A Yet Unclosed Case

Afghanistan will create a lot of problems for itself and the world

It seems absurd, but it’s true: the U.S. has spent more money in Afghanistan than on the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Adding the direct cost of the war itself and other expenses, including spending on veterans and even interest on the entire sum, the bill hits more than $2 trillion. When it began in 2001, military intervention really seemed like “the necessary war.” With the U.N.’s permission, the U.S. had an irrefutable mission: getting rid of the al-Qaida bases where the evil plans for the Sept. 11 attacks had been conceived. Fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, mostly Saudis like their leader Osama bin Laden, had infrastructure provided by their ideological brothers, the Afghani Taliban. In 60 days, the Taliban were ousted from power. Only four Americans had died (three by friendly fire). The initial success turned into a swamp of never-ending intervention that increasingly justified Afghanistan’s most famous designation, the “graveyard of empires”: a country unconquerable because of its hostile geography and culture of resistance to Pashtun foreigners.

Creating democratic institutions, promoting elections and encouraging values that prove better than the extremes of fundamentalism, like opening schools for girls who are forbidden from studying by the Taliban, should be the foundation of an honorable exit by America and its allies. In a more ideal world, of course. In the real world, it’s much worse. The end of the intervention, decided by Donald Trump and executed by Joe Biden, opens the door to the return of the Taliban, who rebuilt themselves as the dominant force in the country. When they are close to taking the cities, trained and armed security forces will have two alternatives at a cost of billions of dollars: join them, as they are already doing in inland areas, or flee. It will not be a pretty sight. William Hague, former U.K. foreign secretary, said that diplomats and military personnel who know that country well, speaking in confidence, are terrified of the prospects that are anticipated for Afghanistan.

America’s decision to drop out could be translated as “screw them.” If the U.S. left Vietnam under much worse circumstances, delivering an important victory to communism, which was still competing for worldwide hegemony at the time, why can’t a strategically less important country like Afghanistan be left to fend for itself? The Taliban have the answer: They continue to fight for the creation of an ultra-fundamentalist caliphate and they are now thirsting for vengeance. And they are no longer alone. A local arm of the Islamic state has developed in the country from Pakistan. Nothing good can come of that. As tired as it is of 20 years of prolonged war, which left 2,800 dead in its ranks and did not produce any really good movies, as much as it would like to, the U.S. cannot consider the case closed.

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