As I watched President Biden deliver his televised address on the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan to end a 20-year “war forever”, I thought back to our two decades of covering Afghanistan.
I appreciated his understanding of the sacrifices made by the US military in combat there. With my skilled crews, we drove with them through dangerous mountain valleys and rode with them to Humvees on rugged trails along the deadly borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We descended to the top of the mountains from helicopters into the perilous Kunar Valley. And endured 110-degree heat in dusty isolated outposts in the Helmand region. While being shot down by a relentless enemy.
These brave Americans, mostly young, have faced the worst of looming challenges. And indeed, in the end, countered the terrorist threat there. Biden is right. After all this time, the soldiers who remain there deserve to come home.
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I also remember our first visit to Afghanistan 20 years ago this spring, before September 11, when American troops were not there. When the Taliban was in charge. We were there to prepare a series of special reports on what life was like under the oppressive Islamist regime – and it wasn’t pretty.
Women were oppressed and girls prevented from going to school. Freedom of expression has been trampled on and justice brutal and swift.
We have had our own clashes with the Taliban. Like the time we tried to do “secret” interviews with men on the streets in Kandahar city, southern Afghanistan, about how the government was running things. We were discovered very quickly and almost left town.
I think about this trip because, unbelievably after 20 years, the Taliban threat remains in Afghanistan. They now run parts of the country. And when the United States and its NATO allies leave by September, many experts say it will only be a matter of time until the Taliban returns to power in one form or another. ‘
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Many experts also say that even if it happens, it will not be the same. This Taliban 2.0 should be a more measured version of the five-year reign of terror that existed before. That they should reflect the progress made in society and reach out to at least some outside countries, which could moderate their behavior.
But it is not finished. Almost all analysts say we don’t even know what the Taliban’s shared governance would look like. And what new security risks could arise again for the United States.
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Which reminds me of other trips I took for Fox, covering American troops around the world. Tens of thousands of Americans are still stationed in South Korea, long after the active fighting has ended. And Germany, with even more time between any real fighting there and today. Parked in these remote locations – just for reassurance and peace of mind.
President Biden reflects a majority opinion in the United States that its longest war deserves to be ended, especially for our men and women in uniform who have given so much. And, hopefully, that country’s interests in the region will always be protected.
But we can also think of all the wonderful Afghans we have met over the years, men and women, boys and girls. And I hope they don’t have to pay the price.
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