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We Said Good Riddance to the Afghan War in 2021. Unfortunately, It’s Not Actually Over.

We should be able to say goodbye to America’s misguided actions in Afghanistan, as 2021 draws to an end. Reality is more complex.

The last American troops were evacuated from Kabul, after two weeks’ worth of chaotic evacuations. America’s failed attempts at building a nation ended after an unsuccessful attempt to defeat al Qaeda, track down Osama be Laden and end in a month.

Unfortunately, the final days were not a good one. The suicide bombing of the airport days before the evacuation deadline resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. soldiers and the injuries to at least 170 Afghan civilians. According to U.S. intelligence, the terrorist was planning another attack on the airport. The military responded by launching an airstrike. However, this intelligence was false. A drone attack killed an aid worker at a food charity, as well as nine family members including seven children.

2.401 Servicemembers were killed during Afghanistan’s two-decade long war. This is according to the Department of Defense. Another 1,822 civilian contractors who died in Afghanistan during this period were also listed by the Department of Labor.

These financial costs can be difficult to quantify. Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs estimates that $8 trillion has been spent by the United States on Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. Most of these spendings have been paid for with borrowing. According to the Watson Institute, by the 2050s we could have $6.5 trillion in interest bills. While we may have fled Afghanistan, the Watson Institute predicts that Americans will continue to pay the cost of war in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

America’s political and military leaders believed that stabilizing Afghanistan’s government was crucial to winning the war against terrorism. However, such stability didn’t occur. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) years-long reports show that the money spent went to corruption-prone projects. The money may have lined a number of people’s pockets—the U.S. paid $43 million for a single gas station—but none of that construction work actually stabilized Afghanistan and neither U.S. troops nor Afghan police were able to protect the U.S.-funded infrastructure.

SIGAR released a report detailing how badly U.S. resources had been managed, and the reasons America was finally moving toward Afghanistan’s exits. We weren’t spending enough money. It was because the American leaders didn’t agree on how success should or would look in Afghanistan. SIGAR says that the result was: “The lack of periodic reality check created the risk to do the wrong thing perfectly. A project that completes the required tasks would be considered successful, regardless of whether it has achieved larger, more pressing goals.

The U.S. has not been friendly to Afghans seeking to flee the country’s devastated homeland. Tens of thousands of Afghan translators, engineers, and other personnel who worked with contractors or American forces are now seeking to migrate to the U.S. However, they find it extremely difficult to achieve this due to strict immigration laws, red tape, and lots of bureaucratic paperwork.

The current backlog includes 18,000 primary applicants, with over 50,000 relatives. They are trying to apply for Special Immigration Visas that will allow them to enter America from Afghanistan. Additional 28,000 people are applying for special entry for humanitarian reasons. Biden’s administration claimed it will evacuate at most 50,000 Afghans. However, as of November, only 100 applications had been accepted.

But is it really over? Still in force is the congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force which was used to first send our troops to Afghanistan. Military leaders insisted that President Joe Biden keep certain forces at the base, just as they had urged President Donald Trump. Trump and Biden were forced to fight generals that wanted to take advantage of what the Americans had demanded for so long.

While the troops might be leaving, our drones will remain in Afghanistan. Biden plans to continue using drones, even though his administration restricts the use of drone strikes against other countries. In a speech on August 31 marking the removal of the troops, Biden said, “We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground—or very few, if needed. In the last week, we have already demonstrated that capability. ISIS-K was attacked remotely by us, just days after 13 servicemembers were killed and many innocent Afghans were murdered.

This claim that ISIS-K was attacked remotely ought to serve as an example of the many missteps we made in Afghanistan. The military’s intelligence was incorrectly interpreted a few days later. ISIS terrorists were not killed by the U.S. Ten innocent Afghans were killed by the U.S.

We would be better off if we were able to say good riddance—once and for all—to two decades of bad foreign policy and failed interventionism in Afghanistan.