Afghanistan’s collapse to the Taliban is deeper than just U.S. troops leaving

University faculty discuss the United States role in Afghanistan.


Shannon's photo courtesy of Florida Atlantic University and Hanne's photo courtesy of Hanne. Graphic by Marcy Wilder and Michelle Rodriguez-Gonzalez.

Kelly Shannon (right) is the director of the PJHR and works to promote the fight for peace, social justice, and human rights. Professor Hanne (left) works with area of expertise in medieval Islamic history & culture and Islamic numismatics.

Natalia Ribeiro, News Editor

The United States invaded Afghanistan shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, opening up a war that lasted the past 20 years. In early August, President Biden said he would withdraw American troops, and by the end of the month, the country fell to the hands of the Taliban.

When asked about why the U.S. went into Afghanistan, Angela Nichols, Ph.D, assistant director of the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights Initiative (PJHR) at the university, said that the reasons at first could be attributed to human rights, but now it’s common for people to say oil and money.

“We went into Afghanistan for money. We stayed in Afghanistan for money. We left Afghanistan when there wasn’t any more money,” said Nichols. “That’s the sad truth from an analysis perspective.”

Eric Hanne, assistant professor in the Department of History, explained that the Taliban came into power in the 1990s and although lacking the necessary equipment, they were supporting and harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban controlled Afghanistan until the U.S. toppled the fundamentalist Islamic force. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, after the 9/11 attacks, former President Bush called on the Taliban regime to hand over the leaders of al-Qaeda.

“We didn’t have an exit plan, and that was what was frustrating,” said Hanne. “But I also under-
stood that it was essential that we ruled out the Taliban.”

President Biden has not backed down on his decision of withdrawing the U.S. troops from Afghanistan, saying he wouldn’t extend a forever war. U.S. troops left the country for good on Aug. 31.

Kelly Shannon, Ph.D, director of PJHR, said that the recent takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan is on the shoulders of both former President Donald Trump’s and President Biden’s administrations.

“[The] U.S. got tired of Afghanistan and they just wanted out. That was really obvious to the
Taliban,” said Shannon. “So, when the Trump administration opened negotiations with them, they legitimized the Taliban by doing that, which undermines the confidence in the authority of the Afghan government.”

Hanne, on the other hand, said it’s easy to point fingers at President Biden and former President Trump but says the fault lies with the administration of former President George W. Bush. He said to look at the efforts that the U.S. put into building an effective military in Afghanistan.

“We didn’t develop a military— we gave them nice shiny weapons, but we didn’t train them. We didn’t seek to build an effective security force,” said Hanne. “If we were really serious about what we’re doing, we should’ve focused on developing the internal infrastructure of Afghanistan’s security forces, both at the local levels and at a military level.”

Nichols explained that the statements from President Biden give the impression that Afghanistan is not on the United States’ list of top priorities. Similar to Trump, she said Biden has responded with the common opinion that the U.S. has more important things to worry about. Nichols said that Biden pointed out that the U.S. has lost about 2,445 soldiers from 2001 to the present, whereas Afghanistan has lost about 59,000 in the same time period.

“It’s not a national priority right now and we’re focused on domestic issues,” said Nichols. “Biden inherited Trump’s policies, but because it’s not a big policy issue that’s very [important] in American politics right now, Biden doesn’t have any reason to change the policy that Trump agreed to, even if it’s faulty.”

Shannon said that Afghan people who worked for the Afghan government, with U.S. troops, or with Western non-government organizations (NGOs) are terrified of the Taliban coming after them. She said it’s a matter of time before the Taliban turns their attention back to oppressing its people, as they did back in the 1990s when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan.

“They’ve already proven themselves to be incredibly brutal to people who disagree with them,” said Shannon. “Their version of Islam is the most radically conferred conservative that’s ever existed. It’s not what Islam actually says, so when [the Taliban] make statements, I think you can’t believe a word they say.”

According to CNBC, more than 23,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in the U.S. since the Taliban took control. The numbers offer a look into the immigration efforts that will be required in the coming months as countries try to find permanent residences for Afghans who may face imminent danger from the Taliban.

Nichols said it’s disappointing that we aren’t doing better in terms of accepting refugees into the country.

“We don’t want to spend the money and the resources,” said Nichols. “Let’s be honest, how many refugees do we accept in this country? Most refugees live in countries that Americans would be surprised to realize, like Lebanon and Greece.”

Shannon agreed that the U.S. and our allies needed to be more emphatic about evacuating Afghans. The only problem, she said, is now that the U.S. does not have a presence in Afghanistan, the evacuation efforts for the citizens still in Afghanistan fall on the Taliban’s goodwill.

“A lot of these types of things were not well thought out before the U.S. left, and it didn’t just affect the U.S. The British have been scrambling because they were not prepared for this to happen,” said Shannon. “They’re really angry with the U.S. for this happening because they got caught off guard. They haven’t been able to hold up their promises to their allies either as a result of U.S. decisions.”

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of our September issue titled “SG Leaders Unmasked,” which you can pick up on campus or read online here.

Natalia Ribeiro is the News Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories email [email protected] or tweet her @nataliar_99.