The Taliban now threatens large parts of Afghanistan, an Isis linked group has emerged, and civilian deaths are expected to rise this year, nearly two decades after the United States invaded the country following the September 11th attacks. The war in Afghanistan is now 17 years old making it the longest-running war in United States history. To put that number into perspective, young Americans can now enlist to fight in a war that began before they were even born.

According to the UN, in 2017 over 10,000 civilians were killed or injured as a result of the conflict, And it fears this year’s number will be considerably higher. Many people have lost their lives and millions have been forced to flee their homes since, the beginning of this war. And the financial cost of this war is upwards of a trillion dollars, According to some estimates.

So why did the United States invade Afghanistan? Is anyone really winning this war?

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So why did the United States invade Afghanistan? Is anyone really winning this war?

Let’s start in 1996 when the Taliban, a hardline group, came to power in Afghanistan. Many considered this new government to be extreme, because of their policies that restricted the rights of ethnic minorities and women. The US also didn’t like the fact that the Taliban regime offered safe haven to the violent extremist group Al Qaeda, by allowing it to operate training camps in Afghanistan.

And after Al-Qaeda bombed US embassies in Africa in 1997, the US increased pressure on the Taliban to hand over the group’s leader Osama bin Laden – who was also allowed safe haven in Afghanistan. But they refused to extradite him. So beginning in 1999, the United States imposed economic and political sanctions on the Taliban, and the UN also imposed sanctions that year.

The September 11th 2001 attack.

Then things reached a boiling point. Al-Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11th 2001 – killing nearly 3,000 people.

The United States military campaign in Afghanistan.

After the attacks, the United States and its allies launched a military campaign in Afghanistan on October 7 2001. Within a month, it appeared like the US was achieving its goal of removing the Taliban from power and destroying Al-Qaeda safe havens. By November the Taliban had already begun to retreat from large parts of the country. As a result the UN Security Council passed a resolution that called on the UN to play a “central role” in peacekeeping and establishing a transitional government. By the end of 2001 the Taliban had officially collapsed and a new interim government was installed.

Year 2002 and the slow down.

But in 2002 that momentum began to slow down. Some say partly, because the United States became distracted shifting its intelligence and military resources away from Afghanistan and on to its new military campaign in Iraq. But experts have told us there was another reason things got worse in the country. They say, from the very beginning, that too much attention was given to the military side of the campaign but not to the political side of things.

The short term success of 2004.

Although a 2004 presidential election in Afghanistan was seen as a success, the following parliamentary election in 2005 were not according to Human Rights Watch’s Patricia Gossman. Throughout this time Afghanistan has been plagued by allegations of corruption. Last year the country ranked 177 out of 180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The instability from that time paved the way for a violent insurgency in 2006 and things have remained unstable ever since.

And now…

Now 17 years later the US is still fighting a war in Afghanistan. A war that was started under President Bush and continued under President Obama and is now in the hands of President Trump. Trump, who said his initial instinct was to pull out of Afghanistan, had a change a heart when he was sworn into office. And instead of reducing the US his involvement he increased it.

So has it all been worth it? And is Afghanistan a better and safer place 17 years later?

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So has it all been worth it? And is Afghanistan a better and safer place 17 years later?

First let’s look at the status of the Taliban. The militant group has been resilient due to a combination of violent ideology, negotiation of the country’s tribal complexities, and a huge surplus of funds from the heroin trade. Afghanistan has been credibly described as a “Narco-State”.

Since the removal of the Taliban government in 2001, the group now controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any other point since the Invasion. According to BBC estimates, the Taliban threatens an astounding 70% of the country and now controls large parts of Helmand and Kandahar province, key places where the US and the international forces have fought in. Not to mention that groups associated with the so called Islamic state a militant group responsible for some of the most brutal attacks in recent time have also been able to emerge in parts of the country.

Are these attacks and the Taliban’s gains a result of the US winding down the war?

Not even close. In just the first three months of this year for example the US conducted more airstrikes in the country than it has in the past 15 years. Trump has also increased the amount of troops on the ground by several thousand. And while some argue that the United States needs to increase its military efforts in Afghanistan, Others like former General John Nicholson who was the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said that “he believes the war needs to come to an end”. But experts we’ve spoken to said that both of those approaches are the wrong way to think about ending the war in Afghanistan.

Right now, it’s too complicated to determine who is winning this war – but it’s clear to see that the ones losing the most in this war are Afghan civilians.

So should America’s longest-running war continue or should it finally come to an end?



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