X
Story Stream
recent articles

When addressing the nation about the crisis in Afghanistan this week, U.S. President Joe Biden commented on the continued American role in promoting human rights. He also emphasized the importance of the counterterrorism mission in the Middle East.

Biden promised he would continue to “speak out for the basic rights of the Afghan people — of women and girls — just as we speak out all over the world.”

Speaking out might make us feel good. But what action is America taking to protect the women and girls of Afghanistan who are now in danger of losing their rights — and their lives? Stories are already circulating of Taliban enforcers beating women who are trying to get to the airport. Meanwhile, the State Department has issued a warning that safe passage to the airport is not available, even for Americans who are stranded.

In contrast, four weeks ago the House Appropriations Committee continued to show its concern for the opportunities of Afghan women by approving a defense bill that would earmark $20 million for their recruitment and retention into the Afghan security forces.

Now the Afghan security forces are gone, and women and young girls are being subjected to Taliban rule. Most young girls there have never experienced such horrors firsthand. They grew up during a time of expanding opportunities and freedom for Afghan women; achievements that were largely provided by a U.S.-led coalition that established security and facilitated open governance in the country.

Recent claims by Taliban leaders that their renewed rule will be different from the ruthless barbarism of their past are not credible. Read the fine print. They admit as much in their own statements, by claiming they will honor women's rights "within the norms of Islamic law." We have seen how they interpret those norms.

At last report, there were nearly 6,000 women in the Afghan security forces, most of them in the police force. Thanks to a heavy emphasis on using the Afghan Personnel and Pay System, these women and their families are probably now pretty easy to track.

With regard to America’s counterterrorism mission in the Middle East, Biden said: “We’ll continue to push for regional diplomacy and engagement to prevent violence and instability.” What diplomacy? And push who? The Taliban? The country is overrun with violence and instability, and desperate Afghans are either trying to flee the country or are hiding, fearfully awaiting their fate.

There is understandably a lot of attention on how much money has been spent in Afghanistan, and on the fact that the equipment operated by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, or ANDSF, is now up for grabs. There will be plenty of important questions, and the answers will probably be unwelcome for the most part.

Considering the current crises, however, we need to know how much of the money appropriated to support ANDSF and the ministries of defense and interior remains unspent. The Defense Department should immediately request that Congress allow a repurpose of this money for humanitarian assistance and resettlement of the ANDSF, particularly women, and their families.

It is tough to imagine a worse way to disengage from a vulnerable workforce that has supported U.S. objectives in Afghanistan and has few available options to quickly transition to another job — or even to survive.

There simply is no other source of help or support for the Afghan people. The Taliban is there. You either work for them, obey them, and live — or you don’t.

The president also said we will maintain a “laser focus” on counterterrorism efforts. How? With what resources and access? It seems Afghanistan is reverting rapidly to exactly the same conditions that spawned and nurtured terrorism in the past.

This concern was not lost on Congress. Earlier this week, 26 House Armed Services Committee members signed a very short letter to the president in which they requested that he immediately provide Congress with his purported plan “to prevent terror groups from using Afghanistan as a safe haven to recruit and train the next generation of terrorists.”

Words without action to back them up don’t mean much. Afghans and Americans need much more than wishful thinking and pleasant language. We need an actionable plan. The crisis and evolving humanitarian disaster we are witnessing show us that the past is rapidly becoming present. There is no reason to believe it does not also forecast a future we would not wish for ourselves or for those who have shared our objectives.

Elaine McCusker is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She is a former Acting Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller). The views expressed are the author’s own.