What has the war in Afghanistan really achieved?
So far, the war in Afghanistan has lasted nine years, eight months and some days, cost the lives of 2,547 coalition troops, and between 14,000 and 34,000 civilians, created millions of refugees, and opened up a black hole in Western economies that has sucked in more $500bn dollars. Afghanistan costs the US around $10bn a month.
The hunt for Osama bin Laden and removal of the Taliban regime sheltering him was the original war aim, long since replaced by fighting insurgency. Afghanistan has long since ceased to be a major trainer and fomenter of terrorism outside its own borders, and the killing of Bin Laden has demonstrated that special forces, police work and drones are a far more effective weapon against terrorists than wars.
There are undoubted achievements, principally that the country is no longer ruled by a regime of fanatics. Afghan security forces now exist; roads, schools, and clinics have been built; and the numbers of children in school have soared. Two-thirds of Afghans now have access to basic health services – up from 8 per cent during Taliban rule; more than 1,000 judges, 200 of them women, have been trained; and elections, albeit increasingly corrupt ones, are routinely held.
But with violence at record levels, a dysfunctional government plagued by corruption, and a police and army riddled with illiteracy and dependent on coalition support, Afghanistan is anything but stable. Despite billions of dollars being poured into creating an Afghan army and police force capable of fighting the Taliban on their own, only a single army unit is assessed as being able to operate independently, according to the International Security Assistance Force.
As far as the Afghan economy, government tax revenues exceeded $1bn for the first time last year, but a US Senate report estimated that 97 per cent of the country’s GDP is derived from the international military and aid. And, as the troops depart, so will a lot of the reconstruction cash.
Afghanistan is by far the world’s most important producer of heroin and cannabis, and the war has done little to alter that. As Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said: “Our preliminary findings indicate Afghan opium production will probably rebound to high levels in 2011.”