After twenty years of war in Afghanistan

The longest recorded war and the (new) final defeat of the major Western power.

The chronicles about the new situation in Afghanistan invade the front pages of the newspapers, and it could not be otherwise. Yet it is worth looking at the origin of a war that began almost by chance and which, in any case, could have ended in radically different times. This is not the place to outline a two-decade-long history. But it is worth briefly mentioning some essential aspects, including the starting point.

When George Bush junior crossed the threshold of the White House after a dubious electoral victory, he found an internal economic situation in difficulty after years of formidable growth. The economic measures taken by his government have not been able to reverse the situation. But Bush was convinced that in time the economic situation would return to its place and, eventually, Alan Greenspan, reappointed to the Federal Reserve for a further term, would take care of it.

He wanted to qualify his presidency on a different terrain and even more capable of giving him prestige. Bush Sr. had ended the attack on Iraq ten years earlier when the US military was already on the outskirts of Baghdad. Many had considered it a mistake. Bush junior wanted to complete the work left unfinished by his father. Thus the attack on Iraq was prepared under the pretext of its non-existent nuclear weapons.

But 9/11 tragic attack on the twin towers upset the plans. The attack was not of Afghan origin,but Bin Laden was in Afghanistan. For the Bush administration, Iraq and Saddam Hussein could be forgotten for the time being and Afghanistan punished. The operation was also simplified by the fact that the Democrats opposed renewing the attack on Iraq while there was no objection to avenging the attack on the Two Towers, punishing Afghanistan where Bin Laden had settled.

This did not mean that Bush junior had abandoned his goal of completing the war on Iraq that his father had left unfinished. Although there was no evidence that Saddam possessed nuclear weapons, indeed there were in the opposite sense, the attack on Iraq allowed for a fairly rapid success: Saddam Hussein was captured and executed, and his body triumphantly displayed in a square. of Baghdad.

On the other hand, the war brought to Afghanistan has not produced such obvious results. Due to its mountainous configuration, Afghanistan has not allowed the Americans significant progress and successes. When, ten years later, Barack Obama was still grappling with the war without solution in Afghanistan, he caught the indication of his advisors who  demanded a greater and more decisive military commitment. And an army of over 100,000 was mobilized for a decisive attack.

The mobilization of the great military power proved dramatically ineffective. The army was able to control some large urban centers, starting with Kabul, but not the country as a whole. The war was on its way to becoming the longest in American history with no results other than keeping a succession of Afghan governments in power locked in a citadel within Kabul.

We had to wait until February 2020 for the conclusion of the negotiations in Doha (Qatar) between the American administration and the Taliban delegation whichhad lasted more than a year. The agreement between the US government and representatives of the Taliban paved the way for the end of the conflict. Trump stated that he would have meet Taliban leaders: "I'll be meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not-too-distant future, and will be very much hoping that they will be doing what they say." (New York Times, 29 February 2020).

The solution implied a commitment on the American side that was anything but simple since the government installed in Kabul did not accept the negotiation and was a clear obstacle to the attempt at peace. However, italso t was unable to block the development of the negotiations which, on the basis of the premises, would have brought the Taliban leaders to Kabul. It was, in fact, a complex attempt at pacification, but the keys were definitely in American hands.

In essence, the United States pursued the goal of getting out of the conflict by negotiating the future of the country with the Taliban. It wasn't going to be a win, but it wasn't going to be a defeat. In any case, the Afghan government based in Kabul, closed in its citadel and theoretically having an army capable of defending its power, remained hostile to effective negotiations with the Taliban.

With Biden's  electoral victory, negotiations with the Afghan representation in Doha continued without any decisive commitment on the American side. We know the outcome. Biden had never been convinced of the war in Afghanistan and had expressed his aversion ever since he was Barack Obama's vice-president. But after many mounths without any effective negotiation, he made the worst possibel choice with a unilateral withdrawal having renounced to a peace agreement with the Taliban, as it had been announced in the winter of 2020. In fact, an escape, albeit masked by the date of August 31, which left the field open. to the adversaries. For Biden, the Iraqi government could have defended itself by having three hundred thousand armed men (by the Americans themselves). An unfounded position on the part of those who could not fail to know, or had the obligation to know, the inconsistency of the alleged Afghan army and the impotence of the allied government in Kabul. 

The rest is part of the news. The Taliban conquered major cities without resistance, within a week. The Western press, on the one hand, blamed Biden, on the other, announced the takeover of power by the Taliban, accusing them of persecutory and vengeful spirit. But, surprisingly, the world could hear the speech of one of the  Taliban leaders sayng that the houses were to be considered inviolable,  the fighters couldhave been reintegrated into the new regime, and that the administration would include female representatives (even though) " within the limits of Islamic law "And Zabiullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the Taliban, assuring that " the international community and especially the United States and neighboring countries...(that) Afghanistan will not be used against them "(" The West fears the threat of al-Qaeda ”, Financial Times, 19 August 2021).

But what might have been an acceptable conclusion to an originally wrong war was meant to provoke new tragedies. After months without effective negotiation, the American withdrawal, barring the American departure by 31 August, took on the characteristics of an escape that left thousands of Afghans, who had collaborated with the occupation troops, on the field. In fact, a choise that, albeit in different proportions, reminded us of the abandonment of Saigon after the lost war in Vietnam.

In this context, opponents of every possible agreement between the Taliban and the USs have acted  with a criminal attack on the tens of thousands of Afghans concentrated around the airport in an attempt to be able to leave before the imminent deadline of 31 July. Taliban leaders clearly condemned the Jihad attack. An attack that in turn demonstrates the difficulties of the new government in a country devastated by war and subject to the risk of perhaps a small but fierce internal opposition with international ramifications in much of the Middle Eas.

Thus, while the Western powers emerge from the theater of a twenty-year war without an effective and acceptable solution, the new Afghan government has no choice but to collaborate with China and Russia, besides the ambiguous Pakistan. Meanwhile, the United States is divided over the outcome of a war that iwas destined to be lost. And Europe attacks Biden, but without underlining the actual error of a war that was close to being resolved. A frighteningly long war with 250,000 Afghan dead and an army of widows and orphans.

Some important history lessons should be learned. But so far there is no significant trace of them. A sad example of the fact that history is not always a teacher and does not always make us recognize mistakes, and the need to change the course of choices when they have proved inexorably wrong.

Antonio Lettieri

Editor of Insight and President of CISS - Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body,and Advisor of Labor Minister for European Affairs.(

Insight - Free thinking for global social progress

Free thinking for global social progress