President Biden announced yesterday that the US military and NATO will leave Afghanistan by September 11, ending the longest war in US history.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives, the United States declared war on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had sheltered Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
For the first time, a NATO member was attacked directly, bringing the Atlantic Alliance to war. Canada was there from 2002 to 2014. Was this war in vain? After his predecessor announced a hasty withdrawal by making a botched deal with the Taliban, could Biden do otherwise?
A justifiable intervention
In retrospect, it’s too easy to say that this war should never have been fought. The September 11 attacks warranted a response against Al Qaeda and the regime that housed them.
Moreover, the establishment of a viable regime and the modernization of one of the poorest societies on the planet were noble objectives and compatible with Western interests.
During the first decade of the conflict, Al Qaeda was considerably weakened and Osama bin Laden eliminated. In addition, several reforms have been made in Afghan society, including increased access to school for young girls and real progress for women.
High costs, mixed results
This war was justifiable and real progress was made, but the costs were exorbitant. Since 2001, more than 3,500 Allied military personnel have lost their lives, including nearly 2,500 Americans and 158 Canadians, not to mention tens of thousands of Afghan dead and hundreds of billions swallowed up.
Despite the progress, the Taliban were never neutralized and Western public opinion quickly lost patience with this seemingly hopeless intervention.
Historically, Afghanistan has always been the “graveyard of empires”. The British had engulfed it without success in the 19th century. In the 1980s, the disastrous Soviet occupation helped precipitate the fall of the regime. It was the Americans’ turn to break their teeth there.
An inevitable withdrawal
Several experts and some politicians consider this withdrawal premature, but since the elimination of bin Laden in 2011, it had become almost impossible to justify the continuation of the operations. President Trump agreed and was keen to strike a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban before he left. This agreement was flawed, but Joe Biden deemed it illusory to hope for more.
The major problem with the rapid withdrawal promised by Trump was the lack of a coordinated plan for the departure of the 9,600 military personnel from NATO. The deadline extended to September 11 fills this gap.
We will discuss for a long time the strategic consequences of abandoning a war whose end we no longer saw. However, it is clear that this decision will be well received in American public opinion. It had been clear for a long time: this war had gone on long enough.