America’s rude awakening in Afghanistan

In 2001, the US troops toppled the Taliban regime in less than three months, but it took them 20 years to give up their pursuit of an elusive military victory in Afghanistan. They marched in to “attack the military capability of the Taliban regime”, which had given haven to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, but they are marching out virtually handing the country right back to the same militia.

The US and its allies pumped in billions of dollars to build a nascent Western-style democratic set-up only to leave it to fend for itself against the ‘regressive’ Taliban. The human and material cost of the mission has been astronomical: countless lives lost and more than $2 trillion in taxpayer money spent. This begs the convoluted question: “What was the objective of America’s longest war?” Apparently, the objective – and the strategy to achieve it – kept changing with each president. And there lay the rub.

President Joe Biden wants to extricate himself from the war that bedeviled his three predecessors. Perhaps he is convinced that no amount of US boots on the ground could win him a convincing military victory. “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking,” Biden said last month while speaking from the White House Treaty Room, the same location from where President George Bush had announced the launch of the “just war” in October 2001. “We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives,” Biden said as he announced withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, beginning May 1, 2021. “Bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan and it’s time to end the forever war.” If eliminating Bin Laden or degrading al Qaeda was the objective, then the US troops should have been out of Afghanistan long ago.