The questions of whether or not to increase troop presence in Afghanistan and how we can possibly “win” there at this stage are distractions from the real issue that hasn’t changed in eight long years:
We have absolutely no right to be in Afghanistan.
For some reason this war maintains a sheen of respectability and justification around it, even as we balk in horror at the atrocities we have knowingly committed in Iraq.
That we were brought into Iraq through lies about weapons of mass destruction is now a matter of undisputed fact; that the war there continues to be an unjustified act of aggression – a hostile invasion – is pretty much impossible to deny. Yet Afghanistan, invaded eight years ago today, in the shadow of 9/11, is viewed as a different story altogether.
There were no lies told here about secret weapons programmes or violations of UN agreements, there were simply the deaths of nearly three thousand Americans and the desire to make the perpetrators pay.
But this simply isn’t the truth.
The country of Afghanistan was not responsible for the shocking attacks on America made by nineteen individual hijackers (none of whom were Afghani) on September 11th, 2001. These hijackers worked alone; one autonomous cell out of many loosely affiliated groups around the world who are financed, in part, by extremists like Osama bin Laden.
Their horrific acts of terror were not the aggressive first strikes of a hostile nation’s war against America, but the desperate and deadly stunt of nineteen very disturbed individuals with a personal political vendetta against the United States.
They were criminal acts – deserving of the most severe punishments of law enforcement. Though the attackers themselves were now dead, their supporters and financers could have been tracked down, arrested, and brought swiftly to justice. Their assets could have been frozen, their networks severed and destroyed, and not a single person would have opposed such legal and righteous actions as they remembered the awful images of that nightmare September day.
The FBI could have been heroes; the 3,000 dead could have had their tragedies avenged…
Instead though – the decision was made to attack Afghanistan, under the claim that they were harbouring 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and “if you harbour terrorists, you are a terrorist”.
This claim contains two assumptions, both demonstrably false.
Firstly, the idea that Afghanistan was “harbouring” bin Laden.
In reality, the ruling Taliban offered to extradite him several times, providing the US could furnish them with sufficient evidence that proved bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
The US refused to offer any proof, so Afghanistan refused to hand Osama over. Which brings me to assumption number two: the idea that Osama bin Laden’s culpability was, at this point, indisputably proven.
Any proof the US government had, if any, on October 7th, 2001, that the 9/11 attacks were definitely and indisputably masterminded by Osama bin Laden, however, is hard to find. Bin Laden himself hadn’t even admitted any culpability yet, and as late as June 2002, FBI director Robert Mueller was testifying in Senate hearings to only “thinking” and “believing” that bin Laden was responsible, not yet knowing.
To this day, no definitive proof has been offered to the general public that ineluctably proves bin Laden himself asked for and planned the 9/11 attacks.
It certainly wasn’t offered in October, 2001; not to us, or to the Afghanistan government who asked for it.
That is not to say that bin Laden wasn’t guilty – only to say that, without knowing for sure, then we can’t then say that the Taliban were “harbouring” those responsible for 9/11 in October, 2001.
And even if they were, there is still another crucial step in the chain of responsibility that is missing from the decision to bomb the country of Afghanistan for the crimes of the individual, Osama bin Laden: as a sovereign nation with its own system of law and order, the Afghani government does not have to extradite anyone within their borders if they don’t feel there is sufficient evidence against them, but that does not equate to their giving support for, or involvement in, any of the crimes the suspected individual might have committed under international law.
We have not, to this day, had any proof that the Afghani Taliban themselves had any involvement in the masterminding of the 9/11 attacks, nor any of the Afghani people (for, again, not a single one of the nineteen hijackers, or bin Laden himself, is Afghani). So the leap from the extremist Taliban “harbouring” bin Laden to declaring war on the entire country of Afghanistan is spurious at best, a war-crime at worst.
Afghanistan had not attacked the United States, not had it threatened to do so in the future.
In October, 2001, it was merely a country in which Osama bin Laden was alleged to be hiding; an allegation the leaders of that country wanted conclusive proof of before they handed him over.
There was no justification – either legal or moral – for the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7th, 2001, and now, eight years later, there remains no legitimate justification for our being there still.