The U.S. Legacy in Afghanistan: War Crimes and Imperialist Double Standards

Danny Haiphong, Black Agenda Report, August 24, 2022 — One year ago the U.S. was ousted from Afghanistan after making war on that country for 20 years. But the U.S. killed civilians as it left and stole Afghanistan’s assets. It seems there is no end to the war of terror.

The mid-point of August is an important moment in history for Afghanistan and the world. It marks the anniversary of the Taliban’s ouster of large portions of the U.S. military from Afghanistan, putting a formal end to a two-decade occupation. U.S. forces left Afghanistan just as murderously as they came in. Joe Biden’s administration oversaw numerous war crimes during its haphazard “withdrawal” on August 15th 2021. This included a drone strike that killed ten civilians and at least seven children.

The cost of the twenty-year total siege of Afghanistan is well documented. According to Brown University’s Cost of War project , at least forty-six thousand civilians were murdered by U.S. occupation forces, along with another fifty-three thousand opposition fighters. Another 60,000 were killed in Pakistan. These are likely significant underestimations as the U.S. military has never been a reliable source for data on its murderous incursions abroad. Furthermore, the Cost of War was unable to account for those premature deaths that occurred as a result of destroyed infrastructure and a lack of access to food, medical care, and quality sewage systems.

Of course, U.S. imperialism doesn’t end wars. It merely shifts the method of war to better satisfy the contradiction between its hegemonic interests and realities outside of its control. U.S. Special Operations, intelligence, and private contractor (for-profit mercenary) personnel remain in Afghanistan. These covert forces have a history of meddling in the Afghanistan dating back to the 1979 proxy war against the Soviet Union. Their presence was asserted this August Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was assassinated by a U.S. drone strike earlier this month.

A staple of imperialist warfare is the cruel and unusual punishment of any form of resistance to U.S. domination. Such punishment takes on many forms. A particularly popular method of collective punishment for U.S. imperialism is sanctions. In Afghanistan, this has not only meant an economic blockade but also the outright theft of its foreign reserve currency assets to the amount of $9.5 billion . Joe Biden’s administration celebrated the one-year anniversary of the U.S. “withdrawal” from Afghanistan by publicly stating that these funds, half of which have already been donated to American families deemed victims of 9/11, will never be returned to Afghanistan for fear that they won’t be “managed responsibly.”

This imperialist doublespeak has enormous consequences for Afghanistan and the rest of the world. According to the NGO Save the Children , 80 percent of children in Afghanistan suffer from chronic hunger and 97 percent of families are without adequate access to food. In the first three months of 2022, 13,000 newborn babies died in Afghanistan due to medical complications from hunger and a collapsed healthcare system. U.S. sanctions and outright theft have thus created one of the gravest humanitarian crises in the world. And the blame for the crisis falls squarely at the feet of Joe Biden.

The U.S. legacy in Afghanistan remains war and war criminality. In truth, one could name any of the dozens of countries that the U.S. finds “adversarial” in place of Afghanistan and conclude the same. The U.S. enforces economic sanctions on more than 30 nations around the world . Tens of thousands have died prematurely in Venezuela, Iran, the DPRK, and Syria in the last five years alone due to economic strangulation. While rarely viewed as such, sanctions are an act of war and their deadly consequences make them a war crime of the highest order.

It is important to note that massive imperialist double-standards plague the U.S.’s legacy in Afghanistan. The U.S. claims itself to be a protector of “human rights” and “democracy” yet has sentenced thousands of children in Afghanistan to die. The U.S. foreign policy establishment routinely makes the most egregious claims of human rights abuses against Russia and China while verifiably committing the most heinous crimes against humanity. These double-standards are not a random occurrence. They are a byproduct of an empire in decline that possesses a suicidal geopolitical end game.

Afghanistan is not only one of the most resource-rich countries in the world but is also located squarely on China and the former Soviet Union’s border. The U.S.’s aim to “contain” (i.e., eventually overthrow) Russia and China makes control of Afghanistan that much more important. With nothing to offer but war and austerity, the United States cannot compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative or even Russia’s economic and military assistance. That means Afghanistan must remain in chaos. War is all that is left in the U.S.’s arsenal to prevent Afghanistan and the rest of the region from partnering with China and Russia on an independent development path.

The U.S. spent $2.3 trillion to wage war on Afghanistan. And it will spend trillions more to maintain its empire at the expense of workers and oppressed people. Afghanistan and the world deserve better. As the last four decades have shown, the people of Afghanistan will continue to resist U.S. imperialism’s war crimes and double-standards. But the success of their resistance, and indeed all resistance to empire, depends on what kind of breathing room that those residing in the belly of the imperialist beast can open up by weakening and paralyzing their government’s ability to wage war abroad.

Danny Haiphong’s work can be followed on Twitter @SpiritofHo and Telegram at The Haiphong Press. You can support Danny on Patreon by clicking this link.  You can contact him at

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