On this day 18 years ago, President George W. Bush signed into law the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).
Passed by Congress in response to the September 11 attacks, the 2001 AUMF was intended to authorize the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Since then, it has been used by three presidents to justify counterterrorism operations in at least 19 countries, including against groups like ISIS, which did not even exist on 9/11. It has become known as the “blank check for war.”
Now, on the 18th anniversary of the 2001 AUMF becoming law, we reflect on where we are in the longest war in U.S. history. The war in Afghanistan has lasted longer than the Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined, yet today the Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S. invaded. This war has cost the United States $975 billion and resulted in the deaths of 147,000 people, including 38,480 civilians, more than 2,401 U.S. military personnel, and 3,937 U.S. contractors.
Yet after so many years of bloodshed and stalemate, we have reason to hope that this long war will not be an endless war. The administration and presidential candidates are finally beginning to accept that there is no military solution to Afghanistan; that this nearly 20-year conflict will only be resolved through diplomacy and that lasting peace requires sustained investment in diplomatic, humanitarian, and conflict-prevention resources, not military might.
Despite recent setbacks, we remain hopeful that the peace talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan will continue and that an agreement will be reached. U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has held nine rounds of peace talks and is due to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee tomorrow on how these talks are progressing.
Further, there have been encouraging developments concerning the involvement of other key stakeholders in peace negotiations. In July, an intra-Afghan dialogue session was held with close to 50 participants representing women’s groups, civil society, the Taliban, and the Afghan government, among others. Continuing these talks and ensuring the ongoing inclusion in the peace process of such representatives from Afghan society is critical to achieving lasting peace.
If the last 18 years of war in Afghanistan have taught us anything, it is that this course of action has been an ineffective and damaging response to the threat of terrorism. FCNL is optimistic that the U.S. is finally taking the necessary steps to bring a responsible end to this war. We urge the U.S. government to ensure that all relevant Afghan stakeholders are included in peace negotiations—especially the Afghan government and Afghan women.
We look forward to the full withdrawal of U.S. troops and the proper investment in diplomacy and other non-military tools to restore peace, protect human rights, and prevent violent conflict. Finally, we look forward to the repeal of the 2001 AUMF and to Congress meaningfully reasserting its constitutional authority to determine whether and where the U.S. chooses war.