Counting the number of people displaced by war is never an easy task, but the United Nations estimates about a million refugees were knocking on Europe's door in 2015. A fifth of them -- about 200,000 people -- were Afghans fleeing a resurgent Taliban and a fledgling branch of the Islamic State.
When talk turns to who should be held responsible for the Afghan refugee crisis, it's tempting to take the easy route and blame the U.S. But that simplifies the problem, ignores the world community's responsibility, and represents the kind of attitude that led to the crisis in the first place.
American troops have occupied the country since the 2001 invasion after 9/11. The initial stated goal was to destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda and transform Afghanistan from a lawless wasteland -- the perfect base for a terrorist organization with worldwide ambitions -- to a safe country with a strong central government and its own military.
Obviously, it hasn't turned out that way.
The entirety of recorded human history should have been a warning to former President George W. Bush and the neoconservatives advising him -- Afghanistan is known as the "graveyard of empires" for good reason, and the past is littered with examples of failed campaigns and would-be conquerors who realized too late what they'd gotten themselves into.
But first thing's first -- the U.S. was not responsible for the mass exodus of Afghans.
By 2001, that had already happened. Before 9/11, the Taliban fighters were best known as heartless barbarians who executed women in soccer stadiums and destroyed priceless world artifacts like the 14-century-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
Afghans were living in countries like Pakistan and Iran by the millions, and exiles like eventual Afghan President Hamid Karzai were asking anyone who would listen for assistance in destroying the Taliban.
When the Twin Towers fell, suddenly the U.S. was willing to listen.
What followed was actually a period of repatriation. Afghans living in deplorable conditions in countries like Pakistan returned to their homeland, encouraged by the American-led coalition's successes, Foreign Policy reported. They planned rebuilding projects and looked forward to the prospect of plentiful jobs as the Afghan government rebuilt itself with the help of the U.S. and its allies.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. will have spent more than $2.4 trillion in Afghanistan and Iraq by the end of 2017, Reuters reported.
But as a story in TIME noted, the true cost isn't just measured in Humvees, ammunition and fuel for C-5 Galaxy runs. The entire cost of the wars -- including "long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs," exceeds $6 billion, according to Harvard economist Linda Bilmes.
To put that in context, the U.S. GDP was about $18 trillion in 2015. The wars are a burden even the world's sole remaining superpower can't shoulder. Arguably it's been in vain since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from both countries has left power vacuums ripe for filling by terrorist groups.
Any honest assessment of the current Syrian and Afghan refugee crises must conclude that these are world problems, not U.S. problems or European problems. Like a patient who lets an injury fester, the world's supposedly civilized nations just watched as Syria devolved into chaos, and they've been watching Afghanistan impassively for decades, as if it's some zoo on another planet, with no repercussions for the rest of the world.
If the world's leaders can't be moved to do something out of basic decency, because the victims are fellow human beings, then maybe self-interest will finally spur them to realize no country is truly isolated any more.
Like treating a disease, tackling the problem after the fact is always more difficult, costly and painful than preventative care. In some ways, it's difficult to believe it's 2016, and the default policy of the world's supposed leaders is to take a hands-off approach to chaos and then act surprised when the ripple effects start to impact things back home.
The Afghan refugee crisis isn't a U.S. problem. It's a world problem. It's a problem that was allowed to grow out of control year by year, decade by decade. It's a problem compounded by every head of state who considered it someone else's responsibility.
With this massive humanitarian crisis, perhaps the world will wake up and realize that solving these problems is the responsibility of the entire human race. But if we were wagering on the possibility, who would take that bet?