Afghanistan: Ten years later

While the U.S. has failed to turn Afghanistan into a stable democracy, it has achieved some success on other fronts.

It started off “as a narrow, modest war of necessity,” said Richard Haass in Time. On Oct. 7, 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan with the aims of toppling the Taliban and ridding the country of the terrorists behind 9/11. Those goals “were accomplished in short order.” Washington then expanded the mission, tasking our troops with transforming this fractured, tribal nation into a stable democracy. Ten years later, the expanded goal remains out of our grasp, despite the loss of 1,800 American lives, and a direct cost of $400 billion. Despite all our efforts, said Joel Brinkley in, “Afghanistan is arguably the most primitive nation on earth,” with rampant malnutrition, widespread illiteracy, and 15th-century standards of living. The government of President Hamid Karzai is totally corrupt, and is despised by ordinary Afghans. And despite years of training by NATO, the Afghan army is a shambles. More than 24,000 soldiers deserted in the first six months of this year.

That’s just part of the story, said Nick Schifrin in Ten years ago, Afghan women “lived in an enforced shadow,” barred from schools, jobs, and government by the Taliban. Today, they can study, work, vote, and run for office. Under the Taliban, Afghan boys only “studied the Koran, or militancy, and little else.” There are now 6 million children in school. And crucially, the war has stopped al Qaida from using Afghanistan as a training camp to plot and prepare attacks on the West. “But these achievements are fragile and reversible,” said Ahmad Majidyar in If President Obama pushes ahead with his plan to withdraw U.S. troops by 2014, the Taliban will pour back into Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in Pakistan. The country will once again become a terrorist haven, with “disastrous consequences for the United States and world security.”

Things aren’t that gloomy, said the columnist Banyan in The Economist. Obama’s so-called “withdrawal” is in fact just a troop reduction, bringing the number of personnel down from 100,000 to 30,000. Without so many foreign soldiers to support them, the Afghan army’s mission will simply be to “hold on to the bits of Afghanistan that matter the most”: the cities, the north, and as much of the rural south—the Taliban’s heartland—as possible. “Ten years on, the best Afghanistan can hope for is quite depressing.” But at least there won’t be “the total defeat that many now expect.”

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