Saturday, September 25

What good were 20 years of war and two trillion dollars spent in Afghanistan?

On October 1, 2001, three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, a small protest march was organized in Washington. There were still six days left for it to start the bombing of Afghanistan. “Don’t turn tragedy into war,” “Our pain is not a war cry,” the banners read. The protesters’ argument was clear: war was not the inevitable response to the terrorist attack.

The protests were ignored in the name of the atrocities committed by Al Qaeda. “Protesters are opposed to waging a war against terrorists”, titled the New York Times your chronicle on the go.

But the questions that the protesters were asking themselves are being asked again 20 years later, after the surprising defeat of the United States and its allies and the return to power of the Taliban. The difference is that this time they arrive in the midst of resignation and despair.

Between the shock of the fall of Kabul, the chaos of evacuation efforts, and the widespread sense that treason has been committed, fear spreads that the last 20 years, with tens of thousands of lives lost and two billion dollars spent, may have been wasted.

“To be honest, at this moment I am losing everything for which we all worked so hard, all of my family, all of my tribe, all of my district, even my entire province,” she told the BBC. Pashtana Durrani, an activist for girls’ education in Kandahar. “We have to flee, we have to leave the homes we have worked so hard for, and give up all the sacrifices we made.”

“I am devastated, sad and angry; I feel all of this because I witnessed the incalculable sacrifices made by incredible men and women, and now I am trying to understand if all that served for something,” said Lt. Col. James Cho, former intelligence officer. of the US Air Force.

“To be honest, I think the more I thought about some bigger vision or strategic goal that justified it all, the more I despaired,” said Cho, who now sits on the defense council of the Truman National Security Project. “What I decided was that I had gone there because my brothers and sisters in arms had also gone there to make sure we were on the ground taking care of each other. ”

Terrorist platform

The original goal of the war for the United States with its coalition partners was to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a platform for Al Qaeda to launch attacks against the West. According to that limited vision, the military presence was a success.

It is not known if that success will be reversed now. According to Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, “the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda is stronger than ever.” “The political stance of the Taliban may have evolved a bit over the years, but relationships of this type are much more resilient,” he says.

In his balance sheet on military intervention, the US Special Inspectorate General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, a body created by Congress to oversee the mission independently, was just as forceful on Tuesday. “If the goal was to rebuild and leave a country capable of sustaining itself, one that would not pose a great threat to the national security interests of the United States, the overall picture in Afghanistan is grim,” the report says.

The balance recognizes the advances made in life expectancy, infant mortality and literacy, but adds: “Despite these advances, the key question is whether they were proportional to US investment, or whether they will be sustainable after the withdrawal of USA. In our analysis, neither one nor the other. ”

But after this gloomy first count, one begins to think about the salvageable.

A different country

The Afghanistan the Taliban inherit today is very different from that of 2001. In the past 20 years, infant mortality rates have been cut in half. It has gone from almost no girl going to school under the first Taliban regime to more than 33% of young adolescent girls who can read and write today. In 2005, the percentage of Afghans with access to electricity was less than 25%. Today almost everyone has electricity.

They are difficult achievements to erase, and trying to do so would be self-defeating for the Taliban. Although the military defeat has been unequivocal and overwhelming, the success or failure of the sacrifices experienced in these two decades is a battle still to be fought.

Dominic Tierney, professor of political science at Swarthmore College, says that “it’s very easy to look at the situation and think that the Super Bowl just was lost and that the game is over.” But according to Tierney, who just published the book The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts [Cómo perder una guerra: EEUU en la era de los conflictos inganables], “With these complex modern wars what really happens is that there is really no clear end point.”

“This is an absolutely critical moment,” he says. “What is at stake is deciding if we are facing some kind of manageable defeat or if it is a total catastrophe; people have to understand that the gap between the two is huge. ”

According to Tierney, the United States should not limit itself to evacuating as many refugees as possible. It also has to start using every means at its disposal to mitigate the scale of defeat, including an alliance with China, Russia and other powers with interests in Afghanistan. “The Taliban victory is going to create a lot of friction between the Taliban and many regional players; if the United States is smart, it could take advantage of it.”

According to Farhat Popal, who worked for the State Department and for the US Inspectorate General in Afghanistan, “what the international community has to do right now is commit to humanitarian protection, especially that of women and girls who face disproportionate risks to their health, safety and well-being if such humanitarian work is not allowed to continue, and committing to receive the refugees ”. “These are questions of life and death and the world cannot turn its back,” he says.

For the Afghans who have been abandoned by the hasty withdrawal of the US, the UK and other Western powers, mitigating defeat will be resisting without weapons, refusing to give up what they gained for themselves.

The afghan Fatima ayub, who heads the Washington office of the NGO Crisis Action, tweeted: “One thing I know for sure: If the Taliban insist on depriving Afghans, the most traumatized and abandoned people on Earth, of their joy, they will end their own government.” .

Translation of Francisco de Zárate