America’s “Eternal War” is far from over

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The gruesome suicide attack on civilians attempting to flee Afghanistan at Kabul airport made the situation even worse. At least 13 US military personnel and 79 Afghans are dead and more than 150 others injured. This is the highest one-day death rate among Americans in the country since 2011. The 20-year military involvement in Afghanistan actually began with a terrorist attack that killed Americans. It also ends with a. The body number is lower this time, but the effects will still be far-reaching.

The attack exacerbates the humiliation for the US and the allies have no choice but to support their hasty withdrawal. For President Joe Biden, it exacerbates the question of the poor planning of such a massive evacuation and the decision to carry out the withdrawal. It makes it even less likely that the US can evacuate all US citizens still living in Afghanistan, let alone thousands of other domestic workers who have supported its armed forces. British officials have admitted that their mission will have to leave hundreds of eligible Afghans and some British nationals behind.

The success of Thursday’s attack, alleged by Isis-K group, whose name is unknown to most people outside the country, heightened concerns that Afghanistan will once again become a haven for jihadist groups. After the Taliban’s humiliation of the American military leviathan, it is encouraging jihadist groups elsewhere. It also reveals the folly of Biden’s hope that a line can be drawn under the Afghanistan war.

The “eternal war” would probably never end in an eternal peace. It now seems likely that a new jihad threat will continue in a different form. It may feel a lot further away: thousands of American families will no longer have sons and daughters on Afghan soil. It will certainly be less visible domestically unless there are attacks on US citizens. But it won’t be any less real.

In Afghanistan, the US must face the next phase of the conflict with no assets and no trusted partners on the ground. Washington will rely on the Taliban as local enforcers, an enemy it has been fighting for two decades. With the US military presence removed and the Taliban undisciplined, it would be wishful thinking to rely on militants’ pledges last year to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for al-Qaeda or other jihadists.

The ability of the Taliban leadership, which negotiated the deal with the Trump administration, to contain its own troops has yet to be tested. Relations between jihadist groups in the country are opaque and ephemeral. The Taliban are determined to fight Isis-K. But another Taliban partner – the Haqqani network, which the Taliban leaders have blamed for the security of Kabul – suspects links to Isis-K.

The White House insists that it can run a counterterrorism campaign using military and intelligence assets “over the horizon” in other locations. Surveillance and attack technologies such as drones have evolved since the pre-9/11 era. But the US can no longer rely on the help of the former Soviet Central Asian republics, which are far more autocratic and connected to Russia than in 2001. Pakistan is also a more difficult partner. And the failure of the intelligence services to predict the Taliban’s retaking of Afghanistan casts doubt on the ability of the US military to wage a remote campaign.

The restoration of theocratic rule, the restoration of Afghanistan as a potential jihad center, a chaotic evacuation and a terrorist attack were not the end of the US mission there. Everything arrived in less than two weeks. The consequences will drag on for many years.

Video: Highlights of an FT Subscriber Webinar on Afghanistan


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