Biden Says the War in Afghanistan Is Over, but It’s Really Just Starting a New Chapter

September 1, 2021
John Haltiwanger
Business Insider


  • Biden on Tuesday declared an end to the US’s war in Afghanistan.
  • But even as he did so, Biden said the US “will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.”
  • The war is not over, especially not for Afghans, and will continue in a new capacity.

Over two decades, US leaders have repeatedly declared that America was done fighting in Afghanistan, only for the war to grind on.

In May 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared an end to “major combat” in Afghanistan. That was the same month as President George W. Bush’s infamous “mission-accomplished” moment regarding the Iraq War while he was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

“Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion,” President Barack Obama said in December 2014.

Fast-forward to Tuesday, and President Joe Biden said, “Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan—the longest war in American history.”

What sets Biden’s remarks apart is the fact there’s no longer a US military presence on the ground in Afghanistan. All American troops have been withdrawn. Though he’s faced significant criticism over his handling of the pullout and the chaos surrounding it, Biden has accomplished something three prior presidents could not.

But even as he declared an end to the war, Biden made it clear that the US would continue military operations in Afghanistan. Indeed, the conflict is not over, it has simply entered a new chapter in which the US continues to wage war in Afghanistan in a more limited capacity.

‘We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan’

“To ISIS-K, we are not done with you yet,” Biden said on Tuesday, signaling that the US would continue to target the ISIS’s Afghanistan affiliate. “As commander in chief, I firmly believe the best path to guard our safety and our security lies in a tough, unforgiving, targeted, precise strategy that goes after terror where it is today.”

Biden added: “Let me say it clearly to those who wish America harm, to those who engage in terrorism against us or our allies.

“Know this: The United States will never rest. We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down to the ends of the Earth, and you will pay the ultimate price.”

What this means is that the US will continue to use assets like drones to surveil, target, and kill those suspected of terrorism in Afghanistan and beyond.

Over the past week, the US has targeted ISIS-K in Afghanistan with drone strikes. The strikes came after ISIS-K claimed responsibility for an attack on Thursday in Kabul that killed 13 US service members and nearly 170 Afghan civilians. Biden vowed to “hunt” down ISIS-K over the blast.

One of the US drone strikes killed at least 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, according to what family members and witnesses told The New York Times and CNN.

The US and its allies have killed thousands of civilians in Afghanistan over the past 20 years via airstrikes and drone strikes. Under Biden, the US seems poised to continue this trend—but there won’t be any US troops in the country.

“We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it,” Biden said on Tuesday. “We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground, very few, if needed.”

The law that made the US invasion of Afghanistan possible, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, is still in effect. It effectively offers presidents a blank check to wage war and has been used by Republican and Democratic administrations to justify at least 41 operations in 19 countries. As long as it’s on the books, it leaves the door open for more US operations in Afghanistan and the global war on terror to continue.

And with renewed concerns in Washington about Afghanistan being a breeding ground for terrorism with the Taliban at the helm, operations targeting jihadist groups are likely to persist. Biden is already facing pressure and criticism from voices across the political spectrum in this regard.

“The likelihood is that the Taliban will provide a safe haven for terrorists in Afghanistan, which means that this war is not over,” Leon Panetta, who served as both CIA director and defense secretary during the Obama administration, said in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday.

“The war is not over. We’re just in a weaker position,” GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this week. “We don’t have boots on the ground. We don’t have eyes on the ground.”

Questions Using Close Reading and Critical Thinking:

  1. The first section of an article should answer the questions “Who?” “What?” “When?” and “Where?” Identify the four W’s of this article. NOTE: The rest of the article provides details on the why and/or how.
  2. Does this article have any bias? Why or why not?
  3. How long was the war in Afghanistan?
  4. How was this most recent declaration of the end of the war different from previous declarations?
  5. Who is ISIS-K?
  6. How does President Joe Biden plan to continue the War on Terror?
  7. What are “over-the-horizon capabilities”? According to the article, how have these kinds of tactics impacted Afghan civilians?
  8. What law made the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan possible? When was it enacted and how has it been implemented since?
  9. What group is now in control of Afghanistan?
  10. Was the U.S. right to pull all troops out of Afghanistan? Why or why not?

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