Surviving the War on Terror – Scot Scoop News

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When US troops first arrived, Farouq Samim was optimistic about Afghanistan’s future. An overwhelming sense of hope was present when the American first arrived. Since 1996, the Taliban have controlled Afghanistan with an iron fist. Afghan women have been oppressed by the radicalized form of Islam followed by the Taliban. By comparison, the United States represented freedom, liberation, and renewed hope for the nation’s future.

“At first it was like heaven forever […] when American troops and other allies came to Afghanistan, we applauded them. We were so happy […] but it didn’t last long,” Samim said.

In contrast, retaliation was the only thing on Americans’ minds after 9/11. As the nation was seized with a sense of fear, the Global War on Terror was launched by George W. Bush and the United States went all-in.

One of the first moves in the global war on terrorism was the invasion of Afghanistan.

The main objectives were to capture Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of the terrorist organization Al-Qaida, and to punish the Taliban for harboring Al-Qaida.

Driving out the Taliban was the easy part. With the strength and budget of the US military, US forces were able to drive the Taliban from power on December 17, 2001 through Operation Enduring Freedom. However, the elimination of the Taliban left a power vacuum, and one thing the United States was not equipped for was nation building.

Afghan men sit outside a mosque. (Michael Sheikh)

One of the most glaring problems Americans saw in Afghanistan was the desperate need for organization-specific funding. Kathleen Campbell, USAID’s Director of Operations in Afghanistan, noted this fact when she first joined the Ministry of Education in 2002.

“There were no windows in the building. There were offices, but that was really about it. It’s the ministry of education for the whole nation and there’s not even of papers […] And that was pretty typical for almost everywhere in the beginning,” Campbell said.

Before 1996, things were looking up for Afghanistan, especially in the 1960s. A more liberal attitude was present and US aid money seemed to help improve life.

However, the rise to power of the Taliban has caused major setbacks in Afghanistan’s emergence on the world stage. Infrastructure has been one thing that has suffered a lot, causing disparities between different organizations and facilities.

For this reason, the United States has pledged billions of dollars to help Afghanistan with programs like USAID helping to facilitate job creation and providing additional economic aid.

Michael Shaikh was with Human Rights Watch, one of many humanitarian organizations in the region. HRW focused on respecting the human rights of civilians during the fighting between Afghan and Western forces and the Taliban.

Shaikh witnessed first-hand NGO practices in the region and how many larger Western aid programs were ineffective despite large sums of money pouring into the region. At the same time, Shaikh recognized the value of local NGOs run by communities that are better informed about Afghan culture.

“I would say that local NGOs are often more efficient and more compassionate, then, and have a better idea of ​​what refugees need, because they have been neighbors for millennia, […] They probably have a more nuanced and tactile feel for what’s going on, and often speak the languages ​​and similar languages, and share a common religion and culture,” Shaikh said.

Afghan children smile during the day. (Michael Sheikh)

However, this does not mean that international NGOs do nothing. Organizations such as USAID, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, provided 171,000 students with community learning classes. Along with this, USAID has expanded educational opportunities for more than 3 million Afghan girls.

Another main facet of the American intervention in Afghanistan was their military presence. As of August 2021, 800,000 US service members have served in Afghanistan. The United States has spent approximately $2.3 trillion on Afghanistan, including $1.488 billion in military spending. Despite this, over time, the Taliban began to regain power in the country.

“When we first lived there, I was cycling around town, with my daughter on the front of the bike, and by the time I left I was in an armored car,” Paul said. O’Brien, a former government adviser and current executive director of Amnesty International USA.

This hampered the effectiveness of international NGOs, because with more security, officials like O’brien were less connected to the communities they served. Civil servants were unable to interact with their communities without adequate protection and were not educated on the cultures present in reason.

The children were lying in a room surrounded by blue curtains. (Michael Sheikh)

“If you’re posted to, you know, Malawi or Mali in Africa, you know, they try to figure out that you will, if you don’t already speak the main language, then they’ll have you take a course in that for a few months. But there was no time to train because Afghanistan was an emergency,” O’Brien said.

American soldiers were well liked by Afghans when they arrived, but over time perceptions began to change

“When it comes to comparing the troops, they [American troops] were the most, you know, the pockets, you know, they were like, stubborn […] sometimes they hurt more civilians than other soldiers, they didn’t take precautions,” Samim said.

American soldiers deployed in Afghanistan were often very young and immature. 25% of soldiers deployed in Afghanistan were under 25 and 84% were under 35. Similar to officials like O’Brien, they were often unaware of the cultures and history of Afghanistan, their knowledge often limited to guides. written by people like Farouq Samim. All they knew was that they were there to protect the United States.

America’s lack of cultural knowledge often causes communication problems that can cost people their lives. The altercations between American troops and Afghan drivers are a perfect example. Due to threats from the Taliban, American troops have had to live in a constant state of vigilance. At the same time, Afghans living in Kabul had to go about their daily lives, whether or not there were soldiers. Miscommunications occurred, and when they did, things quickly turned tragic.

“Americans are trying to tell cars to stay back and keep their distance so they can judge which cars are hostile or not. […] But some Afghans didn’t always understand the soldiers’ concerns and ended up being injured in those road clashes with the US military,” Shaikh said.

The cracked windshield of a car in Afghanistan. (Michael Sheikh)

The American presence in Afghanistan was never meant to be permanent. As early as 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, despite their rapid loss of power after the first months of the invasion, the Taliban had lingered in Afghanistan.

With Vietnam resenting the war at home, former President Trump struck a deal with the Taliban promising to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

While the actual date of the date has been postponed several times, President Joe Biden has pledged to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by August 31, 2021. The hope was that the Afghan government would be able to shore up the control over the land he owned. However, when US troops began to withdraw, the Taliban quickly recaptured territory. It became clear that the Afghan government that America had spent 20 years strengthening would not last.

Eventually, despite the lack of preparation and against the insistence of many, the last American plane departed on August 31, 2021. The Taliban had taken full control of Afghanistan by August 15. All of USAID’s monetary contributions, advances in women’s education, and American lives lost trying to defeat the Taliban have effectively been for nothing. The American withdrawal from Afghanistan was the most catastrophic retreat since Vietnam, and the United States was leaving behind a humanitarian crisis.

With 3.5 million Afghans displaced and the Taliban rapidly reinstating their hardline policies, many sought asylum elsewhere. One of these people was the sister of Farouq Samim. However, the amnesty process for the United States and Samim’s new homeland, Canada, was incredibly slow.

“I evacuated a sister from Afghanistan, and she was evacuated to the United States to Northern Virginia to pick up a ticket, it’s called, it’s a military base. The situation at Fort Pickett was unbearable, even for an Afghan from a poor country,” Samim said.

Fortunately, Samim was already part of a group of volunteers helping refugees called Operation Abraham. Thanks to Samim’s connections in Afghanistan and his contacts in the Canadian government, his sister was able to get to Canada safely, but many were not so lucky.

“We still have about 89 former colleagues and family members, as well as women judges and people they work with, with the Canadian troops that we are trying to get out of Afghanistan,” Samim said.

Despite all the chaos that has befallen Afghanistan since America left, Shaikh thinks of perseverance as he recalls the stories of the War on Terror.

“We talk about survival, but surviving is the wrong word because it almost sounds passive. People persist. Persist in living and persist in creating opportunities for their children and for themselves,” Shaikh said.

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