Afghanistan: 15 Years after the US Invasion

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15 years after the US invasion of Afghanistan, the country remains a haven for militancy, as democracy seems impossible to grow in these conditions.

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Narration: Sept. 11, 2001. In a matter of minutes, the Twin Towers in New York are razed to the ground...

Almost immediately, al-Qaeda is held responsible for these acts of terror...

On Sept. 20, the U.S. authorities issue an ultimatum to the Taliban, demanding that al-Qaeda leadership should be turned over to the U.S. When the Taliban refuse to comply, the White House launches Operation Enduring Freedom; the opening salvo in the so-called War on Terror...

The US war aims are simple: to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for al-Qaeda and to bring democracy to the country by stamping out the Taliban. There are also noises about liberating women and educating Afghan citizens.

It takes mere weeks for American and NATO forces to topple the Taliban government in Kabul. Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are forced to flee to Pakistan or hide in remote mountainous areas of Afghanistan. Scenes of women taking off their burkas are plastered all over US media as the Bush Administration announces a new era for the war-torn country.

15 years later …

This is what the country looks like …

Has the US really achieved its objectives in the war, in its longest military engagement overseas in history? The harsh realities on Afghan soil beg to differ.

SOUNDBITE [English] George Bush, Former President of US: “By destroying camps and disrupting communications, we will make it more difficult for the [Taliban] terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans.”

Narration: In a January report, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said, “The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001.The group is back in force. It has been successful in capturing or contesting around one fifth of the country, commanding large parts of the countryside, and threatening major urban areas.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Afghan Resident: “We want the central government to carry out an operation against this terrorist group that has been bringing our people sorrow for 15 years and claiming victims every day, making women widows and killing children.”

Narration: Kunduz, in the north, has been going back and forth between the Taliban and the Afghan National Army; while much of southern Afghanistan is in the claw of the Taliban. Helmand Province, along the border with Pakistan has seen some of the war’s worst fighting. Now families who want to live in Helmand have to flee, becoming refugees in their own country.

Aside from the group’s oppressive rule over its occupied areas, the Taliban propagates and enriches itself on the nation’s opium trade. Opium production was at a low point the year U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan. But that's no longer the case. Since the US invasion, a year in which opium production in the country fell to a low of 8,000 hectares—from 82,000 the year before—the total rose to more than 200,000 hectares in 2013 and 2014 before falling slightly to around 180,000 last year.

SOUNDBITE [English] George Bush, Former President of US: “At the same time, the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies.”

Narration: Indiscriminate killing of civilians by either CIA drones, night raids conducted by US Special Forces or heinous torture programs at Bagram, and America’s sustained presence in Afghanistan have cost many innocent lives. According to Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, as of August 2016, the war has resulted in the deaths of 104,000 people, 31,000 of which Afghan civilians. Since the year 2001, 41,000 Afghan civilians have suffered injuries related to the conflict.

While US officials are crowing over the killing of Bin Laden and dealing blows to al Qaeda as major victories, organizations far more extreme have emerged. Terrorist groups like Daesh are now increasingly making their presence felt in Afghanistan threatening a all-out war in the country.

SOUNDBITE [English] George Bush, Former President of US: “We did not ask for this mission, but we will fulfill it.”

Narration: Whether the U.S. did or did not “ask” for this mission is still open to question. But whether American troops were able to “fulfill it” is less disputed. ProPublica reports that the U.S. spent $17 billion on the war in Afghanistan as of December 2015. Even as the Obama administration has reduced the number of troops from 100,000 to 8,400 over the past several years, the idea of an American victory has becoming increasingly dubious. The Afghans no longer buy the idea that U.S. troops are present to continue the fight against terrorism in their country.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Afghan Resident: “American forces entered our country to achieve their own interests. The US government has pulled out some of its troops just because it became a very costly war for them. It does not mean that their mission has been successfully accomplished.”

SOUNDBITE [English] George Bush, Former President of US: “The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.”

Narration: Since the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, repatriation efforts allowed nearly six million Afghan refugees to return to their country. However, insecurity forced many to leave Afghanistan again. About 2.5 million Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan, and over a million continue to reside in Iran. Over the past two years, another desperate wave of emigration has begun. According to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, violence and instability in 21 out of 34 provinces displaced more than 1.2 million Afghans in 2015. 154,000 Afghans were registered in Germany alone last year.

SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Sima Samar, Chairperson, AIHRC: In 2009, we had 41,345 internally displaced people which equals 268,569 people. But the number has reached to around one and a half million in 2015.”

Narration: 15 years after the US invasion of Afghanistan, the country remains a haven for militancy, as democracy seems impossible to grow in these conditions. Thousands of Afghans have been made jobless; and thousands of families have been displaced anew. Meanwhile, a considerable part of Afghanistan is now in Taliban hands. The improvement of the lives of women in Afghanistan still remains a pipe dream. 15 years after the US war on Afghanistan, the country is now one of the poorest countries in the world with more than 10 million people below the poverty line. 15 years after the US invasion, the country is the most bombed, the most crushed, and the most mined nation on the globe. 


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