October 7 marked the 20th anniversary of the Afghan military invasion by the United States and its NATO allies. Having launched Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in 2001, Washington unleashed the longest and most expensive war in America's entire history, and mopped up ingloriously.
It bears reminding that the United States and its international coalition allies launched a military operation in Afghanistan as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Originally, the coalition limited itself to airstrikes, but by late October 2001, the Pentagon sent in troops to Afghanistan. As hostilities peaked in 2011, there were over 100 thousand American soldiers and some 30 thousand NATO military personnel in that country. For almost 25 years, the Americans have managed to neither defeat terrorism nor help the Afghans form a stable and trustworthy government, nor crack down on corruption and drug trafficking. Eventually, the power fell into the hands of those Washington came to fight with, i.e. the Taliban movement (banned in Russia).
In February 2020, then-US President Donald Trump signed a peace agreement with the Taliban, under which all the foreign troops were soon to leave Afghanistan, but the process stalled for a number of reasons. In April this year, new President Joe Biden pledged to begin withdrawing troops from that country, with all the other NATO countries announcing the same. As a result, the Western coalition withdrew by the end of summer, with the last American soldier leaving the Afghan territory on August 31. In turn, the Taliban militants seized Kabul nearly without striking a blow and promptly established control over the entire country.
During the long years of war, 2,443 American soldiers were killed and 20,666 were wounded, while NATO losses amounted to 1,144 soldiers. These figures were released in the August report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Pursuant to the document, the Afghans lost ten times more, with at least 66 thousand soldiers killed and no accurate information about the wounded available. As for civilian casualties, real figures may prove a lot higher than the official 48 thousand people, as report author claims. Let's add Afghanistan's ravished economy and 6 million refugees scattered throughout the world.
The war in Afghanistan cost Washington almost $1 trillion, about $145 billion of which was allocated for restoring the country, its economy, and civil society institutions, and another $837 billion spent by the Pentagon on military operations. It is next to impossible to track the final destination of American taxpayers' money – despite US attempts to restore infrastructure in Afghanistan, large-scale projects have never been implemented, and the government which came after the Taliban overthrow became one of the most corrupt. According to available data, President Ashraf Ghani alone stole $169 million from the Afghan treasury before fleeing to the UAE.
According to Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, the real price paid by the United States for the war in Afghanistan may be twice as high as officially declared, because among the Americans there are those who profited from this war, for whom it became a real bonanza. The Pentagon spent about $90 billion on training the Afghan forces alone, while information about military embezzlement has never been advertized, Patrushev reminded. According to him, the long war eventually yielded bumper profits to both the American military-industrial complex and private contractors. It should be noted that the United States did not even bother to take weapons and military equipment with them and simply abandoned those. Experts say their cumulative amount is about $85 billion.
One of the few real triumphs of Operation Enduring Freedom was the May 2011 destruction of al-Qaeda (banned in the Russian Federation) leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, although some experts still question this fact. Back then, leader of the Taliban movement Mullah Mohammed Omar was also reported to have been killed in Pakistan, but the Taliban denied this and insisted that he died of tuberculosis.
The true goals of the American invasion had certainly little to do with the fight against al-Qaeda and terrorism in general, but much more with economics and geopolitics (which is why the United States never sought to kill bin Laden before it turned profitable). Afghanistan was an ideal springboard to keep a tight rein on Iran, Pakistan, and the Central Asian states. Let's not forget about the natural resources of Afghanistan estimated by at least $1 trillion.
Twenty years later, we can say that US objectives it talked about aloud have not been achieved: terrorists of all shades still find refuge in Afghanistan, training camps have been rebuilt, with the growing drug threat and endless warfare neing a source of concern for all the countries of the region. No one managed to conquer Afghanistan, they say, but we better put it this way: no one managed to gain a foothold in this country. Aliens, whatever their goals, come and go. And the Afghans are always left to struggle with what they have done.
The Western coalition has been repeatedly criticized over the years of war, mainly for indiscriminate strikes against the Taliban positions entailing hundreds of civilian deaths. The latest case of the kind occurred on August 29 this year, when a drone strike claimed the lives of ten civilians, including seven children. The Pentagon avowed its mistake and pledged an investigation. But the culprits are unlikely to be found and punished, as has recurrently happened in similar cases. Suffice it to recall that those behind the 2003 military invasion of Iraq, i.e. then US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, got away with it.
Moscow is confident that the scale of the United States' war crimes in Afghanistan has yet to be seized to draw adequate conclusions. "The United States and its allies are certainly responsible for what has been happening in Afghanistan over the past two decades. The scale of war crimes committed is yet to be apprehended," said recently Russian Presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, who is also Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Second Asia Department. In his opinion, Western countries have a good chance to mitigate consequences of their presence in Afghanistan, bearing the bulk of expenses for that country's humanitarian assistance and post-conflict reconstruction.