Afghanistan: the mistakes began on 12 September 2001


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The purpose of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was ill-defined from the beginning, according to panelists taking part in a discussion last night that gave little grounds for optimism about the country’s future.

Asked by David Loyn, the BBC’s international development correspondent who was chairing the event when it was that the mistakes were made after the attacks on the Unites States of 11 September, 2001, the answer from Jean MacKenzie, senior correspondent for GlobalPost was: “September 12,”

The former programme director for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting in Kabul, said the major problem with the operation in Afghanistan was a lack of definition about what it was setting out to achieve:

“I think when we went into Afghanistan, the major problem with our invasion, or intervention, was that it was ill-defined as to scope, ill-defined as to purpose and we really had no clue what we were trying to accomplish there. The people who carried out the attack on the United States were not the Taliban and those who did, namely al Quaeda and Osama bin Laden had left by November 2001, said MacKenzie.

“They’re gone, we’re still there and we’re fighting [without knowing] who the enemy is, we don’t know how to define the enemy and we don’t know what the enemy is fighting us about, and I think our central mistake is to get involved with a war with a country that we don’t understand, with a goal that we never bothered to define.”

Malte Roschinski, a security consultant, political analyst and author who is based in Germany, said the “players” who drew up the December 2001 Bonn Agreement on the future of Afghanistan were not representative of the country because the Taleban were left out.

“We might not have liked them but they were the decisive actors in Afghanistan at that time,” said Roschinski, who as a journalist with AFP news agency reported from post-Taliban Afghanistan in late 2001.

He was also critical of the way that different countries took responsibility for different areas and of the German approach of institution building at the cost of providing security for the people:

“The international community never got around to creating a unity of action, which is obviously very important if you want to be successful. If eventually 44 countries are playing single ball games then you will not really come to decisive conclusion because you have 44 different strategies, as well as the civilian players, the development agencies.”

Frank Ledwidge, author of Losing Small Wars said it was “a matter of record” that it was “right within the purview” of al-Quaeda operators and Osama bin Laden that western governments, and the United States in particular, be drawn into wars in the Islamic world that they could not win.

Discussing Britain’s presence in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Ledwidge said a “very well informed” Helmand Plan put together by the SAS and well-placed Afghan civilians might have been successful, but had never been implemented:

“We went there looking to create a Belgium in Asia and right now, the truth is we’d be lucky to get a Bangladesh,” said Ledwidge, whose military record includes serving in the the Balkans conflict.

“Success and failure has to be measured against cost and the cost that we’ve sustained, the very least of which is national reputation, then military reputation, then the lives and limbs of our own soldiers and of Afghans and the money, I simply can’t draw a success from that.”

To come: What difference have counterinsurgency strategies made to the life of the Afghan people and in Iraq?