The nasty, brutish, and long-drawn-out American war on terror, that began in the wake of the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago, has only spawned more terrorism and insecurity.
The military invasion of Afghanistan started with the Pentagon carpet-bombing the landlocked country with B-52 heavy bombers and gunships.
The disastrously misjudged and disproportionate response to the cataclysmic events of 9/11 found expression in the so-called ‘global war on terror’, which has since consumed tens of thousands of lives, from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond.
The nasty, brutish, and long-drawn-out war on terror has only spawned more terrorism, despite successive regimes in Washington and their Western allies trying to conceal the truth.
Twenty years on, the war-ravaged country again finds itself at a crossroads. The ragtag fighters are back in power, Al-Qaeda is still around and thriving, while the Daesh militant group has quietly and stunningly made its way from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan.
That’s how America’s ominous presence breeds terrorism rather than annihilating it.
In the aftermath of 9/11 attacks, Americans vowed to crush every terrorist group of the global reach, including Al-Qaeda. George Bush famously declared on September 20, 2001, that the US war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda but does not end there. The impudence was clearly evident.
The invasion of Afghanistan — less than a month after four hijacked American planes crashed into landmark buildings in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, killing 2,977 people — was reckless, poorly planned and shoddily executed.
As the US dispatched long-range B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers, AC-130 specter gunships, and MQ-9 reaper drones to flatten the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan, where Bin Laden was reported to be hiding, Barbara Lee was the only US Congresswoman to vote against authorizing what was to turn into America’s longest war in history.
Barbara was labeled a traitor by those who championed the military invasion that incurred an astronomically high cost, with innocent Afghan civilians bearing the brunt.
The mindless war found support among both the Republicans and the Democrats, as they rallied behind George Bush and his hawkish Defense Secretary to exact the ‘revenge’.
The bombing campaign was launched on October 7, 2001 on the pretext of decimating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and capturing the 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden — the former CIA ally and the founder of al-Qaeda — who was apparently hosted by the Taliban.
The core objective of the three-week bombing campaign, dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom, was achieved in less than three months, but the Americans decided against quitting.
There was certainly more to it, beyond the bluff and bluster of fighting terrorism.
If eliminating Al-Qaeda and the Taliban or taking out Osama Bin Laden were prime objectives of the military invasion, the US-led allied troops would have called it quits long ago. But the aim was to occupy Afghanistan, to make the mineral-rich country strategically located between Central and South Asia subservient to the West.
It was clear from the way Bush and Rumsfeld snubbed the Taliban’s offer of a truce to avoid confrontation. Before the bombardment began, the group offered to hand over Bin Laden to a third country for trial and even agreed to lay down arms and recognize the US-backed government in Kabul led by Hamid Karzai.
The offers were spurned, leading to a 20-year military adventure that ended in the worst US military and strategic debacle.
The American public who initially supported the idea of military action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks eventually became its fierce opponents as the futile war dragged on, metamorphosing into the worst US foreign policy disaster.
For 20 years, the war in Afghanistan remained an enigma for the successive US administrations, from George Bush to Joe Biden.
After invading the country and destroying it beyond recognition, George Bush abandoned Afghanistan and launched another costly military adventure in neighboring Iraq in 2003. Both experiments proved counter-productive.
His successor Barack Obama refocused on Afghanistan, killing Bin Laden ten years after the 9/11 attacks, not in the mountains of Afghanistan but in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, a short jog from a military base. Obama then began the drawdown but stopped short of complete withdrawal.
Years later, his successor Donald Trump signed a deal with the Taliban, pledging to withdraw the American forces. It was the same militant group his fellow Republican president Bush once vowed to decimate.
Trump was consigned to the dustbin of history before he could execute the plan. It was Joe Biden, his political rival, who finally pulled the plug on America’s longest war.
The disastrous war ended in August 2021 the way it started in October 2001 — in a violent, disorderly, shambolic, reckless fashion.
Amidst the chaotic evacuation at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, a Daesh suicide bomber blew himself up, killing more than 200 people, including 13 US Marines.
The ghastly incident underscored not only the vulnerability of ordinary Afghans but also the US failure to eliminate the perennial threat of terrorism in Afghanistan.
More importantly, it also blew the lid off sinister interventionism and hegemonic ambitions of the US military-industrial complex in foreign lands, from Somalia to Afghanistan.
As reports later revealed, many of those killed at the Kabul airport didn’t fell to suicide bombings but to the indiscriminate firefight by American troops. More civilians were to perish hours later in the US drone strikes, including women and children.
So, as some pundits would argue, 20 years after the doomed US military mission began in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden has won the war posthumously.
The American presence in the war-ravaged country often — described as the graveyard of empires — not only failed to wipe out the threat of terrorism, but further fanned its flames.
By Syed Zafar Mehdi