Did America's "Forever War" in Afghanistan Do Any Good?

Kamna Kirti

Why the US failed is not the question but why the Taliban succeeded is the question

The US invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001Wikipedia/Public Domain
Henry Kissinger, an American politician, and diplomat once quoted, “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”

America’s longest war often termed as “forever war” in Afghanistan is still in the process of withdrawal but Kabul has fallen and the guerillas (Taliban) have taken full control.

Let’s understand the Taliban 1.0 regime, the US invasion of Afghanistan, and why the insurgents succeeded against the most powerful military in the world?

Timeline of American's forever war in AfghanistanImage created by the author

2001 — 9/11 attacks

From 1996 to 2001, the fanatical policies of the Taliban came to the limelight across the world — the civilians were not allowed to pursue painting, photography, musical instruments, or watch western movies.

Women were brutally repressed and if they did not adhere to certain rules, they were publicly whipped or executed.

Meanwhile, another terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, was plotting the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, 9/11 attacks were being planned.

Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and the mastermind behind the attacks wrote an open letter in Arabic to the US (it was later translated into English). September 11, 2001, shook the world when multiple bombings occurred at key locations in the US. More than 3000 innocent people were killed. In President Bush’s words, “… it was an attack on the heart and soul of the civilized world”.

Just weeks after the attack, news broke out that Bin Laden had sheltered in the areas of southern Afghanistan or Pakistan. President Bush signed an executive order and announced an all-out war on terrorism against Al-Qaeda to get justice for innocent people.

The US invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. With the help of the Northern Alliance (previously part of the mujahideen), the search for Al-Qaeda terrorists began.

 2001 to 2009 — the US strategized to rebuild Afghanistan

The Taliban was overthrown in 2001 and the US with its allies including Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Germany aimed to defeat, disrupt and dismantle Al-Qaeda.

To curb global terrorism, the US strategized to rebuild Afghanistan. More than $1.5 billion dollars were pledged by the US and the allies to build a ring road connecting major cities of Afghanistan.

This was obviously started to help transport military supplies and move the US troops swiftly around the country.

But before this could be completed the US invaded Iraq in 2003. The focus diverged and funding for projects in Afghanistan was reduced.

While this road-building activity never succeeded, even after spending $3 billion dollars, the Taliban’s local guerilla network used the opportunity to increase the insurgency operations across Afghanistan.

2009–2021— America’s strategy change

Taking into consideration the instability in Afghanistan, in February 2009, President Obama ordered 17,000 more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan with around 30,000 Americans already deployed there.

Finally, Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 And Obama promised to bring back the soldiers at a steady pace.

Once the US troops were reduced, the US mission changed from combat to nation-building in Afghanistan. The military was now responsible for support, maintenance, and supervise the infrastructure projects.

Since then, both Trump and Biden have maintained their stance against nation-building in Afghanistan. A complete pull-out of the troops is something that everyone wanted to do but no one had the political will to do.

Why the US failed is not the question but why the Taliban succeeded is the question

Over the last 20 years, more than 3,000 US and allied forces have been martyred, tens of thousands have been disabled with significant wounds. Thousands of civilian casualties took place, to say the least, and staggering $2 trillion dollars were spent. Was it worth it?

Of course not.

The human and the financial costs have been so humongous that as per the Brown University research: Up to $6.5 trillion is the estimated interest costs by 2050.

But how the insurgents succeeded against the most powerful military in the world?

Ethnic identity and solidarity are key to the Taliban's success. Even though some of the locals did not align with them ideologically, they helped the religious extremists. Americans are and were always “outsiders” to them.

James Stavridis, retired US admiral, says, “fighting an insurgency is a long game indeed, and we did not heed the historical need for patience –the opposite of unwarranted self-confidence. And the endemic corruption on the part of the Afghan government at every level hurt us badly, but we did not do enough to root it out.”

Stavridis believes illiteracy amongst the masses, corrupted government, and the continuous movement of the US military within a span of 12 months hurt badly in terms of continuity and expertise.

Twenty years apart — the fall of the World Trade Towers and the fall of Kabul.
1. I Was Deeply Involved in War in Afghanistan for More Than a Decade. Here's What We Must Learn
2. Fareed: Biden is right. It's time to leave Afghanistan
3. President Obama on Death of Osama bin Laden

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Being an Indian American and traveling to more than 11 countries, I have gained decent experience in adapting well to changing environments and exploring new places. I write about arts, history, culture, lifestyle, and technology.

Colorado State

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