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17 August 2021updated 03 Sep 2021 1:43pm

Why Joe Biden is wrong to say that Afghans did not fight for themselves

Nearly 70,000 Afghan soldiers and police, and more than 47,000 civilians died in the 20-year conflict. 

By Ben van der Merwe

Last night (16 August), Joe Biden addressed the nation from the White House to defend his decision to withdraw US soldiers from Afghanistan.

“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” he said. 

Afghans have borne the brunt of the conflict
Death toll of the war in Afghanistan, as of April 2021

*Middle of estimated range (66-69k). **Includes journalists, aid workers and US DoD civilians
Source: Costs of War Project

Many of the country’s regional capitals have fallen without a fight in recent days. Before the takeover, the Afghan government complained that the rapid withdrawal of US contractors had rendered their air force largely inoperable, while troops complained of severe supply shortages.

“We gave them every chance to determine their own future,” Biden said. “What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

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But over the past 20 years, Afghan forces have fought and died in far larger numbers than US troops.

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The Costs of War Project estimates that between 66,000 and 69,000 Afghan military and police had been killed in the conflict as of April this year, accounting for 90 per cent of all allied combat deaths.

The toll of the conflict on Afghan civilians has also been severe. An estimated 47,245 have been killed, in addition to 24,099 Pakistani civilians. A recent report estimated that 1,598 children have been killed by coalition airstrikes in the past five years, accounting for 40 per cent of all airstrike victims. The UN estimates that children made up 30 per cent of the 8,820 Afghan civilians killed or wounded in 2020.