The date was October 7th 2001, and the major United States cities of New York and Washington were still paralysed with despondency less than a month after the worst terrorist attacks ever on American soil. The Bush Administration, along with an impressive coalition, including the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, and even supported by surprising new “allies” Russia and Iran, invaded the Taliban/Al Qaeda despotic regime, a regime responsible for carrying out the attacks. The US Senate, amazingly, with the wisdom of hindsight, voted 98-0 in favour of an operation which was unfortunately titled Operation Enduring Freedom. The amount of support not only from Congress and the overwhelming majority of the American populace, but also internationally, gave the initial Afghan invasion an extremely high chance of being successful. Most military pundits at the time figured the battle against the Taliban and remnants of Al Qaeda would be a cakewalk, if the US were able to use conventional warfare. But most strategists knew defeating the Taliban, Mujahideen and Al Qaeda, after their staunch resistance against the catastrophic Soviet invasion, which began in December 1979, ended in February 1989 and helped lead to fall of the USSR shortly thereafterafter, wouldn’t be so simple.

The initial overthrow of the Taliban regime was completed by December 7th 2001 and was seen as a resounding success. Of course that certainly wasn’t the last the US led coalition would see of the Taliban. An organised insurgency, under the leadership of Mullah Omar, began in earnest in 2003. The beginning of the disastrous Iraq War robbed the US military in Afghanistan of much needed resources, troops and logistics to support the newly installed puppet government against the insurgents. In 2006 especially, the Taliban increasingly used guerilla tactics, IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and the massacre of civilians. The US occupation and endless battles against remnants of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other radical Jihadists continued until May 2, 2011. On that day, the US Navy SEAL Team 6 stormed a heavily guarded compound in a fairly densely populated suburb of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Inside was the most wanted international terrorist and 9-11 mastermind, Osama Bin Laden, along with several of his wives and other family members. A member of the SEAL Team 6 chased Bin Laden into an upstairs bedroom and nearly decapitated him with a machine gun round. Despite some controversy on how the raid went down, including complaints from Amnesty International, as well as some UN ambassadors, the killing of Bin Laden gave the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan a much needed morale boost. Barack Obama made a memorable speech at 11:35 p.m. on the evening of the event. Obama, with his typical swagger, stepped up to the microphone and gave one of his many slick speeches celebrating the killing of Bin Laden. Celebrations in the United States and other countries ensued. And it seemed the finish line of the US time in Afghanistan could finally be on the horizon. Sadly, for many reasons that finish line did not come. As the war would continue for another decade, the casualty numbers for the Taliban would end at 61,000, though those numbers are surely not accurate. Civilian casualties were over 200,000 by 2020, but many international agencies feel those estimates are far lower than the true number. The 2,240 American deaths might seem like a small number. However, when you consider the death toll in the context of the complete waste of time this war turned out to be, those numbers seem highly significant.

In February 2020 a peace deal was tentatively reached after a stop and start negotiation process between the US and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. It seemed the Trump Administration was on the verge of ending one of the longest military blunders in American history. No one is quite sure what Trump’s real motivation was in his efforts to get the US out of Afghanistan. Perhaps it was Vladimir Putin and his seemingly endless influence on Trump’s decision making. Could it have been that he really wanted to achieve peace in Afghanistan just to show up Barack Obama’s failure to end the war? Whatever his reasoning, his attempts were futile and the war continued. 2,500 troops remained in and around Kabul into the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidency.

What we have now is a fiasco of epic proportions. The Taliban’s own version of blitzkrieg has turned the decision to vacate Afghanistan of any US troops to be a monumental miscalculation. The fear amongst many Afghan civilians and the despondency of much of the female populace can be felt around the world. On August 15th Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the capital to the United Arab Emirates for fear of capture by Taliban militants. There was considerable embarrassment that the US backed President was forced into exile just days after the US troops were shipped. The complete failure of the US invasion and occupation in Afghanistan will linger for many years after the final boot is off the ground, the final bomb is dropped and last journalist can safely roam the capital. What will the Afghanistan that we left in tatters become with a Taliban part two regime? Will international terrorists flock to Afghanistan as they did before? Will women’s rights be pushed back 1000 years after making considerable gains over the last three years? Will the United States or any other foreign power dare set foot across these borders again? These questions have to be answered now, but now by the Afghani people alone. No longer, at the moment anyway, will the United States giant’s foreign hands play a role in the future of this broken country, a country so many helped break, but never came close to repairing.

One thought on “Twenty Years of Purgatory in Afghanistan”
  1. Hi Robert, a very well thought out chronology of events and where we are today. Thank you for that. @ann_marcial

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