01/09/2021

The unwinnable war

2 min
Chris Donahue, the latest U.S. soldier to leave Kabul

BarcelonaOne day ahead of schedule, the last US military has left Afghanistan. The night photograph distributed by the Pentagon shows Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, boarding the last plane of the American armed forces that has taken off from Kabul airport. At first light, the Taliban entered the airport and took possession of the planes that until recently were part of the Afghan air force (paid for with Western money). The images of the Taliban celebrating the departure of the Americans certify the end of a military intervention that has lasted two decades and that has ended with a military defeat, because the Taliban return to power, but with the commitment that Afghanistan will no longer be the base for terrorist attacks on the United States.

Let us recall that in a few weeks it will be the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, which triggered the intervention in Afghanistan because the Taliban were protecting Osama bin Laden and had good relations with Al Qaeda. Two decades after those attacks, the world has changed significantly. The main Islamist threat is no longer Al Qaeda, but a much more dangerous version, the Islamic State, a guerrilla group that came to control a large area between Iraq and Syria, where it established its caliphate while instigating attacks in Europe. Bin Laden was captured and executed a decade ago when Obama was president of the United States. And in Iraq, where George Bush's United States launched a war in defiance of international law and lying about the existence of weapons of mass destruction, hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in the long and bloody civil war that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The world has changed and Washington came to the conclusion that Afghanistan was a war it could never win, and that it was better to go through the traumatic experience of a withdrawal rather than continue to face a trickle of casualties and skyrocketing costs. Looking back, the United States had been in the war twice as long as the Soviets (1979-1989). During this time advances had been made, for example in women's rights, which are now in jeopardy. That is why the withdrawal must not now turn into a stampede that will further aggravate the situation. The international community must continue to have eyes on the ground and must ensure that the Taliban and any other militias or factions do not commit atrocities.

Even so, and because the Taliban's word can hardly be trusted, there will still be Afghans who will want to flee their country because they feel their lives are in danger. These people must be treated as war refugees under international law. The European Union cannot now disengage itself from the people of the future for whom it is partly responsible. This would be contrary to the values on which the EU was built after the Second World War.