Opinion | The Afghanistan War Was Lost Before Biden Ended It
“What we’ve seen overall is an increase in the number of civilians who’ve been killed since 2008,” she said.
There were about 3,000 civilians killed in 2020, and before the Taliban takeover, she said, 2021 was shaping up to be as bad or worse.
Now, even though the Taliban has free rein, she thinks civilian deaths could decline. “Given the collapse, or the withdrawal, of the Afghan national forces, military and police, I actually think we’re not going to reach what we were on track for, because some of these areas, people won’t be contesting for land. There won’t be airstrikes, which kill a lot of people. There will be less shelling.”
As the journalist Azmat Khan wrote on Twitter, “Many young people in rural battlefields have never experienced life without war, without U.S. bombings, Taliban attacks, night raids by Afghan forces, kidnappings.” Hard as it is to understand, “some youth feel they have a shot at a future now.”
Maybe American violence in Afghanistan could be justified if it were improving the average Afghan’s life. But often we seem to have made people’s lives harder. The most recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction paints a damning picture of two decades of American efforts in Afghanistan: “U.S. officials often empowered power brokers who preyed on the population or diverted U.S. assistance away from its intended recipients to enrich and empower themselves and their allies. Lack of knowledge at the local level meant projects intended to mitigate conflict often exacerbated it, and even inadvertently funded insurgents.”
Speaking of those who think Americans could have stayed in Afghanistan long-term simply to avoid losing, Crawford said, “What most of the conversation seems to be assuming here is that the level of civilian misery is taken out of the equation, and all that matters is who controls Kabul.”
Taliban control of Kabul, of course, will also inflict civilian misery, and some youth will feel they’ve lost a shot at a future. There was never a decent way to leave the country, which is why we fought a futile war for 20 years. But there also wasn’t a decent way to stay.