Twenty years ago, the U.S. government entered Afghanistan under false pretenses and earlier this year left it worse than they found it. After spending over $146 billion in Afghanistan reconstruction during the 20 year U.S. Occupation, the Taliban have retaken over the country, and Afghanistan is on the brink of a major humanitarian crisis, if not already in one, due to poor economic conditions.
As Scott Horton points to in his book “Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan,” the U.S. never had to enter Afghanistan in the first place as the Taliban offered to hand over Osama-bin-laden several times and never supported nor knew of the actions of the 9/11 terrorists, until of course after 9/11.
But the U.S. government decided to track down bin-laden the hard way by entering a war with the Taliban and trying to prop up a new Afghan government that was never fully supported by a majority of the population.
According to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), The U.S. spent $146 billion in Afghanistan reconstruction during its 20-year occupation, with $89 billion going to training and supporting the Afghan National Security Forces, which no longer exists. SIGAR also notes that 91 percent of assets, worth $723.8 million, which were allocated towards 60 U.S. infrastructure projects, were wasted.
Not only was a lot of money wasted in the 20-year occupation, but the U.S. left behind a significant amount of equipment in its withdrawal. According to an unnamed official, the Taliban took control of more than 2,000 armored vehicles, including American Humvees, and as many as 40 aircraft, including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drones. While there is no complete picture of how much equipment the U.S. left behind, it could possibly be upwards of $80 billion.
“We don’t have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone, but certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday, The Hill reported. “And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”
With the new Taliban regime, women’s rights previously enjoyed during the U.S. occupation are under assault. According to Al Jazeera, the Taliban has not yet allowed teenage girls to return to schools. It is also uncertain whether women will be allowed to participate in the workforce long term. A Taliban spokesperson said that women would have rights under the Taliban regime; however, LBGTQ will not enjoy the same freedoms.
Following the U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan faces dire economic circumstances, at least in part because of the U.S. sanctions and the freezing of $9 billion in Afghanistan Central Bank Reserves. According to the World Bank, 14 billion people, about a third of Afghanistan, were on the brink of starvation at the end of last month.
“The money belongs to the Afghan nation. Just give us our own money,” ministry spokesman Ahmad Wali Haqmal told Reuters. “Freezing this money is unethical and is against all international laws and values.”
Member of the Afghan Central Bank, Shah Mehrabi, said there is enough in the reserves to keep Afghanistan functioning until the end of the year. Mehrabi said that hungry refugees would likely go to Europe if the U.S. The Federal Reserve, the German lender Commerzbank, and The Bank for International Settlements did not release the funds they are holding.
“If reserves remain frozen, Afghan importers will not be able to pay for their shipments, banks will start to collapse, food will become scarce, grocery stores will be empty,” Mehrabi said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. would be providing $144 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. However, this is not nearly enough to cover the cost of U.S. sanctions and the freezing of $9 billion in Afghanistan Central Bank reserves, $7 billion of which are held in the federal reserve. Masuda Sultan, an Afghan-American entrepreneur, said the freezing of funds is especially troubling because NGOs had allocated much of these funds to Afghans, not the Taliban.
The U.N. has begun to provide support and the EU decided to re-open its embassies in Kabul in November.
On top of the U.S. freezing of national funds, there has been a run on banks in Afghanistan. According to Al Jazeera, it took already overstretched banks weeks to re-open after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
Once the banks did re-open, they placed a $200 weekly limit on cash withdrawal that led to long lines of people waiting outside for hours and sometimes days to withdraw cash. Afghans in the U.S. have found it challenging to support family members in Afghanistan, with Western Union and MoneyGram placing the same $200 limit on withdrawals.
There are several charities with operations helping in Afghanistan or with Afghan refugees, such as Save the Children. People are encouraged to research how they can help if they feel led through lobbying for better U.S./International policies or directly helping those oppressed or in poor economic situations within Afghanistan.