Afghanistan marks 10 years of war

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Afghans on Friday marked 10 years since US warplanes began bombing the Taliban out of power, looking back on a decade of war that has cost thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. Within weeks, the Taliban crumbled under the onslaught of Operation Enduring Freedom. Its fighters had fled and Afghans poured out of their homes celebrating the collapse of one of the most repressive regimes in modern times.
But as the United States turned to Iraq, committing tens of thousands of troops and billions of dollars to ousting Saddam Hussein, the Taliban began to transform from a rag-tag bunch of renegades into a well-disciplined militia.
Ten years on, some US officials see a political settlement with the people they bombed out of power as the answer to resolving one of its longest wars in history that today outstrips the 10-year Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan. Stanley McChrystal, commander in Afghanistan until he was sacked in 2010, delivered a speech on the eve of the anniversary saying the US-led NATO mission was “a little better than” half way to achieving their military goals.
“We didn’t know enough and we still don’t know enough,” he said, adding that the United States and its allies had a “frighteningly simplistic view” of recent history, in comments reported by the BBC.
In Afghanistan, the anniversary passed without public commemoration by either the Afghan government or NATO, while on the frontline, it was business as usual for the 140,000 foreign troops.
In Kabul, government officials said they were stepping up security to guard against the kind of high-profile attack that has seen the Taliban-led insurgency increasingly destabilise the Afghan capital.
Many Afghans, who have welcomed enormous gains in literacy and health over the last 10 years, reflected on what the war has meant for their country and the implications of the timetabled foreign troop withdrawal in 2014. Aged 33 and with good English, Hafizullah Ahmadi has been one of those to benefit from the end of “the dark era of the Taliban”, working as a translator. “With the arrival of the US and its allies, the war and killings ended in Afghanistan and people have access to everything they want, while during the Taliban regime they didn’t,” he told AFP.
But the anniversary also highlighted antagonism over Western troops, anger over thousands of civilian casualties and corruption within the government of President Hamid Karzai, propped up by the United States and its foreign allies.
“We will be very pleased if they pullout from Afghanistan,” said street vendor Khan Agha, 30, of the Americans. “Everything would return to normal. “The US and its allies didn’t do good when they invaded. Despite all the hard times, we had good security in the Islamic regime of the Taliban.” On the eve of the anniversary, around 200 Afghans demanded that foreign troops leave, shouting “Death to America and its Afghan puppets” and torching an American flag in Kabul city centre, an AFP reporter said.
Writing in British newspaper The Daily Telegraph under the headline “It’s a fantasy to think we are winning the war in Afghanistan,” former British ambassador to Kabul Sherard Cowper-Coles was scathing of Western strategy.
Military operations, he wrote, “are not curing the underlying disease” of the insurgency and only “a Herculean effort of American-led diplomacy” can correct the errors and omissions of the last decade.
“Without a credible political product to offer populations caught in the crossfire, no settlement will hold. That is the fatal flaw in the whole intervention,” he wrote.
Efforts to broker peace with the Taliban had made scant progress even before the September 20 assassination of Karzai’s peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani threw the government strategy for brokering a settlement into turmoil. Some experts fear the country could be sliding back towards the kind of civil war that killed and displaced thousands of people in 1992-96. “Time is running out to leave Afghanistan in an acceptable shape that would justify the time, money, and lives spent in expanding the mission from counter-terrorism to state building,” wrote Terry Pattar, senior consultant at defence intelligence group IHS Jane’s.