Did Anything Good Come Out of Afghanistan?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

An Atlantic reader, Matthew Hoh, who served as a political officer with the U.S. State Department in Afghanistan and is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, writes:

In her Aspen Institute address on Afghanistan [that The Atlantic covered on June 28], former first lady Laura Bush failed to provide data to show that the vast sacrifice of U.S. lives and money in Afghanistan over the past 15 years has proved worthwhile.

Ms. Bush contends in her talks and in her book that the lives of women and children in Afghanistan have vastly improved over the last 15 years. For example, she routinely states that millions of schoolchildren attend school in Afghanistan. However, as the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported in 2015, evidence shows [PDF] that such numbers are more than likely made-up.

This same lack of proof belies parallel triumphant claims of U.S. accomplishment in improving Afghanistan’s health-care system, infrastructure, and overall economy.

Such claims have continually been disproved by SIGAR [PDF] and by other outside evaluating and monitoring organizations. We also know, sadly, that the United Nations reports, for the seventh consecutive year, record levels of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Defense Department reports indicate that the Taliban is stronger now than at any point since 2001, and in a well-respected poll, the Asia Foundation found that more than two-thirds of Afghans fear for their safety.

American policy in Afghanistan, under both President Bush and President Obama, has always contained talking points concerning women’s rights, but the reality of how that policy has been executed and the reality of women in Afghanistan for the last 15 years has disproved such propaganda. According to a Human Rights Watch report, many of the very men the U.S. put into power in Afghanistan in 2001, and who have maintained power these last 15 years, are themselves fanatically opposed to human rights for women. When those Afghan men were in power in the 1990s, they committed heinous crimes—murdering, raping, and torturing thousands of innocent Afghan civilians.

So it is no wonder that record numbers of Afghan women are in prison for “moral” crimes, that violence against them in government controlled areas continues to rise, and that women have been immolating themselves in record numbers.

It is well past time for U.S. politicians to admit our Afghanistan policy has failed both the United States and the people of Afghanistan.

Another reader adds:

Afghanistan was a necessary war to hold accountable those responsible for 9/11. We didn’t go there because Osama bin Laden highlighted women’s rights issues in Afghanistan.

What do you think? Is Afghanistan in any way better now than it was in 2001? Drop us a note and we’ll post: hello@theatlantic.com.

Meanwhile, another reader, Innis, points to the following segment from Rethink Afghanistan, a 2009 documentary about the U.S. presence in the country after September 11th. In the segment, Afghan women report that they are suffering more than they did under the Taliban (though again, the film is from 2009):