President Joe Biden has announced the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. After 20 years of war, the 3,500 remaining soldiers are set to leave, a figure itself down from 100,000 in 2011. Nevertheless, the 160,000 Afghan victims of war will remain, as will the 26,000 Afghan children who were either killed or mutilated. The real story here is not that Biden has announced the military withdrawal; nor is it that the U.S. is departing from Afghanistan. What the most powerful army on the planet is leaving behind is blood and sorrow: The United States may be departing, but the death, the victims and the sorrow of the Afghan nation remain.
More than 1.25 million American soldiers have passed through Afghanistan in the last 20 years during a war suffered by 40 million Afghan citizens. These soldiers are joined by the mercenaries euphemistically referred to as “contractors.” According to official figures from the Pentagon, it employs around seven mercenaries for every soldier. Currently, there are around 18,000 of them.
In the last few years, and to avoid the social repercussions resulting from the deaths of more soldiers, the Pentagon increasingly has been turning to the use of drones. These drones are responsible for the deaths of many civilians, having targeted wedding ceremonies, religious gatherings, farmers working in their fields, buses and individual cars: the cynically named “collateral damage.”
Western media outlets inform us of the exact number of U.S. soldiers killed in action, whereas they only give us a rough estimate of the number of Afghan civilians killed during the last 20 years of war. This is because the Afghan deaths in rural areas, which is where four out of five Afghans live, are generally not registered in the statistics.
Between 2009 and 2018, close to 6,500 children were killed, and a further 15,000 were injured, making Afghanistan one of the most lethal war zones in the world in 2018. An average of nine children were killed every day between January and September 2019, according to the UNICEF report “Preserving Hope in Afghanistan: Protecting Children in the World’s Most Lethal Conflict.”
Afghanistan is perhaps one of the world’s most mineral-rich countries, with deposits of gold, copper, lithium, uranium, iron ore, cobalt, zinc, semiprecious gems and stones, natural gas and oil. Twenty years later, it is significantly poorer and less developed, and is among the most impoverished countries in the world.
The country ranks at number 157 out of a total of 192. This means that its inhabitants are among those with the lowest life expectancy in the world, at 64.49 years. According to the Afghan government’s own statistics, between 42% and 55% of its population lives below the international poverty line, defined as receiving a daily income of less than $2 per day; only 64% of the population has access to unpolluted drinking water.
The country has the highest rate of infant mortality in the world, 104.25 deaths per 1,000 normal births, and one of the highest rates of illiteracy, sitting at number 156 out of 164, according to Index Mundi. Almost 55% of children under the age of 12 suffer from some kind of developmental disorder, be it in their physical or mental development, principally due to poor nutrition. In fact, in Afghanistan, there are 600,000 children under the age of five who suffer from severe malnutrition. The 20 years of war have meant that 3.7 million children have not been attending school, something that particularly affects minors who live in rural areas.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
Donald Trump had already agreed to the military withdrawal from Afghanistan with the Taliban by May 8 of this year. Biden has pushed it back until Sept. 11. The date corresponds with the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the justification alleged by the George W. Bush administration for invading the country. The Afghanistan war, which officially began on Oct. 7, 2001, is the longest in the history of the United States.
The war has lasted for as long as the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, both world wars and the Korean War put together. It is a conflict that has cost more than $1 trillion. Since it began, the United States has dropped more bombs on Afghanistan than in any of its previous wars.
Biden has recognized that he is the fourth American president responsible for the military presence of his country in Afghanistan. What Biden does not seem to have remembered is that he was already vice president under Barack Obama, nor that during this presidency, the Pentagon maintained the maximum number of military units, more than 100,000, including the day that Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequently, in the years that followed, the deployment gradually has reduced in size, eventually arriving at the current figure of 3,500.
The supposed objective of America’s endless war was to defeat the Taliban. As the U.S. withdrawal is announced, however, the Taliban control 46% of the territory in Afghanistan, more than at any other time since the invasion in 2001 by the North American superpower.