and brutally attacked.” The Associated Press reported that no one has been arrested, despite the commitment of the Pakistan government to find the kidnappers, and that Silsila Alikhil, 26, “suffered blows to her head, had rope marks on her wrists and legs, and was badly beaten.”
This is a clear, symbolic message to the Afghan government, the women of Afghanistan, and the world. It is a dark foreshadowing of what is in store for women and girls across Afghanistan, as well as any hope the people of Afghanistan might have had in determining their future, if the Taliban remains unchecked in their march to regain power as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan. The United States must respond substantially and unambiguously. We must re-draw our “red line.”
Whether Democrat or Republican, leaders in the House, Senate and, most importantly, the Biden administration should make it clear that these sorts of war crimes — the atrocities already being committed by the Taliban, violence against civilians and captured soldiers, and barbaric attacks on women — will not be tolerated.
The U.S. must make a public commitment to assist in the defense of Afghanistan’s major population centers, to hold both sides accountable to the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Armed Conflict and prepare with our allies to provide humanitarian assistance to the thousands of civilians at grave risk in Afghanistan.
I joined the Army in 2003, right out of college, because I wanted to serve. Along with thousands of others, including other members of my family, I believed that regardless of the reason we went to war in the first place, I had a sacred duty to do right by the Afghan and Iraqi people. There were not many of us on the ground who were under any illusion that the democratic governments of Iraq or Afghanistan would look much like the modern governments of the West in our lifetimes. But I believed, and still do, that it is the responsibility of any people or society that aspires to a just peace to stand against tyranny and oppression, for the rule of law and the sacred will of the governed. Without that belief, how could I go to Baghdad and Ramadi? How else could I, and thousands of others, leave our children and families time and again to risk our lives in the circumstances that defined our entrance into the region?
As many Americans have come to understand over the past four years — some maybe for the first time — the government and its leaders are not the country. The conflation of the two decimates our compassion, our capacity for mercy, our vision of humanity. We must not be limited by the sins of the past or content with hope for the future. Our character is defined by how we substantiate our values in the present, by what we do or what we do not do.
The collateral damage of war for soldiers and citizens must be considered by the commander in chief, both coming and going.
The Biden administration, Congress and the American people must take responsibility for what we face today. America has learned the hard lesson that, for the sake of our sons and daughters, we must always have an exit strategy when at war. My sons are near the age where they will act on the call of duty to serve their country, and I am acutely aware that we must not shirk our responsibility to the next generation and fail to mark unequivocally the values of our nation.
We know that would-be tyrants such as the Taliban, al Qaeda, Iranian-backed militias, Russian President Vladimir Putin and others — even, some might argue, our own Donald Trump — have one core value: Power. They seek out the vulnerabilities of the vulnerable. Right now, as I write this, the wolves are circling their prey. The Taliban in Afghanistan is hunting anyone who has called us friends. They hunt women who dare even speak up or stand up for their God-given human rights. They will devour any child they think suits their needs. They rape, pillage, enslave. They may execute the duly elected leaders of the country and will, without a doubt, give aid to men who aspire to kill or maim Americans. According to Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the last commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, “Al Qaeda terrorists [are] present today in Afghanistan among the Taliban fighters.”
That means we must take the cap off the marker and, with fresh ink, draw that new red line.
Reports say we also will be withdrawing from Iraq and possibly Syria. Without a doubt, every nation must grow up to take responsibility for itself. We cannot stay forever in Afghanistan or Iraq, but does that mean we will never again intervene?
It is as irresponsible and foolhardy to deploy our forces and topple a government without an exit strategy as it is to then withdraw those forces without a clear criterion of re-engagement, and to leave a vacuum of power that every expert agrees will quickly devolve into a bloody civil war and dire humanitarian crisis.
Clay D. Hanna is a business executive and major with the Virginia Army National Guard. He was an Army fire direction officer and platoon leader in Iraq while active duty from 2003-2008, and an African Capacity for Peace Operations trainer for the State Department in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @clay_hanna.