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The US mission launched in 2001 to eradicate the Taliban * and al-Qaeda * in Afghanistan resulted in the overwhelming victory of the Taliban and the takeover of Kabul. Could the war in Afghanistan have been avoided and what lesson did Washington’s policymakers learn from the failure of the mission?

On August 30, the United States ended its 20-year campaign in Afghanistan with the Pentagon posting a photo of the last soldier to leave the Central Asian country: “Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, boards a C-17 on August 30, 2021, ending the US mission in Kabul. “

Sloppy withdrawal

According to the Washington Post, the abrupt departure of former President Ashraf Ghani accelerated the chaotic withdrawal and prompted the US military leadership to hastily arrange a face-to-face meeting with Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban political wing *. “We have two options to deal with it,” Baradar said. “You [the United States military] take responsibility for securing Kabul or you must allow us to do so. General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, told Baradar that the US mission was only to complete the evacuations, adding that all they needed was the airport. According to some estimates, 122,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan on Monday, including 5,400 Americans.

“I think… if the Taliban weren’t ready to be of some use, the chaos would have been even greater,” suggests Joseph Camilleri, professor emeritus at La Trobe University in Melbourne, one of Australia’s leading academics. in international relations. “At least they were able to maintain some degree of order outside the airport and at least contributed to the ability of the United States and its allies to remove some 110,000 or more Afghans and other citizens. foreigners from the country. “

© REUTERS / Phil Stewart

Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of United States Central Command, speaks with U.S. troops during a visit to Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, September 9, 2019

Meanwhile, huge stockpiles of American-made weapons have been abandoned due to the hasty retreat of the Afghan National Army. By some estimates, the Taliban now own more Black Hawk helicopters than 85% of the world’s countries.

U.S. intelligence reports predicted the Pentagon would have weeks or even months before Kabul fell to the Taliban, but those predictions turned out to be grossly inaccurate, Camilleri notes. “I don’t think it was as much negligence as to misjudge the situation,” he presumes. “I don’t know if they could have done a lot more in the short time available.”

The end of the mission was as controversial as its start, according to the scholar: “It really has been a very unfortunate episode over the past 20 years and has to be seen as one of the most unfortunate and costly interventions. from the post-1945 period, ”he says.“ And let’s remember that it’s not just the United States, but a number of its allies, including, of course, the United Kingdom and d ‘other European countries and Australia. “

© AP Photo / David Karp

Fire and smoke rise from the North Tower of New York’s World Trade Center after terrorists crash two hijacked airliners in the World Trade Center and bring down the 110-story Twin Towers. (To file)

Could the war in Afghanistan have been avoided?

“The ‘war on terror’ was ill-conceived from the start and had dire humanitarian consequences,” explains Peter Kuznick, professor of history at the American University. “First of all, terrorism is a tactic and not an ideology. Second, the ‘war on terror’ quickly became an attempt to transform the Middle East and the world beyond. It was a fantasy of some neoconservative strategists who populated George W. Bush. the US administration to establish US hegemony on a global scale in a way never seen before. “

The United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom on the pretext that the Taliban refused to hand over al-Qaeda * leader Osama bin Laden in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, the activist group insisting that Washington provide ample evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in terrorism. attack. On October 7, 2001, President George W. Bush announced that air strikes targeting Al Qaeda and the Taliban had started in Afghanistan. On October 14, the Guardian reported that the Taliban had offered to discuss handing over Osama bin Laden to a “neutral country” if the United States ended the bombing in Afghanistan. However, Bush dismissed the proposal as “non-negotiable”.

Kuznick refers to Milton Bearden, an American author and 30-year CIA veteran, who “insisted that the Taliban were more than willing to abandon Bin Laden and the leaders of al-Qaeda, but that the states “United were deaf in the negotiations and failed to give the Taliban the help they needed to do so in a way that saved their face.”

Speaking to the Washington Post in late October 2001, Bearden and other Afghan experts asserted that the Bush administration “has never recognized the need for the Taliban to have a ‘face-saving formula’ to appease the” fear of the embarrassment ”of the Afghan militants if they handed over a Muslim compatriot to an“ unfaithful ”Western power. “We never heard what they were trying to say,” said the CIA veteran.

“I have no way of knowing if Bearden was right in this assessment, but, if he was, the whole invasion could have been avoided,” says the professor. “The United States could have put an end to things there and taken police action to track down bin Laden. It would have been justified after what happened on September 11. But the United States stayed in Afghanistan without ever understand their mission correctly. “

© AFP 2021 / ROB ELLIOTT

In this file photo, a US Navy receives a helping hand using barbed wire to secure the walls of the US Embassy in Kabul on January 11, 2002. – The United States said on August 12, 2021 that ‘they were sending troops to the international airport in the Afghan capital Kabul will withdraw US embassy staff as the Taliban make quick wins. and the safety of Americans serving abroad, ”he said of Joe Biden, who ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years.

The failure of the Washington nation-building project

After the bombing campaign, policymakers in Washington shifted to a “nation-building” mission, which actually made America’s arms dealers and defense contractors rich in the first place, Kuznick points out. In total, the United States spent over $ 2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan, which the scholar said was a huge waste of money.

“Some of that money was spent on building schools and educating women, which was great. Progress has been made in improving people’s lives, ”he says. “But the overall impact of US spending was out of step with the huge sums paid out due to incompetence, cultural ignorance, and deep and pervasive corruption.”

To further complicate matters, Barack Obama has intensified the American military presence in the region, while “the American drone attacks which massacred civilians and the night raids have only turned the rural population against the American occupiers”, Kuznick notes. Given this, it is hardly surprising that many have welcomed the return of the Taliban “as the lesser of two evils,” notes the professor.

Meanwhile, any attempt to turn Afghanistan into some sort of Western-style democracy was doomed from the start, according to Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai, Islamabad-based political analyst and author of the upcoming “The troubled triangle: US-Pakistan relations under the shadow of the Taliban.

“Implanting Western democracy all over the world is not a wise approach,” Yousafzai emphasizes. “Culture, history and tradition play an important role in the creation of any society and therefore of stability. When the United States was there and ruled the country, no one believed that there could be free and fair elections. Whoever became president was with Washington’s approval. “

© REUTERS / US MARINES

Evacuated children wait for the next flight after protesting at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 19, 2021

Adopt multi-polarity

The United States is unlikely to learn a lesson from the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, Kuznick said. Although the nation has grown weary of endless wars abroad, “the same people who dragged us into these wars have not been silenced,” the scholar notes.

“They still populate think tanks and dominate the foreign policy establishment,” says the professor. “They and many others are arguing for a new cold war against Russia and China. Such an approach is absolutely reckless… The era of military intervention and democratic nation-building may be over for some time, but that does not mean that the United States is ready to retreat or withdraw. withdraw from the world. “

The only way to resolve this dilemma and keep the world away from dangerous new wars is to embrace a multipolar world and start working together, according to Kuznick.

“The fate of Afghanistan, like so many others, largely depends on the collaboration of the United States, Russia and China,” he concludes.

* The Taliban and Al Qaeda are banned terrorist organizations in Russia and many other states.

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