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Afghanistan: Exit but mission not accomplished

Afghanistan: Exit but mission not accomplished
Captain Max Ferguson plays with Afghan children during a joint patrol with Afghan National Army soldiers in Kandahar in August of 2011
October 18th, 2012
01:23 PM ET

This is part of a series on foreign policy issues Christiane Amanpour is analyzing in the-lead up to next week’s presidential debate on foreign affairs. 

By Christiane Amanpour, CNN & ABC

After 9/11, Afghanistan truly was a “War of Necessity”. There was an unusual consensus, not just among the U.S. and NATO powers, but in many parts of the world, including in Iran and other Muslim countries, that Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban who hosted them had to be defeated.

And after they were sent packing from the Afghan battlefield, an extraordinary thing happened. The Afghan people supported the intervention. The land known as the Graveyard of Empires welcomed the new “invaders.” They knew that they had not come to occupy or do harm, but to help achieve a better future after decades of non-stop war and wholesale devastation – not only of infrastructure and institutions, but also the most basic human rights and freedoms.

As the Taliban were forced out of Kabul in November 2001, Afghan men, as well as women and children, voted with their feet. They marched to demand equal education rights for all, including girls, and thus for a more progressive future than the medieval reality the Taliban and the other Mujaheddin fighters had inflicted on them. 

Suddenly the head of the international forces was the new Afghan hero. For a precious couple of years, most of the important indicators –like corruption, child mortality, education and poverty – were heading in a rare upward the right direction. This rare time of hope lasted until President George W. Bush decided to fight a “War of Choice” in Iraq.

The best military minds and commanders, the best resources and attention were suddenly diverted to Iraq, and Afghanistan paid the price. As the Taliban ramped up their presence and their insurgency again, civilians were killed, international forces too, and slowly but surely Afghanistan descended into war again. The once-in-a-generation chance to put back the pieces of this vital Muslim country seems to be slipping away.

Will the presidential election make a difference?

Not much. Both President Barack Obama and challenger Governor Mitt Romney are now committed to ending the war and withdrawing by the end of 2014.


When he came into office, President Obama, tried to reverse the tide of war and leave Afghanistan in a position of greater strength by ordering a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops in December 2009. At its peak, there were about 100,000 U.S. forces in the embattled country.

But now, in an election year, with a weak U.S. economic recovery and with the American people tired of war, all 30,000 of the surge troops came home by the end of September.

In a visit to Afghanistan in May, Obama said, "We are pursuing a negotiated peace. In coordination with the Afghan government, my administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban.”

These talks have so far gone nowhere.


In the vice presidential debates last week, Vice President Biden said, “We are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we're going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We've been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's.”

Biden practically washed the U.S. hands of what happens next in Afghanistan. And the objectives he says are almost completed? Not exactly. Many Afghans fear that the moment international forces leave all will be lost in Afghanistan.

Obama’s initial strategy had been to beat the Taliban into submission so that they would come to the negotiating table, and also crucially to build up the Afghan Army to take over security from U.S. and NATO forces. So far neither mission has been accomplished.

To try to preserve more than a decade’s investment in blood and treasure made by the U.S. and the world, the U.S. has pledged to leave a residual force in Afghanistan: thousands of training troops and special forces for counter-terrorism operations. But those details have yet to be worked out with the Afghan government.


The governor has taken a long time to articulate his vision for Afghanistan. He omitted the topic entirely from his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in August.

But he did raise it when he delivered his first major foreign policy speech of the campaign at the Virginia Military Institute on October 8,agreeing with the President’s exit timetable, while taking political shots.

“I will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” Romney said. “President Obama would have you believe that anyone who disagrees with his decisions in Afghanistan is arguing for endless war. But the route to more war – and to potential attacks here at home – is a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9/11.”

He added, “I will evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders.”
So is Romney leaving the door open to extending the U.S. stay? Not clear. But he rejects Obama’s policy of talks with the Taliban.
"We don't negotiate with terrorists. I do not negotiate with the Taliban. That's something for the Afghans to decide how they're going to ... pursue their course in the future," he said last year during a Republican primary debate.


Romney’s running-mate, Paul Ryan, criticized the Obama administration in the vice presidential debate last week but didn’t commit to a longer timeline in Afghanistan.

“We don't want to lose the gains we've gotten,” Ryan said. “We want to make sure that the Taliban does not come back in and give al-Qaeda a safe haven. We agree with the administration on their 2014 transition.... What we don't want to do is lose the gains we've gotten.”

So, no big difference between the two parties. And no real assurances that any exit will be safe.

This past Sunday, The New York Times threw up its hands, and in a devastating editorial, called for the U.S. to start withdrawing from Afghanistan now. After more than 2,000 U.S. deaths and more than 17,000 severely wounded, the Times says the war which had powerful support at the start, has bled that support away.

The Times points out that coming into office, Obama called Afghanistan a “war we have to win”.

What a tragedy then for Afghanistan, for the United States and for all the nations who fought for a better future to come to this realization: Mission Not Accomplished.

11-year-old girl married to 40-year-old  man in Afghanistan 

Filed under:  Afghanistan
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Pontes

    Some people don't agree with actions taken by our Governments or leaders however to suggest they would rather be invaded by Foreign Army's for 12 years is miss leading
    The sad truth is this wars have been completely devastating for everyone involved including soldiers and there family's nothing positive came from 12 years of wars , sadly only hate, death & Debt.

    my toughs are with the soldiers family's which have to watch there loved ones going on 6th & 7th tours fearing the worst , hopping for the best
    Note- Osama was not in Afghanistan he was iin Pakistan he was killed iin a operation which only lasted 20 minutes not 12 years.

    October 19, 2012 at 8:17 am | Reply
    • Socrates

      Sooner or later world will know who & why did the 9-11. If Alqaeda can do this they must have bases on moon by this time.

      October 19, 2012 at 8:32 am | Reply
      • luke

        Yea its funny how people can put two and two together. Somehow a small band of rebels (compared to the "free world") can put up enough of a fight to drain trillions of dollars from the strongest country in the world? This "war" goes on as long as they want it to. truely a disgusting regime in control in america

        October 29, 2012 at 6:03 am |
    • Muhammad Rehan

      Interestingly you seem to worry about the deaths of 2000 and wounds of 17000 American soldiers, but have no pain, have no acknowledgement, have no concern, about thousands of innocent unarmed civilians who have been killed or wounded in this so called war on terrorism by American well equipped brave soldiers. Taliban have every right to protect their country from any kind of foreign invasion. Now better learn from your defeat in Afghanistan, that never try to suppress the people of any country by the puppet rulers of your choice, and let the people of that country decide who should rule them, rather some other powerful nation decide the rulers of its convenience. The puppet government which has no roots in public will be thrown away surely, as soon as the defeated nations leave Afghanistan.

      October 22, 2012 at 6:34 am | Reply
      • J

        Do you have any respect for the man who gave thier lives to defend their own thoughts and belifs you said thats what they were doing why cant we do it

        October 22, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  2. rightospeak

    Boloney.If you read Gore Vidal's "Dreaming War" you would know that attack on Afganistan was planned way ahead of 9/11 which was a hoax ( just in case you do not have a clue).It is all about pipeline from Caspian Sea to Karachi.
    There is no reason to be in Afganistan when we are borrowing money from Communist China. The imperial posturing is over and we need to fix things at home-so save money and get the troops back ASAP , as Ron Paul suggested.

    October 19, 2012 at 8:23 am | Reply
  3. Socrates

    How much money time and soldiers lost during these years. And on th top we lost the impression of Military giant. Are we only good invading Panama & Haiti??? We nned to go and start bombing China now before they they start bombing us or even we need to show North Kore & Iran our power.

    October 19, 2012 at 8:35 am | Reply
  4. Daniel Schaeffer

    This is shameful reporting. It is easily verifiable that not only does Iran sponsor terrorism but it also has a direct role in the operations. One can easily draw connections between the Iranian Pashdaran or Revolutionary Guard Corps as we call them and Osama Bin Laden and his kind. The ISI pakistan's security arm, still protects the Taliban. The Pakistani's won't commit to all out warfare necessary for removing them. What international support are we talking about here? Afghan National Army has started killing their "allies" as they train them. We are so good at killing terrorist that it has become apparent that we've worn out our welcome.

    October 19, 2012 at 9:45 am | Reply
  5. Pontes

    Can someone please Explain to me , this U.S notion, if you Airstrike the country's of 600 million Arabs some how the relatives of the lost ones will become more friendly towards Americans ?
    Americans are attacking & Bombing, Yemen , Pakistan , Iraq , Afghanistan , Somalia , soon also Iran will be targeted with drones and other weapons
    Did 12 of wars made Americans safer or more wealthy ?

    October 19, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply
    • osama

      pontes is sating the truth

      October 22, 2012 at 10:21 am | Reply
  6. coderjones

    the USA will make the same mistake it did in the mid eighties
    politicians will never understand what they supposed to do – or what they have done already
    the politicians of the mid-eighties should be held accountable for their indifference – especially after their lack of concern, absence of malice – created, aided and armed osama bin laden

    October 19, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
  7. Lysette

    It's simple, if the Afghani government wants US and NATO forces (or someone else) to remain beyond 2014, then they should be given the help. Rebuilding a nation takes decades, and once started the only proper option is to stay the course until it is done, no matter how long that takes.

    October 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Reply
  8. haroonrashid

    it's been 10 long years they could'not successfully defeated talibaan in afgghanistan.the major target was osama bin ladon they killed him.and now what?i think they should ask russians

    October 20, 2012 at 3:50 am | Reply
    • luke

      the taliban guard the US poppy fields. after they destoryed them they were sent 50 million USD to not do that again. at least gov. protects our rights to get high.. as long as its not weed

      October 29, 2012 at 6:05 am | Reply
  9. AJ Browne

    The real problem with Afghanistan is its leadership at all levels of society. Karzai and many other leaders are corrupt and have taken large sums of money for themselves. The Afghans can't run any of the power plants that we built for them, they can't run their own hospitals, they can't run any of their own prisons, and after ten years they still can't successfully defend their country against the Taliban. People would rather submit their grievances to a Taliban court than to pay a real judge just to do what his jobs requires. Moreover, the Afghan government has done other things to make things worse including shutting down a factory that was employing Afghans to make boots for their military. Expensive equipment was paid for and brought in from Germany by the international community, but Karzai's government decided to close the plant and buy cheaper boots from China. This threw hundreds of workers out into the street into the waiting arms of the Taliban. Afghanistan and its leadership has bled the international community dry, so countries are pulling back. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

    October 21, 2012 at 8:57 am | Reply
  10. jacob

    americans started WAr on TERROR which soon became WAr ON MUSLIM WORLD
    us govt just killing innocent people in Yemen iraq,afghanistan,pakistan,somalia
    THAy made ALQUEdA & TALIBAN to fight Against RUSSIA & at that time they were good now they ARe called TERRORISts wow NEW WORLD ORDER

    October 22, 2012 at 10:18 am | Reply
    • honcho

      Jacob relax a moment and use your brain. First off the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The United States at that time supported the Mujahadeen who where fighting the occupying Russian Communist. Secondly we didn't start the war on terror. Osama and his supporters start the war. The U.S. did what any other country would have done, declare war on those individuals who killed Innocent American's. I do agree that we have dropped the ball handling the rebuilding stage of Afghanistan, but it isn't like Afghanistan's government has been a ton of help. At times it is almost like they are our biggest critics. Even though America pays for well over half of their expenditures. America does not want to be there forever! America receives plenty of negative light because we are the best. With that said we still have plenty of problems that need to be addressed, but it is rather hard to focus on our own country when there is so much termoil going on in the Middle East.

      October 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Reply
  11. jacob

    OBAMA & BUSH international TERRORIST who killed more people than in 9/11

    October 22, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply
  12. osama

    i think USA lied OSAMA bin laden would be Hidding somewhere

    October 22, 2012 at 10:20 am | Reply
  13. rokon

    Amanpour should quit Journalism or leave CNN and join Fox.. The whole article is full of incorrect and misleading information. Amanpour should be ashamed of herself.

    October 23, 2012 at 1:44 am | Reply
  14. Matt

    You need clear objectives, on Afghanistan is was far from clear, Biden wanted a CT program but unless we built and indigenous security forces around it we could not stay in country. So we would need a mothership and carrier (air power) for the south and a base in one of the Stans for the north. But to stay in country you need an ANSF.

    So what do they want, they want to deny the Taliban from taking power and allow al-Qaida to have safe havens, that is what CT was for right. But they also want a negotiated settlement which will only come from pressure. To do that you 160,000 ISAF and 400,000 ANSF for a period of 12 months to suck the oxygen out of the insurgency extreme pressure.

    That did not happen the surge applied some pressure, they came to the table but not enough for them to submit. They are look at post 2014, to try their luck. So there is no peace deal when the bulk of ISAF leave. Even if they accepted a deal during the 5 year phase, there is surefire way to say they would keep it, into the future.

    So you need the 2035 denial plan which is in 10 year blocks/phase the first phase is until 2024 with a residual US force structure mainly JSOC, then there is another phase after that until 2035. The main goal of the 12 surge of 560,000 is even if they do not come to the table is to create a buffer so the ANSF can stay on top and not allow them to gain enough oxygen to threaten the state.

    Even the limited surge Obama ordered was to break their will, as is the 2024 phase and the 2035 phase. That is why the terms for peace were laid out before the surge had start during the planning. So when they came to the table during the 5 year phase and left, they knew the terms, and those terms will be the same in 2024 and 2035.

    If after the first 10 year phase the ANSF break, then JSOC and the CIA will activate the spores militia's. If they don't we can remove the residual force structure. This is a different type of war and it is different from Iraq.

    My mission cannot be, not accomplished, if the enemy can't complete their mission. It is hard to get a clear answer of the what our mission is, but the mission is deny the Taliban control of Afghanistan to deny al-Qaida safe havens to attack the US or US interest. That is the 2035 denial plan, the President signed on to it when authorized the first 10 year phase 2024. At some point there will be peace negotiations on the terms laid out in 2009, because they are the only terms that are acceptable.

    The Taliban know as when they came to the table and left during the 5 year phase the terms are the same, continued resistance achieves nothing. When they came to the table during the 5 year phase it was the same terms they turned down before the 5 year plan was launched in 2009.

    I expect that Mullah Omar will be deceased by 2035, by natural causes or other, probably 2024.

    They want to test themselves and strength, good let them.

    When people complain about the CIA drones, they are killing the guys that shot that little girl in the head, there is no end date to the drone program.

    We did not get everything we asked for the Afghan mission, and we asked for the absolute minimal resources, but if the mission is to deny the Taliban, I think we will achieve that, with what we were given. The problem is when you have a very good military, outstanding officers, that can do what people think is impossible, politicians pressure to o more with less. As long as they keep getting results under such pressure, it becomes less an less until it is impossible even for those men. Afghanistan is not graveyard of empires, it is the graveyard of Generals and friendships. All you can say is you did your best, with what you were given.

    October 27, 2012 at 3:32 am | Reply
  15. Sophie

    I think the sooner we can drawdown and close this operation, the better off for all concerned. The Afghan Army will make the final decision, to keep the Taliban out or not. In fact, all countries need to root out "terroism" Rooting out Terroism can't depend on just the U.S. it is a world event. I commend Italy for saying that they will help Afghanistan, also if other countries over there would commit to Afghanistan, the job could be completed by joined efforts. Shoulder to Shoulder against Terroism is the KEY.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Reply
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    December 20, 2020 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  17. Carlena Malekan

    January 11, 2021 at 1:50 am | Reply

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