Almost twenty years after ordering troops into Afghanistan, former President George W. Bush criticized President Joe Biden’s order to withdraw remaining personnel as endangering women, girls and those who’d supported the US and the Afghan central government.
Bush during an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle warned that the consequences of withdrawing US and NATO troops from Afghanistan will be “unbelievably bad.”
“I’m afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm,” Bush said, characterizing the pullout as a mistake without saying how he would quell the violence or when US troops should leave the longest war in its history.
The former president, who has largely refrained from making political remarks since leaving office, also expressed concern about Afghans who worked as translators or offered other support to foreign troops. “They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart,” Bush said.
Bush said he believed German Chancellor Angela Merkel “feels the same way.”
The war in Afghanistan, part of the broader “war on terror,” began under Bush. The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, not long after the 9/11 terror attacks that were carried out by extremists, mostly from Saudi Arabia, acting on the orders of al Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden thought to be based in Afghanistan. Roughly two decades later, the US is ending its military operations but the war on terror rages on.
The “global war on terror” that was launched by the Bush administration has killed over 800,000 people in direct war violence and led to the displacement of at least 37 million, according to a report from Brown University’s Costs of War project. The federal government also places the cost of the war on terror at over $6.4 trillion.
Biden continues to defend the Afghanistan withdrawal as the Taliban makes gains
The human and economic cost of the conflict is a large part of the reason Biden, who as a senator voted in favor of the laws that paved the way for war on terror, has moved to end US involvement in Afghanistan.
Proponents of the withdrawal say it’s long overdue, and that the US has already lost too many lives and resources in the country. Opponents of the pullout say it’s too hasty and will effectively hand the country to militants on a silver platter. The Taliban recently said it’s taken over 85% of the country’s territory, though it’s difficult to verify this. According to The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Taliban currently controls 195 of the country’s 407 districts and is contesting another 129.
There are serious concerns about the ability of the Afghan military to maintain control of the country and prevent the Taliban from taking over. Almost as soon as US troops in early July departed from Bagram, the largest air base in the country, it was ransacked by looters. Control of the airbase was transferred over to the Afghan military, but local officials claimed the US did not coordinate with them and left in the dead of the night.
Earlier this week, CNN released video footage of 22 Afghan commandos being executed by the Taliban as they attempted to surrender. Responding to this report, GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a US Air Force veteran who flew missions in Afghanistan, tweeted, “This is horrible – yet it’s the reality of announcing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Removing the peacekeepers and leaving the Afghan people without support is a grave mistake, Mr. President.”
Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to make gains as local militias pop up to challenge it, propelling the country further and further into a state of civil war.
On Friday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged the “deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan, just one day after Biden gave a full-throated defense of the withdrawal.
The president announced the pullout in April, and last week said the US military mission in the country would be complete by the end of August. Biden has rejected the notion a Taliban takeover of the country is inevitable in the absence of US troops, expressing confidence in the Afghan military’s capacity to keep the insurgents at bay.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country,” Biden said in an impassioned speech. “Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that ‘just one more year’ of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution but a recipe for being there indefinitely.”