CHARLES GRAHAM: A huge gamble in the war on terror

When pupils complain that history lessons are pointless because they’re all about things that have been and gone, the obvious retort is that learning about the past can stop us repeating mistakes in the future.

A firefighter is seen in the aftermath of the World Trade Centre attacks on September 11, 2001
A firefighter is seen in the aftermath of the World Trade Centre attacks on September 11, 2001

That this fails to happen on innumerable occasions is testament either to political ignorance or an over-optimistic view that this time it’ll be different.

The withdrawal of US and UK forces from Afghanistan goes down as one of the biggest international gambles for decades because there is a chance it could take us right back to where we started with 9/11.

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Western powers voice surprise over the speed at which the Taliban have regained control but, in saying that, are only confirming that it was expected.

Two decades of training the Afghan army to be self-sufficient went down the drain within days. How much Western cash went on training and how much vanished into corrupt officials’ pockets is moot. How much the swift victory was due to the Taliban’s greater passion and morale compared to complacent/ill-prepared/demoralised armed forces is also a matter for conjecture.

Yes, maybe the Afghan forces should have put up much more of a fight. Perhaps the US troops had been there so long that they had become over-reliant on them.

But when President Biden posed the rhetorical question about “how many more American lives” was staying there longer worth, and added that there was never going to be a good time to leave, I couldn’t help imagining a new question of “how many American lives might be lost to 9/11-type atrocities because of this withdrawal. And maybe there wasn’t a good time to leave because the best option is to stay indefinitely as a peace-keeping force if a majority of Afghans want that. Of course it would be preferable if that were UN presence, but anything is better than the return of a regime which fostered the murderous Al Qa’aeda and spawned other terrorist organisations that threaten western liberty and lives.

The Taliban claims to have reformed and experts do say there is a chance they might stick more to domestic issues than exporting terror, but that is far from certain. And that’s where the Biden gamble really lies.

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