President Joe Biden addressed the nation on Aug. 16 and defended his decision to withdraw American troops, saying the original mission was to prevent another terrorist attack following Sept. 11, 2001.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building,” Biden said. “It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy.”
Was the original U.S. mission in Afghanistan only to fight terrorism?
- Congressional joint resolution following 9/11 attacks
- Speeches by former President George W. Bush
- Congressional Research Service
Yes, the original U.S. mission in Afghanistan was only to fight terrorism, but rebuilding Afghanistan quickly became another U.S. goal during the war.
WHAT WE FOUND
Congress authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan in the days after the 9/11 attacks carried out by the terrorist group al-Qaeda, which had a base at the time in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The joint resolution said:
“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
The resolution makes no mention of nation-building.
The U.S. demanded the Taliban, which controlled the Afghan government at the time, extradite Osama bin Laden and shut down al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan or face an all-out war, a 2017 report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) says. When the Taliban refused, the U.S. and its allies began to wage war in Afghanistan. By December 2001, the Taliban regime had ended.
It’s at this point that rebuilding Afghanistan became a U.S. goal. In April 2002, President George W. Bush gave a speech in which he called for the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
“America has a much greater purpose than just eliminating threats and containing resentment because we believe in the dignity and value of every individual,” Bush said. “America seeks hope and opportunity for all people in all cultures. And that is why we're helping to rebuild Afghanistan.”
The nation-building of Afghanistan then became a part of American policy.
“After the Taliban regime was deposed in 2001, the Administration and its international partners decided to build a relatively strong, democratic, Afghan central government,” the Congressional Research Service report said. “The effort, which many outside experts described as ‘nation-building,’ was supported by the United Nations.”
Nation-building continued beyond the Bush administration, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“The Obama Administration’s strategy review in late 2009 initially narrowed official U.S. goals to preventing terrorism safe haven in Afghanistan, but policy in some ways expanded the preexisting nation-building effort,” the report said. “Building the capacity of and reforming Afghan governance have been consistently judged to be key to the success of U.S. policy, even after the 2014 security transition to Afghan lead.”
So, it’s true the original U.S. mission in Afghanistan was only to fight terrorism, but reconstruction quickly became a goal as the Taliban had to be replaced by some form of government.
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