American arch-enemy Osama bin Laden must be laughing in his Barack Obama-induced watery grave this week. Nearly 20 years to the day since he attacked the Word Trade Center and Pentagon with a total of 19 terrorist actors and four hijacked jetliners, the USA military has finally officially ended our “Forever War” in Afghanistan. Yes, we’ve been at war in the Middle East for 20 years since bin Laden’s attack, at a cost reported by most estimates of over $4 trillion and a staggering human cost….
The body and casualty count between our misguided war in Afghanistan and the Bush-Cheney “trick Americans into the Iraq War” is staggering. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but during our 20 years at war in the Middle East it’s estimated the U.S. and Western Allies lost some 3,500 troops with 10,000 non-lethal casualties, and in Iraq, some 4,800 deaths and 35,000 non-lethal casualties.
As staggering as these numbers, between Iraq, Afghanistan and incursions into Pakistan, it’s estimated our forever wars have resulted in a total of 500,000-850,000 total deaths, including combatants, contractors, and civilians – the exact number variable, depending upon who’s counting and whether resulting starvation is counted as war deaths. Damages to families from all sectors of the globe in injuries, destitution, poverty and destruction is simply immeasurable, and to attempts to assign a price on all the human suffering under these wars would be itself nearly inhumane.
And, the original misguidedness of these wars must be pointed out, as NONE of Saudi citizen Osama bin Ladin’s 19 terrorists were either Iraqi nor Afghans. Rather, 15 were citizens of American financial and oil ally Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon, and one from Egypt. Not a single Iraqi nor Afghan… Yet, over 20 long years, the U.S. waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in 500,000-850,000 total deaths, uncountable non-lethal casualties, and untold trillions in loss of wealth for everyone… Everyone but oil majors, pipeline contractors, weapons manufactures and military contractors.
Inside this quicksand of military commitment, Americans were first told to believe our retaliation against Osama bin Laden would be quick, effective, overwhelmingly victorious and then out. “No nation building,” we were told. We were going to hunt down the terrorists (everywhere but where they came from) and make sure such 9/11 destruction never happened again. Easy peazy.
So, did George Bush/Dick Cheney mislead or overreact? Did subsequent presidents kick cans down the road rather than turning over the never-ending spigot of further death, hell and destruction of American and allied lives and 20 times more enemy and civilians?
And what of the bin Laden family we escorted back to Saudi Arabia days after 9/11, and what of the radicals in Saudi Arabia who then funded bin Laden and still fund radical elements in the Middle East to this day? Did we fight the wrong war? Invade the wrong enemy?
And are we, ourselves, the USA, “palling around with terrorists” with our Saudi financial backers (who recently murdered and dismembered an American journalist in Turkey) – while we got lost in forever wars against peoples who didn’t in fact commit 9/11?
Each of us have our own views. Was it worth it? Were we told the truth about all this? Could we have nailed Osama bin Laden with snipers rather than nearly World War III invasions and tactics? Did we use comparative nuclear missiles when select snipers might have achieved our objectives? Were the losses of our loved ones worth it?
It is true we’ve not had another 9/11 attack – here on our soil. Our very dear losses of loved ones and treasure have protected the U.S. – here, on our soil.
Yet we must ask, how much general damage should we ourselves suffer and also cause other civilians to suffer, while we hunt down today’s terrorists scattered all over the globe? And is a change of tactics after 20 years of forever war finally timely and required?
All of these are giant, tragic numbers and giant, tragically necessary questions.
President Donald Trump concluded it was time to end all this. He ran on ending these wars. And in my view, this was one of the (few) things he was completely correct about. Give Trump his due on this. Too much is too much!
In February 2020, Trump negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban that freed 5,000 imprisoned Taliban soldiers and set the date of May 1, 2021, for the final pullout of all U.S. troops. President Joe Biden followed through and this Monday military Top Brass announced the Afghanistan war was finally over.
By most accounts, the final end was messier and far bloodier than wanted and parts were botched and we got almost everyone out but not everyone out, and it remains to be seen just how much of their promises the Taliban will keep relative to letting others out and how they will treat their new subjects. Everyone wishes the end was more organized, cleaner, with less bloodshed and anarchy. But war is unpredictable and we don’t know what car bombs might have exploded and where, had we done it any other way. Time might tell if this way was botched or as good as it could be.
This much we do know: Our last two presidents were damned determined to stop the U.S. and Allied losses, and to stop our losses on others. We’re out. It’s over. And in this, Republicans and Democrats, we can be united in knowing that both our presidents knew it had to stop. And these wars have to stay stopped.
There are some wins. Bin Laden is long gone. Thousands of terrorists have been eliminated. We’ve got a virtual scope on nearly any installation that might harm us and we can hammer enemies from thousands of miles away, should need be.
Ronald Reagan used to glowingly speak of the Afghanistan Taliban “Freedom Fighters” back when they were fighting the Soviets. For better or worse, these same “Freedom Fighters” Reagan once praised now get a chance to govern the nightmare they helped create. We’ve chosen to let them be. Let’s hope they commit to promises made to Trump and Biden.
And, if they mess with the U.S. again, we can still squish the “evil-doers” – but from thousands of miles away.
No more foreign wars. We’ve got enough homelessness and poverty and fires and floods and internal strife to deal with ourselves. It’s time to get our own house in order before we worry about “nation building” elsewhere.
Let’s unite ourselves going forward and nation build right here in the USA.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.