More American troops in Afghanistan were killed in the August 26 suicide bombing of Hamid Karzai International Airport than all of 2020. The attack was perpetrated by a member of ISIL-Khorasan, an appendage of the Islamic State that was founded in 2015.
Anytime an American servicemember dies in the line of duty the pangs of regret are felt by the public. The emotion is maximized among those who view the War in Afghanistan as a futile attempt to force a Western-style democracy down the throats of a population unanimously supportive of Sharia Law.
Worse yet, of all the American troops killed in the attack, one was over 30 years old. The median age of the vanquished was 22. The most common age was 20.
It is no secret that many Americans troops in the most dangerous combat situations are barely adults. But sending boys – one stubbled mustache away from being child soldiers – to fight and die in a war that was started and botched by their parents’ generation is unforgivably sinister.
And they were days from making it home. They only stayed behind to clean up the last remaining debris from President Biden’s mind-bogglingly inefficient – and now, deadly – withdrawal.
Given that only about 5,000 of some 100,000 people evacuated from Kabul to the US so far were Americans, one must wonder what priority the nation’s citizens occupied in the minds and agendas of their saviors at the Pentagon and White House.
Perhaps it is foolish to assume that a regime that sends its best, brightest, and youngest to perish in pointless wars would act quickly to save the Americans trapped in the third world boondoggle their government created for them.
Or perhaps the situation is more complicated. Regardless, of the thirteen Americans currently confirmed KIA, at least five were infants during the initial invasion. Six were toddlers.
At least one of the 20-year-olds killed, Rylee McCollum, was an expectant father. His child was due three weeks from his death and is still unborn at the time of writing.
With a little luck, and a complete restructuring of American foreign policy, Rylee’s child will get to live long enough to become a parent.
But let us not forget exactly why this war has taken nearly twenty years longer than it should have.
In October 2001, during the initial US invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban was holding Osama bin Laden prisoner. They proffered a deal that stipulated that if the US halted its bombing of Afghanistan and offered evidence implicating bin Laden in the 9/11 attacks, they would turn him over to any neutral country for extradition to the US. The Pashtunwali code of asylum held by the Taliban’s dominant ethnic group, the Pashtuns, prohibits them from handing a prisoner over to his pursuers.
Clearly, the Taliban leadership was capable of nuance in this scenario, and this deal was their completely reasonable way of reconciling bin Laden’s sins with their ancient code.
Then-President George W. Bush had no such capability. He rejected the deal, and the invasion continued.
In December 2001, bin Laden and the remnants of al-Qaeda were pinned down in Tora Bora on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan. Fewer than 100 American Special Operations commandos were pursuing him alongside their allies in the Northern Alliance, and they repeatedly requested reinforcements to finish the job.
They were stonewalled by General Tommy Franks, who rejected the request for reinforcements and allowed bin Laden to slip across the border into Pakistan.
There the pursuit ended, as though the crossing of some arbitrary political boundary ignored by nearly every local insurgent group meant US efforts for revenge were thwarted.
Of course, this border crossing was an excuse. The Pentagon abandoned its pursuit of bin Laden for the same reason Bush rejected the Taliban’s offer of extradition and the same reason General Franks rejected the US commandos’ requests for reinforcements in Tora Bora: they did not want to catch him.
The ephemeral threat of bin Laden shepherding his jihadist forces in the shadow of the Hindu Kush mountains is far more terrifying to the American public than a quick and decisive act of bloody revenge. Indeed, a terrified public is the only way to justify a continued US military presence in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
That is why over a dozen American troops died at an airport in Kabul this week. That is why Rylee McCollum’s child will grow up without a father. Because the architects of the War on Terror needed their war.
At this point, it goes without saying that nothing of value was accomplished by America’s war in Afghanistan. After twenty years, $2.3 trillion, and roughly 6,300 Americans dead, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is still the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban is still in charge. Everything is as it should be.
Minus a few notable exceptions.
Jacob D. Witte is an independent writer and graduate student in Fort Wayne, Indiana.