US must clean the mess it created in Afghanistan

Speaking at the White House a day after the US' chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan ended, President Joe Biden said the evacuation of the American troops was an "extraordinary success", ignoring the suicide bombing at Kabul airport that killed 170 people, including 13 US soldiers, on Aug 26 and a rocket attack on the airport on Aug 30.

US President Joe Biden(C) attends the dignified transfer of the remains of fallen service members at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, August, 29, 2021, after 13 members of the US military were killed in Afghanistan last week. [Photo / Agencies]

Speaking at the White House a day after the US' chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan ended, President Joe Biden said the evacuation of the American troops was an "extraordinary success", ignoring the suicide bombing at Kabul airport that killed 170 people, including 13 US soldiers, on Aug 26 and a rocket attack on the airport on Aug 30.

The United States' war in Afghanistan, ostensibly to root out terrorism from the country, is the longest overseas war the US has fought.

But even after almost 20 years of US military operations, Afghanistan cannot be said to be free of terrorism. The US should own responsibility for not only its failure to eliminate terrorism from the country but also the deaths of over 240,000 people in the war.

Former US president George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan by the US-led forces in 2001 following the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to ensure that terrorist groups active there could not plan 9/11-like attacks against the US or its allies.

But the terrorist attacks in Kabul in the final days of the US' withdrawal, for which the Islamic State Khorasan, an affiliate of the Islamic State group, has claimed responsibility, show the US' global "war on terror" has been a total failure.

Worse, the US invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime and yet the Taliban is back in power in the country.

True, the "war on terror" helped the US to track down and kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, but on the flip side, it caused terrorism to spill over into the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, which has added to their security burden.

Lest we forget, it was the US that propped up al-Qaida-and created the fertile ground for the formation and rapid rise of the Islamic State group by overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. And the Islamic State group has replaced al-Qaida as the most dreaded global terrorist outfit, and launched terrorist attacks across the world.

The US' failure in Afghanistan is also borne out by a report the United Nations released in June, which said the 8,000-10,000 foreign terrorists that have flocked to Afghanistan can launch terrorist attacks on other countries. Irrespective of how the Taliban turns out to be as a ruling party, whether Afghanistan will become a haven for terrorists again will depend on the unfolding consequences of the US' 20-year war.

The US launched the "war on terror" also to establish democracy in countries like Afghanistan, and Iraq and some other Middle East countries, but instead has caused deaths and sufferings, created chaos, devastated societies, and left many countries in ruins.

The takeover of Kabul within months of launching the "war on terror" made the US too confident of achieving "absolute victory" and therefore it refused to hold talks with the Taliban to seek their surrender.

But as the war dragged on, the US realized victory was illusive. So in 2020, the Donald Trump administration held tripartite talks with the Taliban and the erstwhile Afghan government led by Ashraf Ghani and reached an agreement on the US' withdrawal.

The US has abandoned Afghanistan after its failed democracy experiment, something it has been doing since the advent of the Cold War.

But even after realizing the imminent failure of its "democracy mission", the US used its military power to destroy countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, ironically, all in the name of promoting "democracy".

According to data from the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs of Brown University, "about 241,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan and Pakistan war zone since 2001. More than 71,000 of those killed have been civilians … 37 million people have been displaced by the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines … From the last year of the Obama administration to the last full year of recorded data during the Trump administration, the number of civilians killed by US-led airstrikes in Afghanistan increased by 330 percent."

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled to neighboring countries or are living in refugee camps in the border areas. The US should have addressed such humanitarian crisis before pulling out its troops from Afghanistan and washing its hands of all its responsibilities.

Also, the Afghan war has shattered the fragile regional order in the Middle East, and the US withdrawal leaves behind a trail of terrorism, death, poverty and hunger from Afghanistan to Syria and North Africa.

The US' interference in the Middle East has pushed the region toward destruction. While claiming to maintain a rules-based world order, the US has done just the opposite.

The US may have fled the "Graveyard of Empires" but it cannot and should not flee from its responsibility of cleaning the mess it has created in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The author is deputy director of and professor at the Institute of International Studies, Jilin University.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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