Since 9/11, America has dedicated its funding, resources, military personnel, and intelligence to fighting terror organizations – predominately al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and later ISIS – in the Middle East. For twenty years, the US and its NATO allies have engaged in a constant campaign of street fighting, training, targeting, and special operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and other neighboring nations. However, with new orders for a complete military withdrawal from the region, many wonder what the future holds for the American military powerhouse. And like the Statue of Liberty in New York showing her oxidized copper, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan has shown its rapid depletion as US soldiers leave their station to wither.
On Wednesday, April 14th, President Biden announced a complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan by September 11th of this year. When asked why he made this decision, Biden stated that “We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives.” The elephant in the room in terms of exfiltrating US soldiers from the Middle East is Bagram Air Base: the US’s and its allies’ hub for basing military operations and resupplying troops to fight regional terrorist cells. Nearly 30 miles from the city of Kabul, Bagram provided US forces many options to conduct covert and open combat. This all came to an end as early July marked the US complete evacuation of the base. According to CNN, US Central Command moved “nearly 900 C-17 cargo loads out of Afghanistan and destroyed nearly 16,000 pieces of equipment” on top of the thousands of evacuated personnel. Though most of the troops have been pulled out of conflict, small detachments of military personnel remain in US embassies to protect high-value diplomatic officials.
The removal of the military from Afghanistan – especially the evacuation of troops from Bagram – has generated criticism, concern, and for many, hope. Though soldiers are returning home to their loved ones and people are starting to hope for no future massed military returns to the region, there must be cause for question if the US will ever return. Is this really the end of the War on Terror?
On top of considering future casualties, this question must also be considered economically. Since 9/11, the US has employed thousands of Americans in civilian service, military industry, and the armed service branches – bringing back its military industrial powerhouse seen during the Roosevelt and Reagan administrations. In 2020 alone, the US military budget alone was almost over $700 billion – $200 billion more than the 2015 budget. How will the US military industry operate while not actively fighting in the Middle East? This is a question where only time will provide the answer.
The next focus of attention should be toward the next possible foreign powers stationed in Afghanistan. On top of the Taliban’s strengthening of their forces and increasing their number of attacks in towns like Puli Alam on April 30th, Russia, Iran, and China have increased their presence and interest in establishing control over the region. Who will become the next military powerhouse of Afghanistan, when will that happen, and how much conflict will ensue? Though many hope that US pullout from Afghanistan would foster peace among native and foreign peoples, I fear deadlier battles will transpire in short time.