Assessing Afghanistan

Members of the school community share their opinions on recent conflict in Afghanistan involving its occupation by the Taliban


Sandra Koretz

The United States government announced that U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would be complete by Aug. 31, 2021, after the U.S. and the Taliban signed the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan Feb. 29, 2020, under the Trump administration. As the date for military withdrawal approached, the world watched closely while the Taliban seized Kabul, the capital of the country.

U.S. Army Engineer Officer and alumna Kimberly Jung ’04, who was deployed to the Middle East in 2010, spent time aiding Afghan women after earning her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the United States Military Academy in 2008.

Jung said promoting peace in Afghanistan is crucial to the development of the country.

“An Afghanistan that is connected and engaged with the world is a more peaceful and progressive Afghanistan,” Jung said.

After spending 20 years fighting Taliban forces in Afghanistan, the United States left Kabul, which was previously overtaken by the Taliban on Aug. 15. This marked the end of U.S. military aid in the country. Millions of Afghan citizens now struggle to escape the country as Taliban forces continue to block roads and retract liberties previously granted to women.

As the Taliban holds power over the country, women’s rights in the area continue to be repressed. More specifically, the Taliban is known for their strict adherence to Shariah law, and previously forced women to abide by those laws. This banned Afghan women from attending schools and placed several strict restrictions on women’s legal rights.

The United States Armed Forces entered Afghanistan in 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks. This marked the beginning of the war in the Middle East as the U.S. attempted to fight terrorist forces abroad.

Luke Madden ’24 said that he believes the country’s refusal to intervene and the reversal of women’s rights will be consequential.

“The dangers of the Taliban continuing to take away the rights of women is that it completely destroys the future of so many promising young women in the country,” Madden said. “It also sets a dangerous precedent that shows that the United States will not intervene in the case of human rights abuses, which is extremely worrying to our allies in Taiwan and elsewhere that are being threatened by major powers.”

According to a poll, 53.3% of surveyed students disagree with U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Stephen Purdum ’22 said the intricate nature of the ongoing war has only led to the turbulent withdrawal from the region.

“It’s a fantastically complicated issue and one on which neither myself nor any high schooler is really equipped to comment on,” Purdum said. “However, there is no denying that despite 20 years of involvement and over $1 trillion in expenditures, we have failed to improve the lives of the people of Afghanistan and rather have, in many instances, made them significantly worse.”

Purdum also said although the effects of involvement in Afghanistan have been both positive and negative, he feels there was never a reason for intervention in the first place.

“Obviously too much interventionism is never a good thing, and long-term involvement in Afghanistan has been pretty bad, but, at the same time, the way in which we are leaving has only made the problem worse,” Purdum said. “It is kind of an impossible situation, and ultimately the only real solution [is to] never [have gotten] involved in the first place.”

Madden said social media has continued to play a large role in influencing the opinions of students, and the rapid spread of information has also been dangerous during other historical events over the past year.

“We have seen this a lot over the past year, the fast spread of information can be a good and bad thing,” Madden said. “But it also informs and encourages people about the subject in question. With social media and the internet, you are able to get a lot more information a lot more quickly, from a variety of sources, across all different viewpoints and across the political spectrum.”

Middle East Studies and Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History Teacher Dror Yaron said students should continue to educate themselves on the power struggle in Afghanistan.

“Students need to read a combination of mainstream press, foreign policy or foreign affairs journals,” Yaron said. “Students shouldn’t be seduced by the punditry that you might find on news broadcasts that seek to constantly publicize information.”

Although the U.S. military is no longer actively fighting in the country, millions of Afghan citizens are left trapped by the Taliban. Former President Donald Trump White House Staffer and alumnus Alec “AJ” Sugarman ’10 said the U.S. State Department and other refugee organizations are working to aid legible Afghan citizens to safety.

“Congressional staff and the State Department have been attempting to assist Afghans since last week,” Sugarman said. “The State Department is working to process the visas of Afghans and get them to safety.”

Sugarman said the current situation in Afghanistan is unique due to of the power dynamic between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

“I think what is unique is we just haven’t seen the United States get beaten in such an obvious way by a non-state actor, close to a terrorist group,” Sugarman said. “I don’t know that it is unique in American history, but I think that it is unique in terms of U.S. having to ask or beg an enemy to leave without attacking, rather than acting from a position of strength.”

Jung said Afghan citizens are now learning how to adapt and rebuild the country despite restrictive government measures recently reinstated by the new Taliban government in Afghanistan.

“The Afghan people [have been] strong in the face of adversity and have proven themselves time and time again, despite the international narrative,” Jung said. “Although the situation is chaotic, Afghan security forces and businesses are taking steps to establish a new normal under [the] new Taliban government, and they will survive and thrive. There are complex relationships and politics [at work in the situation] that many of [us here in the] U.S. can only begin to understand.”