“The Fall of Afghanistan, One Year Later: Chaos and Uncertainty Have Become Way of Life,” was the front-page USA Today headline (8/15/22), suggesting that “chaos and uncertainty” is the result of last year’s US withdrawal—and not of 20 years of occupation, preceded by decades of covert intervention, and ongoing efforts by Washington to sabotage the country’s economy.
As signaled by the headline, the article framed the loss of US occupation as an unfortunate setback for the country—although in reality the US has been and remains the primary force of “chaos” and “uncertainty” in Afghanistan.
An inconsistent read from start to finish, the piece briefly addressed the decades of violence inflicted by the US and its continued economic sanctions, which threaten to starve the entire country, including a quote by Vali Nasr, a professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins:
Since our departure, [the US] has been very good at criticizing the Taliban’s role in restricting the cultural space in Afghanistan…. But basically, we’ve been completely oblivious to the fact that our sanctions and the economic situation of Afghanistan is destroying the middle class.
Making no further effort to describe US sanctions, USA Today opted to remain “oblivious,” instead fixating on Taliban rule and the impact losing the war economy has had on the country: “After the US military exit, Afghanistan’s economy and social safety net collapsed, pushing the country further into poverty after decades of continuous conflict,” was how the article summed up the problem.
USA Today declined to detail the US sanctions which are the driving force behind Afghanistan’s economic meltdown (FAIR.org, 12/21/21; Human Rights Watch, 8/4/22). The US has frozen more than $7 billion of the country’s assets, amounting to roughly 40% of Afghanistan’s economy (CEPR, 2/4/22). US-led international restrictions on the country’s banking sector are driving a mass starvation of Afghanistan, where over 1 million children under the age of five face risk of starving to death this year, and over 90% of the country are facing food insecurity (HRW, 8/4/22).
Instead, the article mystified the concrete steps the US could take to alleviate Afghan suffering, quoting a former State Department official: “Even if we use all our tools, it’s not certain that we will be able to truly improve life for Afghans.” Giving them back their stolen money would be a good tool to start with. According to the Human Rights Watch report:
Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis cannot be effectively addressed unless the United States and other governments ease restrictions on the country’s banking sector to facilitate legitimate economic activity and humanitarian aid.
“Many Afghans continue to live in fear for their personal safety…. And with good reason,” the article stressed, citing the 237 extrajudicial killings counted by the UN in the past year.” (Of these, 160 were former collaborators with the US occupation; another 59 were members of ISIS.) In a lower key, the article went on to acknowledge that “security has improved to some degree in areas that had seen fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces”; specifically, there were more than 5,000 civilians killed in from January through June 2021, as opposed to 700 killed in the past year.
This substantial reduction in violence against civilians is surely good news, isn’t it? Not to hear USA Today tell it: “Still, for Kabul’s middle class and for minorities and women, the Taliban’s crackdown has been horrific,” the paper hastened to add—as though none of the thousands of civilians who were killed under US occupation were women, ethnic minorities or middle class.
USA Today also dedicated a section to Afghanistan’s “Heightened Refugee Crisis,” stating that “the US withdrawal from Afghanistan exacerbated the country’s instability and the displacement of its population.” In fact, UN data shows that since 2021, close to 1 million internally displaced persons have returned to their places of origin. USA Today didn’t acknowledge this, but tried to justify its claim by noting that “a growing number of Afghans are fleeing to other countries”—which is true, according to the UN: Some 180,000 Afghans have fled to other countries since 2021. The reader would have no way of knowing that this is a much smaller number than the total who have returned to their homes.
ACTION: Please tell USA Today to tell the whole story on the state of Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal.
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