20 Years of Death: A Look at the US’s Role in Afghanistan

Scarlet Poesie
Author’s Note: This was originally written in September 2021, for the Shenandoah Socialist Collective’s zine Menace. This version was never published as it was far too long for a zine, so a much shorter version was written. Small revisions have been made to make the article more evergreen, but on the whole, remains unaltered from its original state.

September 2021 marked 20 years since the planes hit the Twin Towers, sparking the nearly 20-year long invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the United States. At the time, people were told that the invasion was to bring about justice for 9/11 and peace to a war-torn land. Many of us were either not alive or simply too young to remember all of this, but the consequences of this unlawful invasion shaped our childhoods.

I was four months old when the towers fell, but I have seen the towers fall year after year in my classrooms from elementary school to high school, and Bush’s Patriot Act has loomed over my head since before I could walk. Now that President Joe Biden has finished his ‘withdrawal’ from Afghanistan, what was it all for? Why did we invade a sovereign nation and kill nearly a quarter of a million people?

Long story short, Imperialism. Imperialism is a complex topic, but to put it simply it is when a country attempts to gain control of land and resources, primarily by financial manipulation but when that fails, by armed conflict, from other nations. The United States is not new to imperialism either, it has actively been participating in this system for decades, from the Spanish American War to the Annexation of Hawai’i, to the Boxer Rebellion in China, and as far back as to the invasions of Indigenous nations of this continent. But what does that have to do with Afghanistan?

The common joke is that the US is obsessed with oil, and while that’s true, there are other resources to control as well, such as opium. Opium is made from poppies and is the main ingredient in various painkillers, as well as heroin. Pharmaceutical companies in this country have a strong influence in Congress, and when the largest opium producer in the world, Afghanistan, banned poppy cultivation in 2000, it caused issues for pharmaceutical corporations worldwide. This ban did not last long, as when the Afghan government was toppled following the US invasion, the ban was overturned, and opium production resumed. Nine years later the second wave of the Opioid Epidemic hit.

The story that we are told is that we went to Afghanistan to take revenge against the Taliban for what they did on 9/11 is exactly that. A story. An important note is that the Taliban is not Al-Qaeda. The Taliban is an offshoot of the Mujahideen, a US-funded organization, and Al-Qaeda is, in turn, an offshoot of the Taliban. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Taliban had apprehended Osama bin Laden, who was associated with Al-Qaeda and not the Taliban. The Taliban then offered to turn him over to the United States. The US refused this. If the US was truly after bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, then they would have taken the deal and not toppled the Taliban government. But history didn’t happen that way.

9/11 was a convenient event to kickstart a war, as was the destruction of the USS Maine before the Spanish-American War, and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident prior to direct US involvement in the Viet Nam War. These types of events are necessary for the US war machine as a counter to the anti-war movement. When it can unite the people around a goal, whether it is explicit like 9/11 or dubious if it even happened as with the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, it is able to dismiss anti-war protests as “unpatriotic” and continue on with its conquest for profit.

Another myth about US interventions is the idea of ‘state-building’, that we were there to bring ‘democracy’ by the barrel of a gun. We saw the government set up by America in Afghanistan crumble in mere weeks. Most saw this as a clear failure on our part, but it was not, as we never intended to “rebuild” Afghanistan in the first place. An allied puppet government makes the exploitation of Afghanistan’s resources easier, but it was at best a side project in the overall exploitation. 

War profiteering, another aspect of modern-day imperialism, by the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) has granted companies like Raytheon and Boeing nearly permanent contracts to produce weapons of destruction for the United States. Their board members rotate in and out of various government positions, influencing policy and contracts, including Biden’s current Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, who is a former Raytheon board member. For the contracts to continue, the US needs to be in a conflict to use said weapons. Since the end of World War II, the US has been involved in military conflict after military conflict: Korea, Guatemala, Palestine, Syria, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Libya, Iraq, Panama, Iraq again, Libya again, the list goes on and on. Each one for different resources or geopolitical aims, and all armed with the latest, and the most expensive, weaponry available. 

20 years later, what has changed? Nearly a quarter of a million dead, an increase in the world market of opioids, and a flood of refugees being denied admittance to the West. Afghanistan has been devastated by the US in its quest for plunder. The promises of democracy and women’s rights never occurred, as the US never intended to bring them about. The US occupation of Afghanistan can be seen as an example of what the US War on Terror truly is: imperial warfare in the old European style, for the modern day. Decades of death, all for profits.

One response to “20 Years of Death: A Look at the US’s Role in Afghanistan”

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