After 13 years of fighting, the War in Afghanistan is finally winding down. American and British forces just withdrew from Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion and handed over the military complex to Afghan forces. The event marked the end of British combat operations in Afghanistan, and the beginning of the end of US involvement in the country.
In September, the United States and Afghanistan signed a long-term security pact that will allow 9,800 Americans and at least 2,000 NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan after combat operations formally end on December 31.
Thus, this does not necessarily mark the end of American involvement in Afghanistan, but it does signify the transition of Afghanistan's defense from foreign forces to its own people.
The War Is Ending But The Taliban Is Still Thriving
Camp Bastion-Leatherneck has been a key military base throughout much of the war and is one of the largest military compounds in Afghanistan. Likewise, it's located in the Helmand Province, a characteristically tumultuous region.
Many of the bloodiest battles of the war war occurred in Helmand. Since the war began in 2001, about 350 Marines and 407 British soldiers have been killed there.
Correspondingly, much of the territory remains under the control of the Taliban. Accordingly, the entire withdrawal operation was kept a secret in order to protect the departing US Marines and British forces.
Moreover, there are trepidations that Afghan forces will not be able to defend the territory from the Taliban onslaught.
Afghanistan Has Been A Failure
This has been the longest war in American history, and it has also been an immense failure. The objective of the war was to defeat the Taliban and rid Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda's presence, and both are still thriving.
While it's true that the initial invasion did bring an end to the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan, it also led to the insurgency that has prolonged this conflict. In essence, the war emboldened the Taliban and drove people to its cause.
As Colum Lynch notes for Foreign Policy:
... Thirteen years later, the Taliban remains a powerful force in Afghanistan, and the United States continues to battle Islamic extremists from Somalia to Iraq and Syria.
Thus, in many ways, the war created more terrorists than it eliminated. Furthermore, many locals in the Helmand province claim that the Taliban has never been stronger.
Additionally, the Taliban sees the American and British withdrawal as a victory:
Taliban claim they “forced invading enemy to leave” Helmand. Statement says "invaders evacuated Grand Military Base of Bastion" #Afghanistan — Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) October 28, 2014
Historians often regard the Vietnam War as the first war that the United States truly lost, and they aren't necessarily wrong. Yet, Afghanistan has been an even bigger defeat. This might appear a premature conclusion, but the argument here is that this war was lost a long time ago, almost as soon as it began.
The War In Afghanistan Is Worse Than The Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was waged in order to prevent communism from taking hold in the country. Ultimately, the United States failed in this endeavor and was forced to withdrawal. Accordingly, this conflict is often viewed as a defeat.
Despite the fact that US forces won essentially every major battle, it ultimately lost the war. In essence, one might argue that America won militarily, but lost politically. The US government could not sustain public support for the conflict, and ultimately it was seen as too costly.
Moreover, it became apparent that communism never really posed a significant threat to the United States.
Thus, with Vietnam, America withdrew when it knew that it was a lost cause. Yet, the United States has held on in Afghanistan in an attempt to create the illusion of success.
Ultimately, close to 60,000 Americans died in Vietnam, and three million people died in total throughout the conflict. This is a staggering statistic in comparison to Afghanistan, in which 2,349 Americans have died. Yet, the loss of any human life is tragic, particularly those who volunteer to protect their country.
What makes Afghanistan even worse than Vietnam, however, is that we are not safer as a consequence of it.
Though Vietnam was hugely destructive in human terms, strategically it was just a medium-sized blunder. It was a waste of resources, yes, but the war didn't make America more vulnerable to enemy attack. The Afghanistan war does. Just as Al Qaeda planned, it empowers the narrative of terrorist recruiters — that America is at war with Islam. ... We're creating them [terrorists] faster than we're killing them. And some of these enemies, unlike the Vietcong, could wind up killing Americans after the war is over.
After the Vietnam War ended, the communist regime that took over had no intention of using their country as a staging ground for attacks on Americans.
Contrarily, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations certainly have much different aspirations when it comes to Afghanistan. After all, their rallying cry is "Death to America." Taliban spokesmen even tweet about it:
Death to America! — zabihullahmujahid (@zabihmujahid) September 30, 2014
Simply put, the War on Terror acts as a recruiting poster for extremism.
Consequently, the Taliban is alive and well, and terrorism still poses a threat to the United States and much of the Middle East.
The Costs Of War
Collectively, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost $4 trillion. Furthermore, there is evidence that much of the resources provided to Afghanistan by the United States end up in the hands of the Taliban, including weapons.
Iraq is now in shambles, as ISIS continues to make territorial gains in and around the country. Correspondingly, Afghanistan is not any more secure than it was 13 years ago when the war began.
Thus, it's important that America takes a hard look at the implications of its activities in Afghanistan. In the process, it might finally learn to avoid costly, devastating and ineffective wars.
Photo Courtesy: NIKOLAOS CHATZIS