Why the Fall of Afghanistan Matters
The fall of Afghanistan and the defeat of the U.S. has left the world in shock. What lessons can we learn from Afghanistan and the war on terror?
Desperate Afghans overflowed the Kabul airport, trying to catch a ride on the last flights evacuating people out of their country. The world watched in horror as frantic Afghans clung to an airplane as it was taking off, some falling to their deaths.
In the past few weeks, the world has witnessed images of “battle-hardened soldiers” brought to tears and distressed mothers handing their babies and children over razor wire in an attempt to save them from life under the brutal Taliban.
Many predicted the inevitable collapse of Afghanistan to the Taliban. But the speed of its fall took the world off guard. Consider the following reactions from Western leaders, as well as the enemies of the U.S.:
- United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called the news of atrocities “chilling reports.”
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the situation “extremely difficult.”
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel also described the situation as “bitter, dramatic and terrifying.” Armin Laschet, Mrs. Merkel’s heir as leader of the Christian Democrats, called it the “greatest debacle that NATO has seen since its foundation.”
- Tom Tugendhat, the conservative chair of the U.K. Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said: “Afghanistan is the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez.”
- Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign relations committee, said this has resulted in “fundamental damage to the political and moral credibility of the West” and described the withdrawal as a “serious and far-reaching miscalculation.”
- U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell called it “the embarrassment of a superpower laid low.”
- Somalia’s al-Shabab insurgents responded with these words: “Allahu Akbar [God is greatest], congratulations. The U.S. and other hundreds of thousands of foreign forces fled the country. The 20-year jihad has become reality.”
The world’s most powerful superpower has been effectively defeated by a group of zealots operating out of caves. The Aug. 28, 2021, edition of The Economist described it this way: “Through willpower, patience and cunning, a low-budget band of holy warriors has vanquished America and taken charge of a medium-size country” (“Where Next for Global Jihad?” p. 7).
What lessons can we learn from the United States’ 20-year effort in Afghanistan?
The war on terror
We are approaching the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the event that triggered the war in Afghanistan.
Shortly after the attack, then President George W. Bush declared “war on terror.” Addressing the U.S. Congress, he announced, “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
Far from its original mission to crush the Taliban, the U.S. now finds itself retreating from them.Less than a month after the attacks, the U.S. and Great Britain launched airstrikes in Afghanistan against the Taliban, who were protecting al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. With the world’s most powerful army coming against ill-equipped tribal forces, everyone expected a swift defeat for the Taliban and eventually al-Qaeda. But the fight proved to be a lot more difficult than many expected, and the war dragged on for many years. It wasn’t until 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, in 2011, that Osama bin Laden was finally found and killed.
Now, 10 years after Bin Laden’s death, the U.S. has withdrawn. But has the U.S. achieved its goals? Did the United States win the “war on terror”? Did this 20-year war fulfill President Bush’s initial objective—defeating “every terrorist group of global reach”?
Far from defeating the Taliban, the U.S. has legitimized the terror group by negotiating with them. The irony is stark. Far from its original mission to crush the Taliban, the U.S. now finds itself retreating from them.
While the U.S. and Great Britain try to paint a rosier picture of today’s Taliban, many Afghans have started to feel the brutality of the Taliban as they instigate revenge killings for those who collaborated with foreign powers.
A women’s rights activist in Afghanistan said, “The U.S. should have defeated this ominous phenomenon on the ground, or forced them to make peace. But they introduced the Taliban as a power to the world [through direct negotiations], and did not realize the Taliban are the savage Taliban, who know nothing but terror.”
The war in Afghanistan has cost the U.S. a staggering $2.26 trillion, and the withdrawal has left the Taliban with a cache of weapons and military vehicles worth billions. The Taliban is now in a stronger position than ever, declaring that Allah granted them victory and boasting of their defeat of a global superpower.
This will likely embolden jihadist terror groups in other parts of the world—specifically in the Middle East and Africa. The Economist article quoted above put it: “Many are asking: if our Afghan brothers can beat a superpower, surely we can beat our own wretched rulers?”
With vast resources and the most sophisticaticated arsenal of weaponry in history at their disposal, why couldn’t the world’s most powerful military defeat men who the U.K.’s chief of defense called a group of “country boys”?
Has the pride of America’s power been broken?
The war in Afghanistan showed that one needs more than overwhelming military power to win a war. The Bible tells us that God determines the outcome of battles. When David confronted Goliath, the giant mocked David for his youth (1 Samuel 17:42). But David told him an essential truth—that though Goliath had multiple weapons (a sword, spear and javelin), David had God on his side. It was God who determined the outcome of the battle, “for the battle is the LORD’s, and He will give you into our hands” (verses 45, 47).
The Bible warns that another factor that can hinder victory in battle is sin. Sin within Israel caused the Israelites to lose a key battle to the people of Ai (Joshua 7:3-4). The embarrassing loss caused Joshua and Israel to become greatly discouraged (verse 5). God informed them their defeat was due to hidden sin (verses 6-12). It wasn’t until the sin was discovered and addressed that they could overpower their enemies (verses 13-26; 8:1).
As nations, the U.S. and Great Britain have continued to embrace many sins, such as the rejection of God’s very existence, modifying the biblical definition of marriage and family, the celebration of immoral sexual lifestyles, the killing of children in the womb, the embrace of filthy and aggressive speech, and many more. These nations have compromised their own values by supporting corrupt and unethical regimes for their own self-interest. Instead of trusting in God, these nations have placed their faith in their own strength and power (Jeremiah 2:13).
God warned that disobedience to His commandments would result in curses. Two of those curses were that God would “break the pride of your power” and that “your strength shall be spent in vain” (Leviticus 26:1-3, 18-20).
“Your strength shall be spent in vain” is a perfect summary of America’s 20-year war in Afganistan. The Economist referred to Afghanistan’s fall as “America’s humiliation.” Until America and Great Britain deal with their sins, they can expect to lose even more battles and suffer even more humiliating defeats (Leviticus 26:16-17, 25, 32-34).
The pride of American power primarily lies in its military and economic might. But both are in dramatic decline. After the 2008 global financial crisis and especially in the current pandemic, the U.S. has seen dramatic increases in debt levels as it tries to prop up its economic system and prevent it from collapsing. Rising debts, the loss of almost every war since World War II, and deep political divisions are ominous signs of a declining world power that is heading toward collapse.
Many see parallels with the fall of Saigon after the Vietnam War. Consider the following:
- Both of the regimes supported by the U.S. were weak, corrupt and unpopular with locals. The U.S.-supported Afghan government was notorious for taking bribes and selling government jobs to the highest bidder.
- The fall of Saigon caught America by surprise, falling sooner than expected. The Taliban also took the Americans by surprise.
- The end of both wars saw locals desperately trying to escape the onslaught from the invading forces.
- Both wars ended with failure to accomplish the original mission.
What does Bible prophecy tell us about what will happen next?
The coming “times of the gentiles”
The decline of the United States has only served to embolden America’s enemies. As the U.S. withdraws from the world stage, authoritarian leaders and despotic regimes are rising to fill the void. Afghanistan sits at the crossroads between Asia, Europe and the Middle East. What has transpired there will have deep effects on the powers surrounding it.
China called the United States an “unreliable partner” that always abandons its partners or allies to seek self-interest. Meanwhile, China taunts Taiwan with an imminent invasion. America’s retreat from Afghanistan could further embolden China’s aggression toward Taiwan. To learn more about this situation, read “Why the China-and-Taiwan Conflict Matters.”
As some countries retreat and close their embassies in Afghanistan, China, Russia and Pakistan remain. These nations want to project their influence in order to fill the void left by the United States and NATO powers.
As the U.S. withdraws from the world stage, authoritarian leaders and despotic regimes are rising to fill the void.Europe is also worried about the situation in Afghanistan. Germany has watched the unfolding crisis in disbelief and sees the American withdrawal and handover to the Taliban as a betrayal. Germany’s mission in Afghanistan was its first major deployment since World War II and was its chance to show the world it could be trusted militarily.
But the U.S. withdrawal left European nations scrambling to get their staff and citizens out. This debacle has convinced many in Europe of their need for autonomy from the United States. Now more than ever, the nations of Europe know they cannot rely on the United States.
The Bible talks about a future time known as the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). Gentiles refers to the nations and peoples not of Israelite descent.
Specifically, the Bible identifies three gentile powers that will battle for global dominance in the end time:
- “The king of the South.” This seems to be a confederacy of Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa that will launch some sort of aggressive act against a European power known as the king of the North (Daniel 11:40).
- “The king of the North.” This power is also known prophetically as “the beast” and the 10th and final resurrection of the Roman Empire. It will be some conglomeration of European leaders under a single charismatic political leader. The king of the North will react to the aggressive actions of the king of the South by defeating it with an overwhelming military force (11:41-43). The European power will enter into Israel and set up a false worship system connected with the abomination of desolation (12:11). This will begin the period of time Christ called the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21-22).
- “The kings from the east.” As a result of the king of the North’s dominance, a group of nations from the east will form an alliance to challenge the European power (Revelation 16:12). They will launch an attack against the king of the North with an enormous army of 200 million. In the process, they will kill “a third of mankind” (9:15-18).
Who are missing from this list of end-time power players? The U.S. and Great Britain. A careful study of history and prophecy shows that these countries are Israelite nations, not gentiles. For the last 200 to 300 years, the world has primarily been under the influence of these two Israelite nations, but that period of time is coming to an end. To learn more about the fascinating connection between Israel and these modern nations, read “Who Are the United States and Britain in Prophey?”
The time of Jacob’s trouble
The prophet Jeremiah described the end times as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7).
Sin is the cause of the troubles that have come and are coming upon the Israelite nations and the world. God warned: “Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’” (Deuteronomy 31:17).
The “time of Jacob’s trouble” will be a time of severe punishment on the Israelite nations. It seems this time is getting closer as we see the decline of these nations on the world stage.
But the good news is that Jesus tells us of a way to escape the troubles ahead. “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).
As we see the continuing decline of the United States and Britain and the rise of powers that will plunge the world into the greatest time of war and suffering in human history, it’s time for those who recognize the handwriting on the wall to repent of their sins and turn to the true God. To learn how to start that process, read our article “How to Repent."