After 20 years in the country, American and British forces are leaving Afghanistan.
US President Joe Biden announced that the roughly 3,000 remaining US soldiers and servicemen are expected to depart Afghan soil by September 11th. The UK is making the same move, withdrawing its remaining 750 soldiers.
The date is significant: 20 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. Planned and directed by al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, the attacks were followed by a long US war campaign in the Middle East.
In Afghanistan, the US-led coalition forced the Taliban from power and temporarily expelled al-Qaeda from the country.
The cost of this 20-year military engagement was astronomically high—in lives and in money. More than 2,300 US military personnel were killed and more than 20,000 wounded. More than 450 Britons were killed, as well as hundreds of soldiers of other nationalities. But it was the Afghans who had the greatest impact. There were more than 60,000 deaths in the security forces and nearly double the civilian deaths.
The estimated financial cost to the US taxpayer was nearly $1 trillion. The question that remains is: was it worth it? The answer depends on which criterion is used.
First, why did Western forces invade Afghanistan and what did they set out to do?
For five years, from 1996 to 2001, an international jihadist group called al-Qaeda managed to establish themselves in Afghanistan, led by leader Osama bin Laden.
The organization set up camps for activities such as training extremist soldiers and experimenting with poison gas on dogs. The group recruited and trained some 20,000 jihadist volunteers from around the world. He also claimed responsibility for attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 224 people, mostly African civilians.
Al-Qaeda managed to operate with impunity in Afghanistan because it was protected by the government at the time: the Taliban, which had taken control of the entire country in 1996 after the withdrawal of the Soviet Red Army and the civil war that ensued.
The US, through its Saudi allies, tried to persuade the Taliban to expel al-Qaeda, but they refused. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the international community asked the Taliban to hand over those responsible — but again, the regime refused.
So, the following month, an anti-Taliban Afghan force known as the Northern Alliance entered Kabul, backed by American and British forces, ousting the Taliban and driving al-Qaeda to flee across the Pakistani border.
Security sources recently told the BBC that since then there has not been a single successful international terrorist attack planned from Afghanistan.
So, going only by the measure of international counterterrorism, the Western military has succeeded in its objective.
The consequences for Afghans
But that, of course, would be an extremely simplistic way of looking at the conflict, one that ignores the enormous impacts it has had and still has on Afghans, civilians, and military alike.
Twenty years later, the country is still not at peace. According to the research group Action on Armed Violence, in 2020 more people were killed by explosive devices in Afghanistan than in any other country in the world.
Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS), and other extremist groups have not disappeared — they are resurgent and are no doubt encouraged by the imminent departure of the last remaining Western forces.
Today, after peace talks in Doha and military victories, the Taleban must still play a decisive role in the country’s future.
However, General Nick Carter, Britain’s Chief of Defense Staff, who served in the country, says that “the international community has built a civil society” that has made it harder to achieve the kind of “popular legitimacy than the Taliban want”.
“The country is in a better position than in 2001,” he says, “and the Taliban has become more open.”
Sajjan Gohel, a researcher at the Asia Pacific Foundation, takes a slightly more pessimistic view. “There is real concern,” he says, “that Afghanistan could return to being a breeding ground for extremism, as it was in the 1990s.”
It’s a concern shared by many Western intelligence agencies.
Gohel says that “there will now be a new wave of foreign terrorist fighters traveling to Afghanistan for terrorist training, but the West will not be able to deal with that because the abandonment of Afghanistan will have been completed.”
But it may be that this is avoidable. It will depend on two factors: first, whether a triumphant Taliban will allow al-Qaeda and ISIS activities in areas under its control, and secondly, how prepared the international community will be to confront them when they no longer have it. military personnel in the country.
Therefore, Afghanistan’s future security framework is unclear. The nation that Western forces are leaving this northern hemisphere summer is far from safe. But few could have predicted, in the turbulent days after 9/11, that Westerners would remain there for two decades.
On one of the trips taken by the BBC report to cover the conflict in Afghanistan, during a commemoration of a military victory, a 19-year-old soldier from upstate New York told the report how he lost several of his friends during the war. . Gardner says that this is one of the memories that most marked him in the coverage of the conflict.
“If my time comes, it has come,” the young soldier told the reporter, shrugging.
Then someone picked up a guitar and started singing Radiohead’s song Creep. The lyrics end with the words “what the hell am I doing here? I shouldn’t be in this place.”
Source: with BBC