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A New Generation of Lost Hope: America’s Exit and the New National and Humanitarian Crises

September 10, 2021

By Alex Campana and Jacob Olidort

Among the indisputable examples of chaos over the last three weeks at Hamid Karzai International Airport were those of 17-year old Zaki Anwari falling to his death off a U.S. Air Force plane evacuating civilians. About his decision to flee Afghanistan for a chance at a free and prosperous life, he told his brother, “I have to try.”

Another image so horrific that lingers in one’s memory is the Afghan mother passing her baby to two U.S. Marines.

These and many other acts of unspeakable heroism by Afghan parents and children come from a keen understanding of how important freedom is and the great tragedy that lies in store for women and children who will be left to live under Taliban rule.

Establishing the right conditions to prevent the tragic events of the last 3 weeks from taking place would have held the Taliban and other Afghans accountable and should have guided America’s withdrawal. It should be part of how America guides the various Afghan parties to determine their future—a process that the Trump Administration put into place and which the Biden Administration abandoned with a politicized and arbitrary withdrawal.

The messages from the Biden Administration suggest that they do not understand the responsibility the United States has at this decisive hour and that their failed withdrawal approach has unnecessarily endangered the most vulnerable Afghans and the Americans who remain. President Biden’s refusal to remain the additional days or weeks to help stranded Americans in the name of preventing a “forever exit” is beyond words.

The Taliban’s treatment and education of children is its own humanitarian tragedy and the silence of top female leaders in the United States, including Vice President Kamala Harris, has not gone unnoticed. The women on TV daily advocating for social and racial justice, feminist policies, and equity are the same women who have been silent on the treatment of women and children in Afghanistan. Only a few months ago, Vice President Kamala Harris stood before the U.N. Women’s conference and stated, “the status of women is the status of Democracy,” Where is she now?

Despite assurances from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield that the Biden Administration “expect[s] the Taliban to respect human rights, including the rights of women and girls,” history suggests otherwise. Moreover, “expectations” are no assurances. A rare kudos is due to the United Nations Human Rights Council, whose chief called the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls “a fundamental red line” in a speech on August 24.

It remains to be seen what kind of action—or lack of action—the U.N. Human Rights Council will take, particularly as it invites human rights violators like Russia, China, and Venezuela to have a voice among its members. The Deputy Secretary of State’s observation that the United States has “unanimity” with Russia and China on this issue is not much to bank on. This should not be America’s burden alone to address.

This is a tragedy that will continue to grow—one that the world is already facing with the children who have been born in and grew up under ISIS rule. The question is not whether it will be worse, but how much worse and what specifically is the fate of women and girls as the Taliban works to centralize power due to the failed withdrawal of the Biden Administration.

The issue facing policymakers today is not only regarding how the Taliban have treated women under their rule in the past—a subject of which there is much documented evidence—but how they are likely to treat women as they consolidate their gains toward what is expected to be a Taliban-run Afghanistan.

Based on the Taliban’s history, there is a high likelihood of physical abuse and capital punishment, especially for violations of dress norms and opposition to the Taliban’s agenda and customs. There will also likely be restrictions on mobility and dress, based on the Taliban’s strict religious and cultural norms.

Although the Taliban diverge doctrinally in their ideology and goals with ISIS, we can expect some ISIS followers and other groups from a likely influx of jihadists flocking to the country to join the ranks of the new Taliban or other extremist groups as a result of the Biden Administration’s failed withdrawal. After all, the world witnessed something similar when Bin Laden led the “Afghan Arabs” to Afghanistan amid the Soviet invasion and as foreign fighters traveled to Syria more recently to join ISIS.

Those who have lived within the ISIS “caliphate” may still be active, and their propaganda materials likely remain in circulation if not online, then certainly on the ground. Their textbooks, along with the school curricula and societal norms of the Taliban, can serve as foundations as the Taliban consolidate territorial gains and consider what works best to bring Afghans and other jihadist elements under their control. Destroying all freedoms, including freedom of thought and education, is a powerful way terrorist organizations and dictatorships consolidate and keep their power.

The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan raises the question of how America’s values inform its actions overseas. The actions of Anwari and so many others over the last three weeks demonstrate clearly that others understand the freedoms Americans have the privilege of enjoying. These are the very same freedoms upon which our Nation was founded nearly 250 years ago and which have led us through our most difficult moments by reminding us of who we are. At a time when American pride has reached a two-decade low, let this be a stark reminder that being an American should not be taken for granted, and American values are something to be proud of. Fundamentally, this loss of self—of what we are as Americans and what we stand for—is what Americans are witnessing in Biden’s withdrawal failed from Afghanistan.

Much remains unknown as a new Afghanistan emerges, but one certainty is the grave threat to human rights that lies ahead, particularly to women and children, and to the Americans left behind.

The world has previously seen the cruel conditions for children and the trauma it caused those born under ISIS-controlled territory. There are now studies on the effects of this indoctrination on the lives, hopes, and futures of children.

The foreign policy actions of the Biden Administration remain reckless, particularly with President Biden’s cavalier insistence on keeping his self-imposed August 31 deadline while leaving Americans behind and the most vulnerable—women and children—in great harm. This bungled withdrawal is a wakeup call: Policy decisions and how they are implemented matter.

While the window of options closes by the day, and with much regional and geopolitical credibility destroyed, there may still be options for the Biden Administration to consider. But these depend on a specific and expressed policy decision by President Biden. The twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks is a reminder of the importance of presidential decision-making and leadership to Americans’ security. The eyes of the world, and of the American people, are upon President Biden and his team.

Alex Campana serves as Director of Stewardship and Policy Analyst, Center for 1776 and Jacob Olidort serves as Director, Center for American Security for the America First Policy Institute (AFPI).