Bernie Sanders on Afghanistan

The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 resulted in a military conflict in Afghanistan that is still being fought to this day. Although Bernie Sanders voted in a symbolic debate to retroactively support the U.S. military engagement there, he has been appalled by the continued presence of the U.S. in Afghanistan, the resulting casualties, and the debt accrued over the long war.

September 11th and the Invasion of Afghanistan

9/11 marks a day America will never forget. After President George W. Bush vowed to exact justice on Osama bin Laden, he invaded Afghanistan. Bernie voted in favor of sending troops to Afghanistan in a symbolic debate after the engagement had already begun, and called for discretion in the use of military force.

Summarize the major points of 9/11 again?

On September 11, 2001, two hijacked planes were flown deliberately into the Twin Towers in New York City. The impact of these crashes left gaping holes in both Twin Towers, causing each to eventually collapse. A third hijacked plane was deliberately flown into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., severely damaging the building and killing many workers, and a fourth plane was also hijacked but was prevented from reaching its target by passengers who confronted the terrorists. During the passengers’ attempt to regain control of the aircraft, the plane crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania. American intelligence agencies soon learned that a terrorist group known as Al-Qaeda was behind the attack, and put a bounty on the head of its leader, Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden remained at large until May 2, 2011, when he was finally tracked down and killed by U.S. forces at a hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

What did Afghanistan have to do with 9/11?

The Taliban, the fundamentalist political movement that ruled Afghanistan, was accused of providing sanctuary to Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. The Taliban were driven from power in Afghanistan by the American-led international effort — known as Operation Enduring Freedom — to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy Bin Laden’s terrorist network.

Did Bernie support going to war in Afghanistan? If so, why?

Bernie voted in favor of the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF), which he justified by saying,

“I will vote for this resolution because I believe that the use of force is one tool that we have at our disposal to fight against the horror of terrorism and mass murder. One
tool but it is not our only tool, and it is something that must be used wisely… and with great discretion.“

It’s important to understand that under the War Powers Act, President Bush already had the legal right to use force without the approval of Congress because America had been attacked. The debate in Congress about whether or not to use military force in Afghanistan “was more symbolic than legally necessary,” according to Bernie.

The Occupation of Afghanistan

The occupation of Afghanistan has lasted for 14 years, and continues to this day. With a total body count of 2,360 American soldiers since 2001, the U.S. involvement in the war is gradually coming to an end as President Barack Obama withdraws troops. Bernie has been very opposed to extending the occupation of Afghanistan as he felt the military operation there became too disorganized in 2008.

What happened in Afghanistan after we invaded?

Once the Taliban were driven out of power in 2001, the United Nations established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to restructure the government of Afghanistan, with NATO taking over the ISAF mission in 2003.

The fighting died down to smaller skirmishes until 2006, when Afghanistan experienced a violent resurgence of conflicts. The number of suicide bomber attacks in 2006 were five times greater than the year before, while remotely detonated bombings doubled to 1,677.

U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan continued through the end of the Bush administration and under President Barack Obama until December 2013, when the White House announced that the 13-year war with Afghanistan was officially over.

What did Bernie say about the continued effort in Afghanistan?

In 2008, Bernie grew concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, and voted against the Defense Authorization Bill, which authorized $603 billion in military spending, including $69 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time, Bernie called it an “unwinnable war”:

In 2009, Bernie strongly opposed a proposed 40,000 troop surge in Afghanistan, saying it would be “a very, very, very bad idea”.

After President Obama announced a timetable to withdraw troops in 2011, Bernie released this statement:

“This country has a $14.5 trillion national debt, in part owing to two wars that have not been paid for. We have been at war in Afghanistan for the last 10 years and paid a high price both in terms of casualties and national treasure. This year alone, we will spend about $100 billion on that war. In my view, it is time for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for waging the war against the Taliban. While we cannot withdraw all of our troops immediately, we must bring them home as soon as possible. I appreciate the president’s announcement, but I believe that the withdrawal should occur at significantly faster speed and greater scope.”

What is the situation today?

There are still some U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. Though they are mostly tasked with training Afghan soldiers to fight the Taliban on their own, U.S. military personnel still support counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan against the remnants of Al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, the 2015 fighting season between the Taliban and Afghan security forces is turning out to be the bloodiest on record since 2001. Insecurity has significantly increased throughout the country, civilian deaths have risen, and the Afghan security forces are taking large, and potentially unsustainable, casualties.