The 20th anniversary of 9/11 calls for responsibility with Afghanistan

Andrew Cummings | Multimedia Editor. An American flag flies above A-Walk on Duquesne’s campus. The anniversary of 9/11 is on Saturday.

Zoe Stratos | opinions editor

Sept. 9, 2021

Nearly 20 years ago, Americans all across the country watched in horror the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, leaving nearly 3,000 people dead in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa.

Four commercial airliners struck the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. The bravery of the passengers, the workers and our first responders was extraordinary.

The power of 9/11 has stuck with us, even to this day. An overwhelming amount of people remember where they were, what they were doing — and those not old enough to remember — are still taught the importance of the origin of the war on terrorism.

Just 20 years later, we watched, yet again, as the mission, which started just after 9/11 in Afghanistan, came to a bloody end.

The post-9/11 era concluded with the Taliban reclaiming control of the country that served as a base for the historical attack on the nation, coming full-circle as we remember the day.

The mission, code-named first Operation Enduring Freedom and then Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, was a tremendous bipartisan investment spanning the terms of four presidents; it failed, ending with Americans and Afghans alike fleeing Kabul.

Starting as a mission of counterterrorism, the goal changed to one of nation building — that’s when the mission creep began. The original mission was achievable, and for the most part, successful, but ultimately the Taliban were going to reclaim the country as soon as the U.S. pulled out — no matter how much time and money we put into it.

After nearly 20 years, $1 trillion dollars and focused military involvement, the attempts to reform Afghanistan’s military and political structure, and destroy terrorist ideology was reduced to a waste of time in a matter of days.

Debates will continue over whether the U.S. should have kept military presence, but it seems, at this point, most Americans wanted out anyway, arguing that our priorities should remain more domestic in nature.

The history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan goes back too far to recount each step, with troops constantly being sent and pulled out during the Obama administration, as well as the Trump administration.

It’s hard to say what the correct decision is in these so-called forever wars; a humanitarian side would want peace and safety for the people, especially the women, of Afghanistan, but realistically, the back and forth of attacks and peace treaties would spiral endlessly for who knows how many years — to no avail.

Knowing the truth and push back regarding the Vietnam War, President Biden was correct in his decision to forego the rosy reports about the progress of the war in Afghanistan, and instead pull out the troops before the inevitable Taliban victory. But it shouldn’t have ended with such chaos, and with little thought for citizens who sacrificed so much for a better Afghanistan.

For years, Afghans worked alongside American aid until suddenly on Aug. 15, they found themselves stranded. Even the president, Ashraf Ghani, fled as the Taliban swept the capital.

Responsibility lies with both parties, but the Biden administration must make it right.

The Biden administration should have taken more care to protect those who risked everything in pursuit of a better future, while also reaffirming the U.S.’s strength as a global hegemon.

The disastrous total pullout undermines the claim that “America is back,” and the damage of international affairs is two-fold moving forward in the Biden administration. 

First, it will bring about the belief that American power is in decline, allowing for other global powers to rise and sow distrust into the fold. Second, the disregard for the lives of Afghans will cause allies to doubt U.S. commitment to multilateralism and international cooperation.

Domestically, the failed mission is recoverable. With 9/11 at the forefront of media attention this week, putting his focus into pandemic efforts and an all around sense of patriotism will quell the minds of some Americans. 

But in this time, we can never forget the events of 9/11, and the events of Afghanistan.

Both are cemented in our history, and we have to take responsibility for our response, no matter the subject, within and beyond our borders.