Twenty years, $2.26 trillion dollars and just under 125,000 lives lost.
That’s how much time, money and lives the Afghan war has cost. The objective? To find and bring to justice, the Al – Qaeda terrorists who plotted and carried out the September the 11th terror attacks in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.
That goal was accomplished ten years ago with the assassination of Al-Qaeda’s elusive leader and founder, Osama bin Laden. So why didn’t the conflict end there and then?
Well, that brings us to the more unattainable, difficult, and complex purpose of Operation Enduring Freedom: The overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban regime that protected and enabled bin Laden and his merry band of murderous jihadists.
Once again, America thought it would bring democracy and freedom to a country that both needed and wanted these two Western ideals. However, mere months after US President Joe Biden announced the final withdrawal of American troops, essentially bringing the country’s longest conflict to an end, what has transpired?
The Taliban, yes that’s right the Taliban, launched an offensive against the Afghan government, captured the capital Kabul and are now back in control of the country once again. All within the matter of a few months.
The Afghani President, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country (so much for leadership), the Afghan army, which the US spent $83 billion dollars training up, has vanished, and civilians, both foreign and native, are fleeing the country in their droves. Even to the point of risking death.
Afghanistan has gone from being a relatively progressive republic back to the Islamic Emirate it was two decades ago. So, this whole quagmire really does beg the question —war, what is it good for? Well, to continue with the musical comparison, absolutely nothing, it would seem.
I am of course referring to the song ‘War’ sung in the soulful and husky tones of Motown singer and songwriter Edwin Starr. It was released, as a form of protest, in 1970, at the height of antipathy towards another prolonged, futile struggle, the Vietnam War. A war the US is claimed to have “lost”. Whatever that means.
Here’s a few people who don’t ever “lose” in a war: Defence contractors, arms manufacturers, politicians seeking re-election, economists, etc. The Millennial and Generation Z cohorts have their own Vietnam equivalent in Afghanistan (and now in Ukraine).
So, it is incumbent on us to do what many older, previous peer groups (our supposed elders and betters) failed to achieve —to bring an end to wasteful combat and call out war for what it is and always has been— a sinful racket. That is how we really show our respect and gratitude to those who have served and are still serving.
Throughout history, there have been a few notable and noble exceptions. The Second World War for example, in my opinion, warranted intervention to stop the spread of fascism and liberate Europe from Hitler and the Nazi regime. Not to mention all the people awaiting certain death in numerous concentration camps that ended up being saved.
But all in all, war is about poor, working and middle-class men (and now women) being sent off to protect the safety and interests of rich people facilitated by political cowards with their own agendas. Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate that anybody that enlists in the armed services of their country, does so for honourable and sincere reasons. As well as practicalities like steady employment and training opportunities.
It’s a pity none of the so called “experts” in DC bothered to understand the history of Afghanistan. If they had, they would have seen that any attempt to change the Middle Eastern country was almost guaranteed to fail. It is not known as the “Graveyard of Empires” for no good reason. Various Superpowers such as Persia, Britain, and the Soviet Union, amongst others, all invaded Afghanistan and left without securing any kind of permanent influence. Why made America think it would be any different?
It has paid a heavy price for its hubris. One that could take years, if not longer, to rectify. Despite criticism aimed at Joe Biden, it could be argued that this shocking turn of events would have happened under any president, Democrat or Republican. He is right not to condemn another generation of young soldiers or to pass the buck further on to the next administration.
Whether we want to admit it or not, there are some parts of the world that are just incapable of embracing democracy, liberty, and free market capitalism. Afghanistan and the wider Muslim world are a prime example of that cultural contrast. Sadly, until Islam goes through its own Reformation or Enlightenment, it will never be rid of tribalism, medievalism, and tyranny.
Until then, or indeed at all, the West needs to step back and let them fight between themselves. Lord knows, we have enough of our own problems to sort out.