Mike Arthur, who served in Afghanistan during the Obama administration, has talked to Sputnik about Joe Biden’s decision to pull troops out of the country by 11 September. Mike spoke about his experience during his military tour, shared his thoughts on US foreign policy, and gave his perspective on how things will unfold in the region.
Sputnik: How long did you serve in Afghanistan?
Mike Arthur: I was there for a year. I got there on the 10th of March in 2010 and left on the 10th of March in 2011.
Sputnik: And what were your feelings during your tour? Did you have a feeling of patriotism, that you’re doing the right thing?
Mike Arthur: Yeah, for me, that year was a very positive experience. We were there to do our mission, that was Helmand Province, right when Marjah was kind of the rough place to go. So it was in the place that the most action was happening and we owned that battle space. I was in a support role and I really wanted to support the Marines that were in my area as best as I could. So it was a really good chance for me to show how good I was at my job supporting them. I have a very strong affinity for the US Marines who are willing to be at the front lines, so I just wanted to give them the best support possible so that they could do their job. So it was positive in that aspect. Because we owned that battle space, very frequently we would have to meet with the elders of the local villages and do summits and sit downs with them.
So it was a very positive experience because we really wanted to improve the lives of the people around the base that we were at.
Sputnik: And how long did you think the tour would last at the moment?
Mike Arthur: The Marine Corps normally keep most of the deployments at about six to nine months. But we knew being a command role that we were going to be there for at least a year. They did ask some of us if we would be willing to stay longer. And we had a couple of people who did. My son was born while I was over there, so I had a very big reason to get back to the United States. So I did not choose to stay there longer.
Sputnik: Former President Donald Trump announced his plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 1 May and was criticised by many media outlets. Now the media seems to be cheering Biden’s decision to extend the process by 11 September. What has changed since then?
Mike Arthur: In terms of on the ground I guarantee you nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is we now have a Biden administration and the mainstream media here in the US is very… They’re not even pro-Biden. They’re just anti-Trump. They did not like Trump at all. So having Biden in there now, they’re going to praise anything that Biden does, whether it makes sense or not. Now with pulling troops out of Afghanistan, I want to say it’s a good thing, but I also know that’s a country that needs a lot of help for years to come. The biggest thing that they need is infrastructure, if their society is going to move forward at all. There were barely any roads, there was barely any way to get water back and forth. So improving that is really the key to the country. It was like that when I was there. I have zero doubts that it’s really changed that much.
If the US is not going to help with that role, then, yeah, we should not be there.
So ultimately, I’m not necessarily angry about the decision. I just want to know: are we going to have to deal with another 9/11? Which was all trained and planned under the Taliban.
Sputnik: And why do you think Biden decided to extend the process until 11 September?
Mike Arthur: I think that was a political decision, I really think they thought that they would be cheered by the American people doing that. And really, from what I gather, me personally and people around me is – we’re kind of insulted by that because 11 September is a day of remembrance. It’s a day that we remember what happened to us and that we were willing to stand up against people.
So I think, withdrawing on that day is just a slap in the American people’s face. And I think they really screwed up with how they thought that was going to be received.
Sputnik: US military involvement in Afghanistan has yielded the longest running war in the US history. Was it the right step to send troops to Afghanistan back then in 2001?
Mike Arthur: I believe it was, I believe Afghanistan was a better decision than Iraq. With Afghanistan that was where the attacks were planned. That’s where we believe that Osama bin Laden was hiding for a long time. So I think we were fully justified in going there. I don’t know if we were justified in staying as long as we did, because, like I said, if we haven’t done enough to help the Afghanistan people, then we were there just for our own egos. I don’t know. I know when I was there, I was there to try to improve the country and to support the Marines. That’s what I was there for. And that’s what I think I did very well. For everyone else – I can’t speak for them.
With the Taliban, whenever you’re in any type of war, at a certain point, there’s going to be negotiation to try to bring things down. The only I have is, it’s not so much with Biden, it’s that he was in the Obama administration and I was in Afghanistan and in the UAE during the Obama administration. When I was in the UAE is when Syria started off. With that administration, they didn’t communicate. They said: “oh, these are our goals”. But they didn’t tell us in the military: “here’s how I want you to get there”. So it was a leadership vacuum. If you’re going to tell people: “here’s my end state, go!”, – that’s fine. But that’s not what they did. They were very much micromanaging our results without saying: “here’s what I really want you to do”. So it was difficult during the Obama administration. And I would imagine that since Biden was a part of that administration, we’re seeing that right now. I’m not in the military at this point, so I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s happening. But I can tell you the US military is doing a paradigm shift with the way it is planning for war. And that’s just on stuff that I’m seeing and reading living in a military town.
Sputnik: Fair enough. The Bush administration has been highly criticised for intervening and unleashing wars under the auspices of the war on terror. In your opinion, did the war on terror policy really hold peace in Afghanistan?
Mike Arthur: Not in Afghanistan, no. In Afghanistan, the war on terror definitely brought home the things that we experienced in 9/11. We took the fight to them. Unfortunately, a lot of Afghan people were caught up in that. And that’s the nature of war. The biggest mistake the Bush administration made was trying to expand the war on terror into Iraq. I don’t think it really garnered us any strategic advantage long term because we essentially pulled out of Iraq. We have a couple of bases there, but it’s not the way that we envisioned it. And with Afghanistan, I think that we’re going to see the same thing where we will have some forces there in a support role trying to train them, that type of thing. But I don’t think that’s what the Bush administration envisioned long term. I don’t think they met their goals because the next administration came in and changed it. And the Biden administration is moving away from it as well.
Sputnik: Do you think the Taliban will gain its strength after pulling out?
Mike Arthur: I hope they don’t. I’m scared that they will because they are still a significant force in the country. But it’s my hope that having been in war for the better part of 20 years, I’m hoping that they can understand that it doesn’t gain them what they think it’s going to gain them. Hopefully we see religious extremism in Afghanistan taper off and people say: “You know what, the American military was fair. The Taliban is not”. So hopefully we see the people move more towards wanting to be a global neighbour to the rest of us instead of an isolationist religious oligarchy.
Sputnik: In your opinion, what are the chances that the US administration will decide to send its military contingent back to Afghanistan in the near future?
Mike Arthur: I think it’s about 90 percent positive that we will send some type of military force back there. I don’t think it’s going to be a full blown war like we experienced before. The political philosophy when it comes to foreign relations is that we will use our military to kind of get our point across. So I could see us doing bombing campaigns and things like that, if it arises.
The Biden administration loves to bomb. We picked up bombing in Syria, much bigger than it ever was under Trump. So I can see within the next four years a very good chance of at least a bombing campaign in Afghanistan if the Taliban starts to take a larger hold, which I think is about 50/50.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.