Two decades have passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), and the wounds have not healed. After two long wars, thousands of deaths, and trillions of dollars spent on weapons, is the world a safer place?
Twenty years ago, the United States suffered its worst attack since World War II. This triggered a series of events that led to two wars: one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
A war lasting two decades
In 2001, Afghanistan was under the command of the Taliban, a group of Islamic fundamentalists. The country had become a place of refuge for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, which was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
The U.S. Army deployed all its power, and members of the Taliban gradually withdrew.
Away from Iraq and Afghanistan, in Pakistan, after a manhunt that lasted nearly a decade, in May 2011 al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed; but the war continued.
The next step was to train the Afghan soldiers, fully equip them with weaponry, and prepare them to fight the fundamentalists.
Little was invested in education, development, combating poverty, or understanding the complex cultural dynamics of a region where democracy was a curiosity rather than an alternative form of government. This gave way to one of the major enemies of democracy: corruption.
Plans for a functional democracy collapse
Corruption began to taint commanders of the Afghan army. The Americans paid the Afghan commanders so they could distribute salaries to the troops, but this often did not happen. Many starving and poor soldiers began to sell their equipment-- from night visors to first aid kits to ammunition-- on the black market, which often ended up in the hands of the Taliban.
As happened with the Soviets in the 1980s, the U.S. Army realized that the economic damage of this war was unsustainable.
Trump began negotiating with the Taliban (excluding the Afghan government) to find a way out, then Biden implemented the withdrawal. Few anticipated that the fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban would be so rapid, but everyone knew it was inevitable.
After 20 years of war and an immeasurable human toll, Afghanistan returned to the hands of the Taliban regime, which is now fully armed with American combat equipment.
Is the world safer today?
The term “terror” comes from the word “terrorem,” the Latin version of the Greek word “Deimos,” which has its roots in mythology. The god of war in ancient Greece was Ares, who had two sons: Phobos and Deimos (fear and terror).
It is interesting to note that this correlation between terror and war is very old. Since ancient times, rulers used the threat of conflict to unify their own people. It was (and sadly still is) very effective to use the narrative of potential aggression from the outside enemy to quell internal struggles.
For the ancient Greeks, terror and fear are not only brothers; they are the children of war.
It is difficult to predict the future of Afghanistan and how the withdrawal of U.S. troops will affect the region and the world. What is clear is that a democracy cannot be imposed by force.
In the words of philosopher and political scientist Noam Chomsky: “Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it.”
You can read this article in Spanish here.