Afghanistan is a bitter legacy, paid for in blood, writes DOMINIC SANDBROOK

The scene is solely too acquainted. On the dusty plains of Afghanistan, a path of refugees heads for the beleaguered capital. On the streets of Kabul, a automotive bomb outdoors the house of the defence minister kills eight individuals.

In the western metropolis of Herat, individuals huddle in their houses as enemy rockets pound down. And in the southern province of Helmand — the place lots of of British servicemen misplaced their lives in latest years — dozens of civilian our bodies lie rotting on the nation roads.

Such is the information from Afghanistan, the place the resurgent Taliban have made extraordinary beneficial properties in latest days. Across a lot of the nation, their white flag now flies unchecked.

You could be forgiven for pondering you have learn this all earlier than. It’s a quarter of a century for the reason that Taliban swept to energy in a lot of Afghanistan, imposing a hideously oppressive Islamist regime that handled ladies as slaves and banned movies, TV, music and dancing.

The scene is only too familiar. On the dusty plains of Afghanistan, a trail of refugees heads for the beleaguered capital. On the streets of Kabul, a car bomb outside the home of the defence minister kills eight people. Pictured: Welsh Guards in 2009

The scene is solely too acquainted. On the dusty plains of Afghanistan, a path of refugees heads for the beleaguered capital. On the streets of Kabul, a automotive bomb outdoors the house of the defence minister kills eight individuals. Pictured: Welsh Guards in 2009

Atrocities

Perhaps extra considerably, in simply a few weeks it will likely be precisely 20 years for the reason that terrorist assaults of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington.

It was in response to those atrocities that Tony Blair and George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom, promising to dismantle the al-Qaeda terrorist camps, overthrow the Taliban and usher the Afghan individuals into a courageous new world of democracy.

‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. How blackly ironic that title sounds right this moment!

For the Afghan individuals, the reason for freedom now hangs by a thread. Ever for the reason that spring, when President Joe Biden introduced that the final U.S. personnel would depart on the finish of this month, the Taliban have swept throughout a lot of the nation.

Only a few weeks in the past, U.S. intelligence analysts reportedly warned that with out Western intervention, the federal government in Kabul may need solely six months left. And now, with an estimated 85,000 Taliban fighters urgent in the direction of the capital, that bleak prognosis appears to be like decidedly optimistic.

Yet this is merely a part of a greater image.

Twenty years after the War on Terror started, it is time that we took a lengthy, unsparing have a look at what it actually achieved.

To revisit the information studies from 2001 seems like coming into a completely different world. At the Labour convention, Tony Blair tells his social gathering that he intends to battle for freedom ‘from the deserts of Northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan’.

‘Let us re-order this world round us,’ he says grandly, as if there is no restrict to his ambitions. A couple of weeks later, his good friend Bush seems earlier than the U.S. Congress, pledging to dismantle an ‘Axis of Evil’ that threatens the peace of the world. He names three regimes in specific: Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

How conceited, how criminally naive this sounds right this moment. The regime in Iran nonetheless stands, its place apparently as safe as ever. North Korea, too, stays defiant, having constructed an estimated stockpile of some 40 nuclear weapons.

Twenty years after the War on Terror began, it's time that we took a long, unsparing look at what it really achieved. Pictured: A Royal Marine Commando firing a mortar in 2007

Twenty years after the War on Terror started, it is time that we took a lengthy, unsparing have a look at what it actually achieved. Pictured: A Royal Marine Commando firing a mortar in 2007

Carnage

As for Iraq, that desperately unhappy story is solely too acquainted. However you measure it, the carnage for the reason that Anglo-American invasion of 2003 has price not less than 150,000 lives, and maybe greater than a million.

I say ‘has price’, relatively than ‘price’, as a result of Iraq is nonetheless not at peace. It has by no means been at peace. Even now, the Baghdad authorities and its Western sponsors are combating a low-level Islamist insurgency, with bombings and killings virtually each single day. What, then, is the decision on the War on Terror?

There’s little doubt that a few of its progenitors, not less than, had noble motives. When Blair says he genuinely wished to export Western freedoms to Afghanistan and Iraq, I imagine him.

But the decision should be totally damning.

How can this naive, undefined, unachievable campaign go down as something aside from a catastrophic failure?

Take the associated fee in lives first. Some 456 British servicemen and MoD civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, and a additional 179 in Iraq. And for what?

As the Taliban surge in the direction of Kabul, most of the bereaved should be asking themselves: was all of it in useless?

Price

It can be totally silly to fake that this is the end result we wished.

Then there’s the associated fee. In June this yr, the Ministry of Defence admitted that the warfare in Afghanistan price British taxpayers a staggering £22 billion, with the marketing campaign in Iraq estimated to have price a additional £10 billion.

The grim irony, after all, is that our legislators blew all that cash simply earlier than the monetary disaster of 2007-8, from which the Western financial system has by no means actually recovered. And provided that Britain was about to be plunged into a lengthy interval of financial austerity, do not you want we had saved it for different issues?

The best price of all, although, is a lot more durable to measure. It’s the value in ethical capital and political credibility, which Britain and the U.S. are nonetheless paying to today.

Believe it or not, the invasion of Afghanistan was a lot nearer in time to the top of the Cold War than it is to us right this moment. The U.S. was the world’s unchallenged ‘hyper-power’, the march of democracy appeared unstoppable and a few American thinkers have been even proclaiming the ‘finish of historical past’.

The occasions of the final 20 years, nonetheless, turned that story on its head. For the Iraqi individuals, the Allied invasion introduced a dwelling nightmare. For the individuals of Afghanistan, in the meantime, it introduced a gruelling, apparently interminable marketing campaign, which now appears prone to finish because it started — with the Taliban as masters of their place of birth.

The events of the last two decades, however, turned that story on its head. For the Iraqi people, the Allied invasion brought a living nightmare. For the people of Afghanistan, meanwhile, it brought a gruelling, apparently interminable campaign, which now seems likely to end as it began ¿ with the Taliban as masters of their native land. Pictured: Royal Marines in 2006

The occasions of the final 20 years, nonetheless, turned that story on its head. For the Iraqi individuals, the Allied invasion introduced a dwelling nightmare. For the individuals of Afghanistan, in the meantime, it introduced a gruelling, apparently interminable marketing campaign, which now appears prone to finish because it started — with the Taliban as masters of their place of birth. Pictured: Royal Marines in 2006

No surprise, then, that America’s picture overseas has plummeted over the past 20 years. According to the revered Pew Research Center, individuals in virtually each main Western nation now have an unfavourable impression of the U.S.

In Japan, its recognition has dropped by 30 per cent since 2001. In France, too, it has fallen by 30 per cent, in Germany by virtually 50 per cent. And what of religion in democracy — the one factor for which Blair and Bush claimed they have been combating?

According to a huge worldwide research by Cambridge University, satisfaction with democracy has by no means been decrease. In virtually each nation on earth, religion in the Western capitalist mannequin has plummeted in the final 20 years – particularly among the many younger, to whom the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are merely incomprehensible.

And this is one other brutal irony. At the very level when Britain and the U.S. have been losing a lot cash and so many lives on their Middle Eastern misadventures, the true threats to Western democracy have been hauling themselves off the canvas and making ready to rebuild.

The winners of the War on Terror weren’t the British and American individuals, and nonetheless much less the individuals of Afghanistan and Iraq. They have been Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the authoritarian strongmen of Russia and China, who watched with undisguised satisfaction because the Western powers discredited their very own values.

That, I believe, was the true legacy of the previous 20 years: a shattering reversal of Western progress, for which we might be paying — fairly actually — for the remainder of our lives.

But maybe it will be mistaken to finish by speaking about ourselves. After all, the best casualties of the final 20 years got here among the many individuals of Afghanistan and Iraq themselves, who’ve by no means recognized a single day of peace for the reason that War on Terror started.

Nobody can say how their lives would have turned out if we had left properly alone. No doubt they might have endured greater than their fair proportion of tragedies anyway.

What we are able to say, nonetheless, is that they’ve paid a horrible value for our legislators’ hubris and folly. And if we fail to study that lesson, it will be the best betrayal of all.