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Two Decades of U.S. Occupation of Afghanistan – Lessons Nigerians Can Learn By Ij Onuigbo


August 30, 2021, marked the 20th year that United States (US) occupied Afghanistan in support of the global war on terrorism.  It is the longest war that U.S. has fought, and the end was inevitable.  As I watched Marine General, Kenneth McKenzie, CENTCOM (Central Command) commander, announce the completion of the mission, my heart filled up with bittersweet emotions; on one hand, I was happy that U.S. successfully accomplished its mission to end America’s involvement in the middle eastern “forever wars,” and evacuate American personnel and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.  In total, 124,000 personnel were evacuated, although it is reported that between 100 and 200 civilian Americans remain in Afghanistan – the U.S. department of state is working diligently to help those remaining to get home safely – (CNN).  On the other hand, I was filled with sadness because of what seems to make the twenty years of U.S. effort look like an exercise in futility as we watched the way the Taliban quickly and seamlessly conquered the country without any form of resistance from the Afghan national army.  But, without getting ahead of myself, however, let’s not forget the main reason America occupied Afghanistan and the fact that for 20 years, there has not been any more attack on U.S. soil by a foreign terrorist organization.


It was September 11th, 2001, also known as the 9/11, when multiple commercial planes were infiltrated and hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorist who steered the planes filled with passengers into the World Trade Center Towers in New York City (NYC) and the Pentagon in Virginia, killing a total of three thousand Americans.  I remember that day like it was yesterday.  I had come out of school on that day and seated at a restaurant eating lunch and watching the television as it happened live.  America was shaken to the core. I was shaken and crying where I ate.  Soon after the terror attack, then President, George W. Bush declared the global war on terror.  In the following years thousands of U.S. troops were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq in support of the global war on terror, to locate and apprehend Osama Bin Ladin and other Al-Qaeda terror group leaders in Afghanistan who claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attack, and to destroy weapons of mass destruction believed were helping the terror organizations in Iraq.  Yours truly, I, signed up to serve in the U.S. Army 2 years later, was one of the Soldiers deployed – to Iraq.  Anyways, many lives were lost and injured.  I witnessed many of my comrades get injured and killed.  The war consumed astounding amounts of resources in manpower and funds – Over 7,000 U.S. Soldiers killed, over 51,000 wounded between Iraq and Afghanistan, and about $2 trillion spent over the twenty years of war, (Watson Institute, Knickmeyer E., Associated Press-August 31, 2021).

By the end of the year 2011, the Iraq war was officially ended (, but the war in Afghanistan continued until August 30, 2021.  During the Obama administration, there were up to one hundred thousand Soldiers in Afghanistan, “boots on ground,” but that total was drawn down to about 3500 “boots on ground” by the time of Trump administration.  Then presidential candidate Trump had made a campaign promise to completely pull out of Afghanistan, but he did not get it done.  Due to his campaign promise, Trump entered a deal with the Taliban in 2020, regarding the “pull out” agenda, with few months left in his administration.  It was a very rushed and unaccountable deal without any form of checks and balances.  He, Trump, was to facilitate release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by Afghan government and Taliban was to release 1,000 Americans in their custody.  Further, the Taliban was to allow a peaceful evacuation of Americans without attacks.  We all know that Taliban botched their end of the agreement, as they killed 169 personnel and 13 U.S. troops via suicide bombing at the airport, (APNews – August 30, 2021).  The Taliban didn’t even wait for the U.S. to completely evacuate before capturing most of Afghanistan major cities, nor did they abstain from attacking Americans and allies during the evacuation process.  Let’s just call it what it is, Trump made a bad deal with terrorists; and one of the prisoners Trump released to them, by the name of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund, has currently become the head of the Taliban political office in Doha, (Dunleavy – Washington Examiner).

The Present:

Now, the Biden administration is in full swing despite the “big lie” concocted by Trump about election fraud when he lost.  Because of his aggressive push to overturn an election that he lost, Trump administration hampered big parts of Biden transition but eventually failed in overturning a free and fair election. Unlike Trump, who voided almost all, if not all, of his predecessors, Obama, executive orders, and agreements, whether good or bad, without provocation, Biden, made the decision to honor Trumps agreement to pull America out of Afghanistan and end the “forever war” as Trump agreed with the Taliban.  President Biden in his news conference briefing, said that he had only two choices when it comes to the situation in Afghanistan; one was to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies out of the theater, and two was to cancel the agreement to pull out and renew the conflict which would require more reinforcement and more boots on ground.  He chose the latter, to completely evacuate and end the” forever war” (CNN, Washington Post).

Lessons for Nigeria

After Action Reviews (AAR):

Many of us heard on the news the story of how the Afghan national army and security forces fled their positions, allowing the Taliban to take over equipment’s supplied by the U.S.  Those equipment’s are state of the art technologies, weaponry and combat vehicles.  A lot of propagandists have blamed the actions of the Afghan national army and security forces on the U.S.  It begs the question, how is it Americas fault that the Afghan national army they have trained for years, gave up in just 11 days?  The answer lies in the problems that plague every 3rd world country – Lack of education, illiteracy, lack of discipline, lack of faith in government, etc – (NPR – Bowman and Evstatieva).  Nigeria is faced with the same problems and those are the reasons that Nigeria’s Army and people are weak in everything related to its socioeconomic and political welfare.  There are only very few people in the country who have the will to fight for a secured and functional environment for all.  Mostly everyone in the country care only for their individual wellbeing while turning a blind eye to collective or national wellbeing,

I came across a documentary of U.S. military trainers in charge of training the Afghan National Army.  These master trainers reported of the Afghan recruits showing lack of discipline and seriousness in what they were there to do.  One of the recruits was featured, saying that he was confident in the fact that America will always be in the country to assist them!  I thought it was an irresponsible statement.  The trainers reported that the recruits fail to show up to training formations on time, they smuggled drugs into the camp, they smoked all the time in training, they abandon the training whenever they get bored, etc.  Even the recruit who said America will always be there to assist them was smoking in the documentary.  It seemed that the sentiment among the recruits was that learning to be ready and secure Afghanistan was not their problem, even though it is their country.  No wonder they fled their positions, even before America completely evacuated.  So, tell me, who in their right mind will waste resources helping people who do not care about anything except their stomach and itches?  It was President Biden who said, “American troops should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that the Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”  That is just the absolute truth.  If you will not fight for yourself, soon anyone fighting for you will see through it and leave you.  

To correct the misconception, equipment’s captured by the Taliban no longer belonged to the U.S.  Afghans were equipped with those items.  It became the Afghan Army’s equipment as soon as it was shipped to them.  They were trained with the equipment, and it was meant for them to continue to use post training.  They abandoned their equipment for the Taliban to take it over.  Someone else said, (name withheld), that America gave everything to the Afghan people except the WILL to fight.  No one can give anyone WILL to fight or the WILL to do anything for themselves.  WILL is inborn, it comes from culture and way of life, it comes from the inside.  One thing glaringly absent from people of the 3rd world countries is the WILL to fight for country.  I know that for sure about Nigeria because I am Nigerian by birth.  I am used to hearing Nigerians call on America or Britain to come and fight or do one thing or the other for Nigerians.  Let’s be certain of one thing, NO country will fight the battles belonging to another indefinitely if they ever do.  There will always be an end to the help at some point.

Afghanistan is a case study to push Nigerians, if they can gain the WILL, to go to the drawing board and chart a course towards working to stabilize Nigeria.  As everyone can see, America will probably never get involved in another country’s war, especially the countries prone to endless conflicts like Nigeria and middle eastern countries.  I encourage the Nigerian people to see the silver lining in the knowledge that America or Britain may never come to fight Nigeria’s wars.  And the silver lining is the opportunity for the Nigerian people to take the “bull by the horn,” take life more seriously by seeing the need for and importance in fighting to stabilize their own country Nigeria.  It will grow you mentally as a people.  It is an opportunity for the Nigerian people to begin to make personal sacrifices for country, to make it a country that can sustain your children and their future generations.  If you do not do it yourselves, no one will do it for you.  It is time to stop blaming others, start looking inwards at your own faults and how your behavior affects the country.  Stop sitting and complaining about what Nigeria has not done for you or what the politicians are doing, and rather start asking for what you can do for Nigeria to make it a country worthy to be home for you, your children, and your fellow citizens.


Ij Onuigbo is a U.S. Army Veteran, 

Human Rights Activist, and a Humanitarian.

You can follow her on Twitter: @ij_onuigbo


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