Ten years ago this past Friday, the United States invaded Afghanistan. Why? To destroy the Taliban and bring democracy, we were told. The Taliban is still there. Democracy in a meaningful sense is not. And although al Qaeda is virtually absent, the fighting there rages on.
Indeed, according to the UN, the violence has gone up by 39% since last year. The administration claims that it has things under control, but this would seem like so much hogwash.
So far, more than 1,800 Americans have died because of this war. Many thousands of Afghans have also died, and hundreds of thousands if not millions have been displaced from their homes. Hundreds of those taken prisoner have been abused, in many cases detained without either POW or criminal justice protections for years on end.
As a reminder, none of the 9/11 hijackers were Afghans, and although the Taliban had a relationship with al-Qaeda, the training camps in Afghanistan were mainly for training ground soldiers, not hijackers and other terrorists. The 9/11 assailants were mostly trained in the United States and Germany. Also, the Taliban offered to give up bin Laden ten years ago to a neutral party if evidence of his guilt were provided by the U.S., and the Bush administration refused. These facts are surreal to recount, given the horrible bloodshed of the last decade, all of it without any clear justification, as far as I can tell. The war continues even after bin Laden’s long-awaited death, with every indication that the U.S. will remain there even past 2014.
The Afghanistan war is probably the most universally defended war in my lifetime, and probably the war since World War II that Americans were most united behind supporting, at least in its first year (or five). After being attacked on 9/11, Americans felt justified in seeing that country invaded, if not for a base desire to exact revenge, then out of a somewhat understandable thirst for something approaching justice, with a reinforcing rationale that the war would quickly bring peace, freedom, and security, not just for Americans but for the long oppressed Afghans too.
We should remember this next time a seemingly “just war” opportunity presents itself. When the politicians bang the drums for the next war, even if it seems as “justified” as this one did, remember that it might just last ten years with no end in sight and no clearly defined goals even to move toward. You can say that you don’t want the ten-year-war, but a much more focused, better delineated war instead. But that’s not necessarily what you’ll get. How many Americans who cheered for war in 2001 thought that more Americans would die in Afghanistan in 2011 than in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 combined? Probably not many. But unless the war ends in the next week or so, that is almost surely going to be the case.