On 7 October 2001, the United States and the United Kingdom conducted air strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. And so began the long war in a country many people in America were not familiar with. The British had a history with Afghanistan, but the US did not.
The reasoning for the war was fairly straightforward. The terrorists who carried out the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US were members of al Qaeda. The radical Islamic faction the Taliban had allowed al Qaeda to build its camps in Afghanistan, giving the allied nations a reasonable cause for war.
Now 10 years have passed, and I have seen little interest in the US media, where the economy and 2012 elections are the main news stories. I also haven't seen any indication US leadership is re-examining our role in Afghanistan. There is always talk that the Afghan forces are being trained to do more, and there are plans for drawdowns of forces, but I wonder if anyone is thinking about the bigger picture.
Has al Qaeda in Afghanistan been defeated? It appears so. The fights these days seem to be with the Taliban, who want to regain control of the country and establish an ultra-fundamentalist Islamic state. While it is a noble effort to save the people of Afghanistan from Taliban oppression, I wonder what that means exactly? Does it mean we have to build them a democratic government and a modern economy that relies on something other than opium crops? While our economies struggle and our infrastructure ages, must we spend money to build them a new country?
The Taliban did not attack the US on 11 September 2001. Al Qaeda did. And al Qaeda has spread out to avoid destruction, establishing groups or affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, and Africa. It is certainly possible that when our forces leave Afghanistan the Taliban may defeat the current Afghan government. Or that they would control a large enough section of the country to allow al Qaeda to establish new bases to strike from. But by their design terrorist organizations are decentralized, and can form in a variety of environments. For example, several of the 9/11 terrorists lived and trained in the US before their attack.
In my opinion, the US and its allies (a current coalition of 48 countries) had a just cause to attack terrorists in Afghanistan. And from a human rights view, action against the Taliban helped the Afghan people and freed them from oppression. But the Taliban are terror enablers, whose goal is to rule Afghanistan. Our real enemies, al Qaeda and their affiliates, appear to have fled the country.
So why are we still there?
Note 1: I greatly respect the efforts and sacrifice of the US and allied troops serving in Afghanistan, and I'd like to see them come home safely. And soon.
Note 2: For many years I have been a proponent of 'nation building'--helping other countries establish a democratic government and beneficial capitalist economy. However, the fragile state of the world economy makes me think we must suspend these efforts for a while. Expensive foreign aid must be reduced.
Note 3: The ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan has an extensive website. On one of their maps, I counted 48 countries contributing forces to the allied effort, something many readers may not be aware of. Judging by the flag-marked map, it appears the major maneuver battalions are made up of troops from the following: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States. If you live in one of these countries, please support your fellow citizens who serve in the military.)
Note 4: This is my opinion. I support your right to disagree.
(The map is from: lonelyplanet.com)