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Afghan War: Do Americans support Biden pulling out?

·8 min read
Ask America panel on Afghanistan
Ask America panel on Afghanistan

Americans have reacted with mixed emotions to President Joe Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan over the next few months.

The withdrawal comes nearly 20 years after the US invaded the Central Asian nation in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack in New York City.

Supporters of Mr Biden's historic decision contend that it is a long overdue end to a "forever war".

But critics fear it could create a dangerous power vacuum in the region.

Public polls indicate Americans have mixed views about the war in Afghanistan. According to Gallup, more than 40% of people have long believed the military effort to be a mistake, while others support maintaining a robust military presence in the country.

We asked members of the BBC's Ask America panel to share their thoughts on Mr Biden's decision.

Here's what two war veterans - one who voted for Mr Biden and one who did not - as well as the son of an Afghanistan veteran had to say.

Michelle Dunkley
Michelle Dunkley

A 20-year veteran of the US Air Force Reserves, Michelle deployed to Afghanistan in 2016 and was the head nurse in a medical team. She fears that, when US troops pull out, the country will go downhill and become a breeding ground for terrorists.

Do you agree with the decision to withdraw?

I do not and I didn't support former president Trump's decision to remove them by 1 May.

Afghanistan is a very troubled country. Back in the 60s and early 70s, it was a very modern society for that time period, at least in the larger cities. Now, people are afraid. I've met several Afghans in the US and they think it's just going to lead the country even further down the wrong path.

We spent almost 20 years in that country and we have nothing to show for it. It was not a well thought-out invasion. There was no plan to actually defeat the Taliban [hardline Islamist group]; terrorists go into hiding, bide their time and come back out to fight again.

What has the US lost or gained from this nearly 20 year war?

The US has lost several thousand military members. Nato countries who went to Afghanistan in support of this effort have lost a lot of things. I don't see a lot of gain.

The US built a small hospital on the edge of Bagram Air Force Base, with 20 beds. It was donated to the Afghans, but it's been empty ever since it was built, because there's no electricity, no running water and the Afghans don't have the money or the knowledge to provide services in that location. What does that tell you about the country? We've only taught them how to fight each other.

Right now, the benefit to Afghanistan is there's more freedom for females. I'm afraid that, when the US leaves, the Taliban is going to throw them out of school again and take away the few rights they do have in the country.

Should the US maintain its overseas military presence or instead focus on domestic issues?

The US military is not meant for domestic issues. National Guard troops that are manned by state governors are your domestic fighters.

As far as the US not sending troops overseas or sending fewer troops overseas, the US is the remaining superpower for the world, unfortunately or fortunately. The alternative - China - has a pretty good plan and they are out there building roads and infrastructure in other countries.

Isaiah Reeves
Isaiah Reeves

Isaiah was about eight years old when his father, an Army Reservist, shipped off to Afghanistan. He supports President Biden's decision and argues it should have happened even sooner.

Do you agree with the decision to withdraw?

Yes. We've been there for too long, and we've contributed to more destabilisation and deaths of civilians over the course of the last 20 years. I can't reasonably listen to an argument that we are making the world better by being there.

We killed [Al-Qaeda founder and leader Osama] Bin Laden, but the Taliban is more or less in control of a good portion of the country. So, I just don't see any significant progress that's been made.

Donald Trump said he was going to pull out, Barack Obama said he was going to do it, but it didn't really happen. I think it's just been a complete waste of lives and money.

What has the US lost or gained from this?

Materially, what's the dollar total that's been spent on this war? Not to mention Iraq. Every single penny could have been better spent stateside or through USAID. And that's just the material cost. There's the cost of lives on the American side, the cost of tens of thousands - potentially hundreds of thousands - of civilian casualties, and the displacement of well over two million in the region. None of those are good things.

My dad was stationed at Bagram Air Force Base and he was actually the only [trauma-certified] ophthalmologist in the country. Most civilian physicians had left the country. He took care of not only US soldiers, but civilians, Afghan soldiers and insurgents as well. He's told me all kinds of stories and I've seen pictures of the damage done to civilians in attacks, indirectly or directly, by US and insurgent forces.

Should the US maintain its overseas military presence?

The US military is a hammer and everything looks like a nail. I'm not saying the US should not be involved overseas, but I don't think the US military is a proper vehicle for that. Over the past 40 years, we've been engaged in conflicts in the Middle East: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen. The whole purpose of the establishment of NATO and the UN was to have a more multilateral approach to these issues, and they don't really do that. The first answer to questions should not be a militaristic solution. It should be more so a diplomatic one.

Scott Nolan
Scott Nolan

The product of a military family, Scott served with the US Navy in several countries through the 1980s. He did not support extracting US troops from Afghanistan under President Trump, who he voted for this November, and continues to not support the decision under President Biden.

Do you agree with the decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan?

It is a terrible decision. The United States was attacked on 11 September 2001. Over 2,000 people were killed. It was the worst attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor. We still have troops in Japan and in Germany. By taking troops out of Afghanistan, we're going to lose everything that we fought for.

The President seems to think that either the job was done or that the job didn't need doing in the first place. The theory behind putting troops in Germany and Japan was not revenge or to keep the people down. In fact, Germany and Japan benefited vastly from the presence of the US there and still do. The purpose of having troops in Afghanistan is to stabilise Afghanistan and to allow the people of goodwill and hard work there to have normal lives.

The choice to do it on September 11 as symbolism is as tone deaf a move as any president has done for many years. It is a painful slap in the face to anyone who lost a friend, family member or any other associate. I lost brothers in arms as well as countrymen that day.

What has the US lost or gained from this nearly 20 year war?

The US' engagement in the world, not as some sort of police force, but as the only power capable of bringing stability to war-torn regions, is spent to create security at home and hopefully a world less likely to tear itself apart with radicalism.

Every service member that goes over there knows that they are risking their lives and they're not doing it to occupy some foreign power, or for natural resources, or any other reasons. They are there as volunteers: to create security in the United States and to create stability for people who desperately need it.

It has cost us lives but not in a sustained or large-scale way for many years. How many lives has it saved? We'll never know. With the president removing those troops, I very much fear we're about to find out.

Should the US maintain its overseas military presence?

There's a lot going on at home that needs doing and I'm not for greater engagement or for fighting wars. But we have lived in three-quarters of a century of stability and peace here in the United States, largely because our young men and women are out there creating peace in the places which might otherwise drag us into foreign wars.

To spend billions now to keep our troops in places that might otherwise flare up might save us tens of billions or even trillions in the future, to say nothing of the thousands and thousands of lives. And it's not just our lives, Afghan lives are at risk.

If I was an Afghan and I had any chance of leaving that country, I'd be doing it right now because there will be a slaughter when the Taliban takes over and there will be a reckoning for everyone who supported the United States.

America has a great tradition of supporting people in their quest for liberty and for ordinary lives, but we also have a terrible tradition of losing focus, getting bored, going home and leaving those people we promised to help to suffer the consequences, whether it's the Hmong tribesmen in Vietnam or the Kurds in Northern Iraq.

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