It was exactly 20 years today, on September 11,2001, when the terrorist group, Al Qaeda, unleashed an unprecedented act of violence on the United States of America. It highjacked four commercial planes: two were crashed into the twin towers in New York, famously known as the World Trade Centre, within 17 minutes’ interval of each other, a third plane crashed into the west side of the headquarters of the Defence Department, The Pentagon in Arlington Virginia and a fourth aircraft crashed on a field in Pennsylvania. In the end, 3000 people were reported to have lost their lives while 25,000 were wounded. That was under the Presidency of George W. Bush.
The response was immediate as that world power mobilised its allies and went in search of the masterminds of what the international community believed was a dastardly act, especially the ring leader, Osama Bin Laden. He was eventually tracked to Pakistan and killed after a decade of intense man-hunt. That incident also kick-started the two-decade war in Afghanistan that ended exactly where it started, with the Taliban still in control of that beleaguered Asian country and America’s nightmare of a terror attack from that base still looming large as was proved by the terrorist bombing at the Kabul airport that killed 13 American soldiers and over 90 Afghans.
According to President Joe Biden, that war cost Americans $2 trillion over the period of 20 years or an average of $300 million every day not counting thousands of American lives lost in the conflict. Presently, the whole world, not just the United States is asking, what went wrong in Afghanistan? A number of theories are in the works, the main one, in the opinion of this newspaper, being corruption within the military high command in both countries who saw the war as business and prosecuted as such. Exactly what is happening in Nigeria in the war against insurgency.
Another theory is that America over-stayed its mandate. The initial mission was to dislodge the terrorist group, Al Qaeda, which, as was assumed, was using Afghanistan as a base to launch its terrorist activities on USA and other areas. But Bin Laden was from Saudi Arabia, America’s most important ally in the Arab world. Experts are arguing that America ought to have left when Bin Laden was killed. His death should have been enough for them. That would have been the time to re-assess and re-strategise. Instead, America stayed back to try to ‘democratise’ Afghanistan in what has been described as nation- building. In our considered opinion, it is that arrogance of system superiority which America insists on imposing on everyone else that got the world power into a mess that bashed her image and blurred her claim to being the leader of the free world.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) member countries, America’s strongest allies, are contemplating fashioning their own security modalities so as to wean them off the apron strings of USA which has started to take them for granted in strategic matters as exemplified by the pull-out arrangements from Afghanistan that turned out to be catastrophic and a huge embarrassment. Today, America is begging the Taliban to allow her evacuate her citizens.
The United States believed, in our view, that the Afghan military had been trained and equipped enough to withstand the onslaught of the Taliban. Maybe. That turned out a big miscalculation as the Afghans capitulated without as much as a whimper. Instead, all the American military hardware were captured by the rampaging Taliban soldiers. Even more embarrassing is the fact that it is the same Al Qaeda elements America believed she has dislodged that ordered the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, an American puppet, to flee.
It could be conjectured that the United States may have learnt a few lessons from the misadventure in Afghanistan if President Biden is to be believed. He said that the era of sending troops into other countries are over. He literally admitted that America got her priorities wrong. While that country was wasting resources in a needless war, her competitors were building up alliances. The tactics henceforth, he said, will be the use of drones or special forces. Another lesson is that with China asserting her relevance on the world stage, Russia re-arming and Western Europe reviewing their roles in NATO, America can no longer do as she pleases.
Furthermore, in our opinion, the United States must have learnt that no matter how sophisticated their values, ignoring the sensibilities of a people and the affinities they hold dear can only spell doom in the final analysis. Afghans are not cowards. They were just tired of fighting. After 20 years of waging a war with victory almost elusive, they did not see the need to continue after the pull-out. What it meant was that for the 20 years, they played along knowing that nothing will come out of it. That was why the military in that country, made the most of it while it lasted. That is another lesson for nations with expansionist tendencies.