In autumn 2001 the invasion of Afghanistan began, and here we are 20 year later and the U.S. is all-out in just over three weeks by September 11th.
President Biden is about to get a Jimmy Carter-scale shellacking with tv footage coming of Afghani Taleban going through Kabul and in short days rifling through the U.S. Embassy as they finally take over the entire country. We won’t have seen footage like it of a U.S. embassy since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 (You don’t win re-election with defeats and withdrawals, and you won’t be thanked for it in the mid-term Senatorial races either).
NATO troops more broadly have been withdrawing since 2014, so it’s been an increasingly lonely U.S. mission as they gradually withdrew and tried to keep some of the gains they had made together. We largely got out years ago, after sterling work leading the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan but also a covered-up raid in Baghlan province that resulted in six civilians killed and 15 wounded.
As with many U.S.-led interventions, the very presence of Americans in Afghanistan trod on a sense of Afghan identity that incorporated national pride, a long history of successfully fighting off outsiders, and a religious commitment to defend their homeland. Honour, religion and home make for a spectacular will to resist. It dared young men to fight. It sapped the will of Afghan soldiers and police.
The Taliban’s ability to link their cause to the very meaning of being Afghan was a crucial element in America’s defeat.
The United States has been fighting a war in Afghanistan for just on 20 years. More than 2,300 U.S. military personnel have lost their lives there; more than 20,000 others have been wounded. At least half a million Afghans have been killed or wounded. There goes over US$trillion.
Good news: no more attacks on the U.S. homeland carried out by Afghani terrorists since 9/11.
Bad news: pretty much everything else
If you want to compare Senator Biden’s thinking back when it was starting, to his thinking now, well start with Biden in 2002.
Now let’s take a moment and see what they got right.
In late 2011, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced some astonishing news about progress in health and mortality in Afghanistan. The 2010 Afghanistan Mortality Survey, the largest survey of its kind ever undertaken there, showed that from 2004 to 2010, life expectancy had risen from 42 years to 62 years. The big driver in that was a sharp decline in child mortality. As a result, nearly 100,000Afghan children per year who previously would have died now don’t.
That’s like the entire Syrian crisis didn’t happen. Brought to you by an aid agency 99% of Americans have never heard of.
By the end of Taliban rule (last time) in 2002, Afghanistan’s public health system had collapsed. To begin to resuscitate it, aid donors and the Afghan government devised a basic package of health services that cost about $4.50 per person. And they got the staff in there to make the clinics work.
All of that will collapse again within months.
And now everything else.
There has been an exponentially sharp rise in the production of opium, despite offers of ‘subsidies’ given to farmers who refrain from producing opium.
Osama bin Laden was killed almost 10 years after the invasion of Afghanistan – and he wasn’t there at all: he was in an ordinary suburb of Pakistan and well bedded in.
Afghanistan is still one of the world’s most impoverished nations and it has one of the highest numbers of internally and externally displaced refugees. More than 3.5 million Afghans are internally displaced and this number is rising rapidly every day as aid agencies struggle to provide help.
The level of literacy is still extremely low and the country ranks high on global corruption indexes.
It’s still one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
It’s about to have its government wrecked, public services destroyed, educated people destroyed Chinese Cultural Revolution style, and a fundamentalist regime installed that will make the Handmaid’s Tale look like Offred was rolling in clover.
The U.S. didn’t come to nation-build. That’s been clear from the beginning. They trained about 300,000 Afghanis to build a good standing army and protect themselves. Well that didn’t work.
The terrorist threat that the United States has defeated there has now been replaced with the high domestic terror threat from racists within the United States itself. That probably doesn’t count as success either. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/04/white-supremacists-terror-threat-dhs-409236
I’d simply like to record though that every aid worker and aid dollar that sought to do good there, and did so, should be just as recognised as people who served in armed forces to fight. To be able to go somewhere hard and seek to do good, and do it, is an achievement.
If the years of colonialist meddling, attempted land grabbing, insincerity from neighbouring countries and corruption within the Afghan establishment are considered and acknowledged as contributory factors to blame for Afghanistan’s current state, it becomes easier to comprehend why Afghanistan is still finding its feet and struggling to blossom into the free and prosperous country its people long for it to be.
Probably China will end up with the most influence in the northeast, with Pakistan influencing the south.
The effects of the Bush administrations’ decision to invade Afghanistan have been very very dark.
Biden is going to take fierce hits from many sides in the next three months over this.
My minor hope is that he commits not to do it again.