On a cold night on October 7, 2001, the American forces invaded Afghanistan, with the aim of eliminating the “Al-Qaeda” organization, arresting its leader, Osama bin Laden, and overthrowing the Taliban regime at that time, as a result of the terrorist attack that targeted the United States on September 11, 2001. same year.
Decisive airpower has pushed Washington to achieve one of the two main goals of toppling the Taliban government within weeks and establishing a carefully selected regime in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
However, it took a decade to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden in an operation in the fortified city of Abbottabad, northwest Pakistan, in May 2011.
However, the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the near elimination of al-Qaeda did not spur Washington to leave Afghanistan, as it and its allies focused on the task of “nation-building” in a war-torn country amid an active Taliban insurgency.
Exactly 20 years later, the wheel of history has been turned completely with the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan in dramatic fashion after a confrontation with crumbling resistance from the Western-backed regime of President Ashraf Ghani.
In the end, the 180,000 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and a 150,000-strong police force, along with the air force and other security wings armed with technology and trained by the United States and NATO, proved no match for the diverse Taliban force.
The capital, Kabul, and the group’s home city of Kandahar are back in Taliban hands, with the added bonus of the northern Panjshir valley that the group has been unable to tame.
The two-decade conflict has cost the United States a whopping $2.26 trillion, of which $88 billion has been spent training, equipping, and financing the Afghan army and police forces, most of which surrendered to the Taliban without even firing a shot.
The conflict has claimed the lives of two thousand and 442 US soldiers, while twenty thousand and 666 other soldiers have been wounded since 2001, according to the US Department of Defense, and killed one thousand and 144 personnel from 40 countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “NATO”.
Gains and Failures
The administration of US President Joe Biden, dazed and under fire for a “hasty” withdrawal, is scrambling to address the new reality in the war-torn country.
According to local and international analysts, the end of the 20-year war bore a mixed bag of gains and failures for Washington.
In this regard, Terry McDermott, an expert on Afghan affairs based in the United States, told The Eastern Herald that “almost everything went wrong for Washington after the Taliban were expelled from Kabul.”
“It is clear that 9/11 was a big affair and a horrific attack that deserved a strong response. The United States provided that response by overthrowing al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts, but almost every step the United States took after that was a mistake,” he added.
McDermott is the author of two bestsellers, The Perfect Soldiers: The Kidnappers…Who Were They and What They Wanted, and The Hunt for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The former reporter for the “Los Angeles Times” described Washington’s self-imposed nation-building mission as a “total failure”, saying: “The arrogance of thinking that America could rebuild Afghanistan with its own perception was reckless.”
He added that “this failure was compounded after that by not focusing on that task, but diverting resources to the Iraq war in 2003,” and stressed that “everything the United States did after 2002 was a mistake.”
Azaz Ahmed Chaudhry, the former Pakistani foreign minister from 2013-2017, argued that Washington had achieved its primary goal by eliminating the al-Qaeda network, but the shift in goal to nation-building made things complicated.
Chaudhry, who also served as Pakistan’s top diplomat in Washington, told The Eastern Herald: “The United States has succeeded in eliminating al-Qaeda largely thanks to Pakistan’s cooperation. A military rather than a political settlement contains lessons the United States needs to learn from.”
In the same context, Salman Bashir, former foreign minister of Pakistan, said: “The net loss is everywhere, including Afghanistan, the United States, and the region as a whole.”
Bashir, who served as Pakistan’s foreign minister between 2008 and 2012, told The Eastern Herald that the unplanned US withdrawal from Afghanistan poses a threat to regional stability.
He stressed that “the return of the Taliban after 20 years means that the situation in Afghanistan started from where it ended.”
He added that after spending trillions of dollars and losing precious human lives on all sides, “questions about regional stability, and post-US withdrawal attitudes and policies, continue to increase concerns about Afghanistan’s future.”
The United States still bears the responsibility
McDermott dismissed criticism of the Biden administration for a “hasty” withdrawal, saying Washington had limited options under certain circumstances.
He stressed that “Biden was right to leave, because whenever the withdrawal occurred, there is sure to be chaos in its wake.”
Chaudhry, who currently heads the Islamabad-based Institute for Strategic Studies, said Washington still owes a responsibility to the people of Afghanistan.
“The United States has a responsibility to the people of Afghanistan, abandoning them after 20 years of military action is not an option,” he added, urging Washington to “help avert a looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.”
He continued, “The imposition of economic coercion or the freezing of funds owned by the people of Afghanistan is not fair,” referring to the halting of cash shipments and the freezing of Afghan assets by Washington after the Taliban seized power.
Islamabad, which is believed to have some degree of influence over the Taliban, constantly warns the international community of a “looming” humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Pakistan Army Chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, during a leaders’ meeting on Tuesday, also expressed concern over the “escalating humanitarian and security situation” in Afghanistan and urged the international community to support Afghans at this difficult time.