By Dat Cao*
Afghanistan was the first country liberated by the United States in the War on Terror after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The country ruled by the repressive Taliban regime was harboring and aiding al Qaeda terrorists who were responsible for carrying out the strike against the United States. After repeated calls for the Taliban to denounce terrorism were met with deaf ears, the United Statesand its allies launched an invasion of the country dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001and drove the Taliban out of the capital of Kabulin little more than a month later on November 13th.
Since then, the United States has engaged in another liberation, that one on the country of Iraq ruled by an equally despicable tyrant, Saddam Hussein. This military operation has been more controversial and thus has received most of the attention of the world ever since. Iraq’s status is tracked daily by the media outlets throughout the world and its fate has been tied to politicians in countries half a world away. Meanwhile, Afghanistanis quietly struggling to rebuild itself after decades of warfare and strife.
This lack of notice on Afghanistan does not make it less important, however. Located in a strategically important region of the world, wedged between the rogue nation of Iran to the west, the volatile American ally of Pakistan to its east and the uncertainty of the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan to the north, Afghanistan’s success as a democratic and stable country is essential to American security.
Today, only two months from the upcoming five year anniversary of the liberation of Afghanistan, the country is still struggling to secure itself, despite the progress U.S. and NATO forces have made. The nation has held elections for its president and legislature over the last couple of years. Improvements have been made to scattered regions of the country as foreign troops along with NGOs have contributed to rebuilding the country. Afghanistanis slowly building its own military and police force, so that it can one day stand by itself.
Despite all of these advances, there is still much work to be done in Afghanistan. Violence has increased in the past year as the remnants of the Taliban regime along with al Qaeda elements have emerged with a vengeance, especially in the southern regions. Much of the billions of dollars of aid that has been promised by the international community have seemed to be lost in the transition with no tangible improvements to be seen. The legislature is full of former warlords and other questionable people who are seen as roadblocks to further reforms. The poppy trade has flourished in the last year, fueling the chaos and violence that still engulfs much of the nation. Furthermore, the border with Pakistan remains porous as insurgents use Afghanistan’s neighbor as a safe haven to strike with impunity.
To ensure a bright future for Afghanistan, the international community, led by the United States need to redouble their efforts in rebuilding the nation. The outpouring of aid needs to be monitored so that it can actually reach the people. More pressure needs to be placed onPakistanto ensure that the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies do not have a refuge to hide. A possible increase of troops might be needed to provide the necessary security for both the people, so they will have the courage to rebuild in the face of threats and attacks and for aid workers, who are risking their lives to help reconstruct the country.
* Dat Cao is a former intern with the Center for Security Policy and a student of international relations at Stanford University.
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