What's Next For Afghanistan After Biden Orders U.S. Withdrawal : Consider This from NPR President Biden announced this week that all U.S. troops if Afghanistan will be withdrawn by Sept. 11, marking the end of America's 20-year war there.

Former U.S. Army Col. Christopher Kolenda tells NPR there is "no easy ending" to American involvement in Afghanistan.

Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., tells NPR Afghan civilians will continue to face daily threats of violence.

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'I Wish There Was An Easy Ending:' Afghanistan's Murky Future After Longest U.S. War

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'I Wish There Was An Easy Ending:' Afghanistan's Murky Future After Longest U.S. War

'I Wish There Was An Easy Ending:' Afghanistan's Murky Future After Longest U.S. War

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  • Transcript

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GEORGE W BUSH: Good afternoon. On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaida terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

October 7, 2001 - President George W. Bush addressed the nation, explaining that the U.S. was preparing for what he called sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations in Afghanistan. The name of the initial military operation was Enduring Freedom.

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BUSH: I'm speaking to you today from the Treaty Room of the White House, a place where American presidents have worked for peace. We're a peaceful nation. Yet as we have learned so suddenly and so tragically, there can be no peace in a world of sudden terror.

KELLY: Bush was referring, of course, to the attacks of September 11, which by then had been connected to Osama bin Laden, who was said to be based in Afghanistan. The 43rd president reached for an anecdote to explain what he was asking of America's military families.

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BUSH: I recently received a touching letter that says a lot about the state of America in these difficult times, a letter from a fourth-grade girl with a father in the military. As much as I don't want my dad to fight, she wrote, I'm willing to give him to you.

KELLY: The fourth-grader who wrote that letter would be around 30 years old by now, as U.S. troops in Afghanistan will finally...

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Good afternoon.

KELLY: ...End operations there.

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BIDEN: I'm speaking to you today from the Roosevelt - the Treaty Room in the White House.

KELLY: Twenty years later, from the same room in the White House, President Joe Biden announced he would follow through on a plan set in motion by former President Trump to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Biden's deadline for withdrawal? September 11.

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BIDEN: We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021.

KELLY: CONSIDER THIS - America's longest war is coming to a close. What's left is a question, one historians will probably debate for a long time - was it worth it?

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KELLY: From NPR, I'm Mary Louise Kelly. It's Thursday, April 15.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. More than 20,000 American troops have been wounded in Afghanistan over the last 20 years - 2,448 have been killed. Many of them are buried in a 14-acre plot of Arlington National Cemetery known simply as Section 60.

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BIDEN: Look at them all.

KELLY: Look at them all, the president said Wednesday as he laid a wreath in Section 60. This was just after he announced plans to withdraw all U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan - approximately 2,500 of them - by September 11.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Was it a hard decision to make, sir?

BIDEN: No, it wasn't. To me, it was absolutely clear - absolutely clear.

KELLY: Biden had explained in his speech that day that, in his view, the U.S. did what it set out to do in Afghanistan, which was to ensure the country would not be used as a base for attacks on America. But the question now is, what happens when the U.S. leaves?

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CHRIS KOLENDA: Well, I think what his decision reflects is the basic principle in which you make all decisions, which is the grapefruit principle. And that is, is the juice worth the squeeze? Is keeping American troops there, you know, worth the price?

KELLY: Chris Kolenda is a retired U.S. Army colonel who led troops in combat against the Taliban and then later participated in diplomatic talks with them. Some military leaders, including Kolenda's old boss, former commanding General David Petraeus, predict that when U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will go on offense, ungoverned spaces will get bigger and terrorist organizations will flourish. I asked Kolenda, is General Petraeus wrong? Here's a bit of our conversation.

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KOLENDA: Well, I think you've got to bear in mind three things about Afghanistan. I mean, the first one is that the United States can't give the Afghan government legitimacy. The Afghan government has to earn it, and it has to earn it in the eyes of the people. And they haven't done that yet. Second is, you know, the Taliban live there, and we don't. So they're always going to be able to wait us out because they live there. And then third is geography matters. We can't wish away the geography. Afghanistan is surrounded by states that are hostile to our presence there. They also live there. And so, you know, you've got this situation where a conditions-based approach - I mean, it briefs well. People say, oh, yes, conditions-based makes sense. But you'll never get there from here. And we've shown that the last 20 years because of some of these problems.

KELLY: I don't actually hear you saying Petraeus is wrong. It's more like you're arguing there is no perfect outcome. There's no perfect ending here.

KOLENDA: I wish there was an easy ending. It would've been nice. I spent a lot of quality time in Afghanistan. I've had soldiers killed and wounded in Afghanistan. I'd love to see a - you know, an easy solution. But at the - where we were right now, with 2,500 to 3,500 troops there, it's just encouraging the worst behavior on the part of all actors - the Afghan government slow-rolling a peace process, the Taliban waiting to see if we'll actually leave and regional actors, you know, fomenting further conflict in Afghanistan through their proxies.

KELLY: Back to that central question about the war in Afghanistan, was it worth it? A conflict that not only killed thousands of Americans but tens of thousands of Afghans, both military and civilian, a conflict that ends at a time when it is getting harder for refugees to flee dangerous countries, with many nations, including the U.S., accepting fewer than in years past. In Colonel Kolenda's view, the question of whether the war in Afghanistan was worth it depends on what we learn from it.

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KOLENDA: There needs to be some reckoning about the chronic errors that we keep making in these conflicts - we've made them in Afghanistan; we've made them in Iraq; we've made them in Vietnam - and why these interventions continue turning into quagmires. And the extent to which things are worth it, as you asked, is going to be measured, I think, by the reforms that we make to how we engage in these sort of conflicts in the future.

KELLY: Now, we should point out, while the official deployment of U.S. troops is ending in Afghanistan, that does not mean all U.S. military action there is coming to a close. The president says the U.S. will continue to assist the Afghan military and, quote, "reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities in the region to monitor threats in Afghanistan from outside its borders." We should also point out some military leaders, along with some top Republicans and Democrats, voiced concern about withdrawing from Afghanistan back when President Trump supported the idea. The worry then was same as it is now - that conditions in the country will deteriorate.

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KELLY: Does that worry you?

ROYA RAHMANI: Indeed, it does. I am worried about that. But I am also encouraged by the statement of support by President Biden that this does not mean the end of our partnership.

KELLY: That is Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States. She told me she does worry about the escalation of violence in Afghanistan and that, in some places, the Taliban still represents a daily threat to the safety of civilians.

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RAHMANI: So as the announcement comes, there is a continuous conflict going on on daily basis. The violence is very real. And people continue to get killed every day. So as they have decided to withdraw the troops, regardless of the conditions on the ground, we respect their decision. But then we are hoping that, with their support, we would be able to continue to protect and defend ourselves.

KELLY: Let me turn you to Afghan women. How worried are you, as an Afghan woman, for the women of Afghanistan?

RAHMANI: Needless to say, the women of Afghanistan are very worried, extremely worried. It does not seem that the Taliban has moved very much from their position when it comes to how they treat women in Afghanistan. And we have seen many examples and evidence of that in the areas that fall under their control. So, yes, women are very worried and so am I. This is a very real and legitimate concern. And I would like to also say on this point that to support women of Afghanistan, it's not just a humanitarian issue. It is a national security issue. We have seen and it is proven that for nations to be stable and successful, the rights of women must be respected.

KELLY: You're reminding me of the last time I interviewed you, Ambassador, which was a couple of years ago. And you talked about your daughter. She was 4 then, as I remember. She must be - what? - 6 or 7 now?

RAHMANI: You are absolutely right. By your memory, she is 6 years old now.

KELLY: Six years old. I - it struck me. And the reason I remember it is that it was so clear listening to you that when you talk about women's rights in your country, it's very personal for you, that you were speaking not just as the representative of a government, but as a mother. And so I wanted to ask you today, one mother to another, do you believe the Afghanistan your daughter will know will be a free country where she's able to study and work and raise her own family one day without fear of violence?

RAHMANI: That's my biggest desire. And as a citizen, as an individual, as a mother, I will do whatever I can to help that situation. And I believe that every citizen of my country needs to bear that responsibility. And we need to work together. But at the same time, I must also say that I have real concerns knowing that what is happening in my country has regional and global roots. It is a situation of global and international terrorism. And I am - I will continue to work with this hope because I cannot afford to be hopeless for her future, for my future, for the future of all the mothers and their daughters and sons and families and the nation.

KELLY: I mean, I hear in your voice there's obviously so much uncertainty ahead, many risks for your country. But I want to stick with a word you used, which is hope. Do you also feel hope that, for better or worse, going forward, Afghanistan's fate will be determined by Afghans?

RAHMANI: Yes. And the source of my hope is the will of the people. It's our new generation because the human capital that, with the help of United States and our allies we built over the past 20 years, it is this younger generation of Afghans who want a peaceful Afghanistan, an Afghanistan that could be a constructive partner to the world and an Afghanistan that would be able to chart its own future. I also hope that the international community does not give up on their own investment, on their own blood and treasure that has gone in over the past 20 years because there is much to be earned and gained from it.

KELLY: Roya Rahmani is Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States.

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KELLY: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

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