the war in afghanistan

Image: Ali Yasser Arwand


“What the hell am I doing here?” a young New York soldier asked himself.

It's Friday the 13th of August, and by the end of the week, it's clear that all predictions have narrowed. The Taliban were advancing rapidly on Kabul, which saw the siege closing in, as the Afghan capital was running out of air.

Western powers were preparing for the fall of Kabul after the United States, Britain and Canada announced the deployment of troops to the country to ensure the evacuation of its citizens. “It is difficult to overstate a tragedy in which thousands of people lost their lives, millions became refugees and billions of dollars evaporated only for Afghanistan to end up in exactly the same place it was 20 years ago,” says the Foreign Policy, in the introduction to a huge coverage entitled “The West Prepares for the Fall of Kabul”.

There was no lack of calls for an urgent return of troops. “Biden should review his decision to leave Afghanistan,” urged John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution, a center of conservative thought in Washington, as the siege closed on Kabul. Reserve General of the Marine Corps, former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Allen suggested to Biden that he define some “red lines”, limits that, if crossed by the Taliban, would imply a new US invasion. "The Taliban must not be allowed into Kabul," Allen said. In the end, it was the Taliban leaders who ordered their troops to remain on the outskirts of the city. “We want to avoid bloodshed, destruction, looting. We have instructed our forces to remain at the gates of Kabul," Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban, told the with the BBC.

Biden had decided to end the longest war in US history. "It was a correct decision," Allen said, "but the consequences should have been foreseen and now you must act quickly and decisively if you are to avert the imminent catastrophe unfolding before our eyes."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had addressed the issue in Parliament, saying "there will never be a good time to leave Afghanistan". Ben Wallace, the British defense secretary - the United States' main partner in Afghanistan - said last week that Britain was so horrified by the United States' decision to withdraw completely from the country that it consulted with its NATO partners whether they were willing to assemble a force capable of sustaining the Afghan government without US involvement. Something that, as it turned out, NATO was not in a position to do.

20 years of the twin towers

Next month marks the 20th anniversary of the attack on the twin towers in New York, on September 11, 2001. The Bush administration then decided to look for the perpetrators where it was believed that they would have sought refuge. A US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan in October, ousted the Taliban from power and forced al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden to seek asylum in neighboring Pakistan.

Ten years ago, on May 2, 2011, bin Laden was killed in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, in an operation by US security forces, during the Obama administration. Transmitted live, the operation took on spectacular characteristics. In a meeting room, Obama and his closest advisers, including his secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, watched the advance of the command on the house where bin Laden lived. It felt like the end of an era.

Ten years later, the story seems far from over, even if the war, which started 20 years ago, is over, as Mohammad Naeem, a Taliban spokesman, told the network. Al Jazeera. “We got what we wanted: freedom for our country and independence for our people. We will not allow them to use our territory to attack anyone; we don't want to harm others,” said Naeem.

Biden, for his part, a veteran of the Obama years, is living his own moment in Afghanistan's tumultuous history, "a long-prepared tragedy", said the commentator of the The Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor. Sixty thousand members of the Afghan security forces, and twice as many civilians, died in this war, in addition to another 2.500 US troops, 450 British and hundreds of other nationalities. More than 20.000 people were injured. With a financial cost impossible to accurately estimate, which some calculate at more than two trillion dollars.

What the hell am I doing here?

“Was the most costly war in history worth anything?” asked the security expert at the with the BBC, Frank Gardner. Gardner is the author of an article published on April 30, when the decision to withdraw American troops (and those of their allies) was already under way. He has been to Afghanistan several times in areas under the control of US, British and United Arab Emirates troops, he says.

Your note ends with a reminder. “We ate Texan chorizo ​​steak – brought directly from the US air base in Ramstein, Germany – at a US army artillery base, about 6 km from the border with Pakistan (before the Taliban fired a battery of rockets at this basis). Next, a 19-year-old New York State Trooper picked up a guitar and started singing, 'What the hell am I doing here? I do not belong here'".

Gardner also points out that, according to the research group Action on Armed Violence (Action Against Gun Violence), in 2020 there were more Afghans killed by explosive devices than anywhere else in the world. The phrase takes us to another scenario, the one described by writer and filmmaker Atiq Rahimi, an Afghan currently living in Paris. He is the author of award-winning novels, such as “The Stone of Patience”, which won no less than the Goncourt, and also of films, such as “Earth and Ashes”, which introduces us to this Afghan world.[I].

The still camera, focusing on a dusty desert road, tells the story, at a slow and hopeless pace, of an old man, Dastagir, looking for his son, Morad, a mine worker not far away. He takes his grandson, Yassin, son of Morad. He tells him that the whole family was killed in an attack on the village of Abqol, nestled in the mountains about 200 km southwest of Kabul.

– Is it true that Abqol was bombed?
- Many people died?
– In Abqol? There is nothing left, the village was destroyed.

“Earth and Ashes” brings those who don't know Afghanistan closer to its landscape and its people. Of your tragedy. But also of the notable characters who tell the story.

Which war?

What the hell could a 19 year old New Yorker do here? Kill who? Win which war? “We didn't go to Afghanistan to build a country. We had two limited objectives: send Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell and eliminate the threat that they might launch another terrorist attack against the United States from Afghanistan,” President Joe Biden said at a recent conference.

In a long article in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, Nelly Lahoud, a scholar of the ideology of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, analyzes the origin of the attack on the twin towers, the objectives of bin Laden and his organization, based on a series of documents captured by US forces at the residence of Bin Laden, especially handwritten notes in a 220-page notebook, with transcripts of conversations with his closest family members, two months before his death. “Documents that allow an incomparable approximation of bin Laden's mind”, says the author.

Os Abbottabad Papers they also include bin Laden's handwritten notes from 2002, where one can see “the origin of the idea of ​​11/XNUMX”. Two weeks after the attack, in a brief statement, bin Laden had promised that “no American, nor anyone who lives there, can enjoy security until security becomes a reality for us who live in Palestine, nor before the armies of infidels to leave the land of Mohammed.”

But, according to Lahoud, bin Laden never thought that the United States would respond to the attack on the twin towers with war and the invasion of Afghanistan. On the contrary, he thought that the attack would trigger popular protests, as in the Vietnam War, demanding the withdrawal of the United States from Islamic countries. That didn't happen, and President Bush roused American support for what he called his "war on terror." So, when all forecasts already admitted the imminent fall of Kabul, the scenario – for Lahoud – was “a catastrophic success” for Bin Laden, the phrase with which he titled his article.

Saigon's echoes

With last week's advances, the Taliban had taken control of 17 of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals, including the two main cities beyond the capital, Kandahar and Herat, advancing rapidly into Kabul and surrounding the city. With the collapse of the Afghan army, analyzes multiplied on the consequences of the defeat of the allies and the return of the Taliban to power in Kabul.

"Biden's decision to leave Afghanistan, even against the advice of political leaders and experts, is deeply troubling due to the lack of planning on such an important political issue, and with long-term consequences," said the president of the Brookings Institution . The result of this policy is "a real disaster not only for Afghanistan, but also for the administration and the values ​​it claims to defend", he added.

Allen did not believe in the possibilities of the negotiations that the Afghan government and the Taliban held in Doha, the capital of Qatar, when a military triumph seemed possible. "The Biden administration is desperately trying to bring together different regional actors, from Afghanistan's neighbors to the European Union, Russia and China, to present a united front to Taliban emissaries in Qatar," Ishaan Tharoor told the The Washington Post. “But the militants' demands only grow as the echoes of Saigon in 1975 ring ever more in Kabul in 2021,” he said.

From Allen's point of view, it is ironic that the United States would cede ground to the Chinese in Afghanistan, who would occupy the space left in the country by the American withdrawal and consolidate an alliance with Pakistan, helping to isolate its Indian rivals. The withdrawal also contributed to creating greater friction between Washington and London, in the opinion of Patrick Wintour, diplomatic editor of the English newspaper. The Guardian. An issue that he considers “potentially dangerous” if the warnings of the British about a possible resurgence of terrorism and a massive migratory movement to Europe, which the Taliban claims to want to avoid, are confirmed.

bleak situation

The end of the war was closer than some analysts thought, just last week. The Kabul government's promises to regain territory captured by the Taliban "ring increasingly empty". “The situation certainly looks bleak for the Afghan government,” read an analysis by Jonathan Beale, a defense correspondent for the with the BBC, published on August 12. “Countless American and British generals have said time and time again that they created a powerful and capable Afghan army. Promises that today seem pretty empty,” he added.

Faced with the evidence that attempts to avoid the final overthrow of the Afghan government in the Doha negotiations seemed doomed to failure, the president of the Superior Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, appealed to the UN Security Council to find a way alternative, without the Afghan government being able to stop the Taliban offensive with its own resources.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg revealed that the Organization's members met last Friday to exchange views on the situation in Afghanistan. “Our aim is to support the Afghan government and security forces as much as possible,” he said. Stoltenberg said they would maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul, but that a Taliban government, resulting from the military occupation of Kabul, would not be recognized by the "international community", a reference that appears to be limited to NATO members and some of its allies.

With the fall of the government and President Ashraf Ghani leaving the country; With the flag down at its embassy, ​​the United States organized the evacuation of all its diplomatic personnel in Kabul. As the Taliban sat in the government palace, their spokesmen assured that there would be no revenge against the former government officials, nor against its security services, and that everyone's "life, property and honor" would be respected.

The Taliban say they don't want to live in isolation, that they want to maintain channels of communication with foreign governments, that the form of government they will establish will soon be clear. A new story begins...

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). author of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


[I]    The film can be seen here:

See this link for all articles