War in Afghanistan

Ten-year tally of fighting a just war

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 October, 2011, 12:00am


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Ten years ago today American and British warplanes and missiles started the war in Afghanistan, just 26 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Two months later, the Taliban regime - host to al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and havens - collapsed, leaving its fighters to seek refuge in the border region with Pakistan. A decade later, Osama bin Laden and many of his lieutenants may be dead, but the Taliban is resurgent, US and allied forces are still fighting in Afghanistan and victory has been redefined as a phased handover of responsibility for security to a local administration to be completed by 2014.

What went wrong? The Americans, after all, rode a wave of sympathy and support into Afghanistan. Indeed, they remain there as part of the UN-mandated international security Assistance Force for Afghanistan. Sadly, Afghan security became a sideshow to the costly war on Iraq without UN endorsement that divided America's friends and alienated sentiment in the Islamic world.

The Taliban insurgency and the conflicted role of Pakistan is the result. The Afghan people have paid the highest price, according to the UN and Human Rights Watch, with nearly 3,000 killed in US and Nato bombing raids and more than 7,600 by insurgents. An estimated 10,000 insurgents have been killed, at the cost of nearly 1,700 American lives, nearly 1,000 from Nato forces and more than 1,500 from the Afghan national army. The US has arguably paid another price for its preoccupation with terrorism and the distraction of the unnecessary war in Iraq - spiralling debt and economic stagnation as the balance of economic power shifted towards Asia.

As we were reminded recently by the commemoration of the 9/11 victims on the 10th anniversary, the Afghan war was a just one. Now it seems peace depends on political negotiations with the Taliban, which President Hamid Karzai has attempted and the good offices of Pakistan, which offers sanctuary to militants.