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Debate: War in Afghanistan

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Was the United State's decision to go to war in Afghanistan justified?

Background and context

Even before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11th 2001, Afghanistan was probably the most isolated country in the world. Only three other states recognised its Taliban rulers, who in the mid-1990s had swept across the country to impose a very strict and distinctive form of Islamic law upon the Afghan people, ending nearly 20 years of civil war in the 90% or so of the country which they control. Osama Bin Laden, an exiled Saudi Arabian who is the USA’s prime suspect for the World Trade Centre atrocity and other terrorist attacks in the 1990s, had based his Al-Qa'ida organisation in Afghanistan since 1996. The Taliban said that Bin Laden was a “guest of the Afghan people” and refused to give him up, prompting calls for military action to be taken against the regime.

Contents

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Was the invasion justified by the 9/11 attack on New York?

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Yes

After the September 11th attacks, the USA was fully justified in waging war to punish those responsible and to prevent future attacks. The Taliban were not a passive host for Bin Laden but were closely associated with him ideologically, and in his debt for the crucial support he has lent them in their own civil war. By sheltering him and his terrorist network, and by refusing to give him up, the Taliban are his accomplices in the September 11th atrocities and should be overthrown in the interests of justice and global peace.

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No

  • Even assuming that Bin Laden was guilty of masterminding the September 11th atrocities, that is no reason for a war on Afghanistan. Given the fragmentary nature of government in the country, even if the Taliban had wished to hand over Bin Laden, they were probably not capable of seizing him in order to do so.
  • If the US is allowed to kill 30,000 Afghan civilians (10 times more than were killed on 9-11), and risk the starvation of 7 million, in punishment for the terrorist attacks that they did not commit then the elementary moral principal of universality leads to some pretty disturbing conclusions. Under this logic Sudan would have the right to kill 100,000 or more innocent Americans. In 1998 the US bombed the Al-Shifra pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, which provided more than half the pharmaceuticals to the impoverished country with aids, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics, that was under sanctions so couldn't import medicines. This was estimated to have killed at least 10,000 Sudanese. Some estimates have even put in in the hundreds of thousands. Under the logic that justifies the logic of the invasion of Afghanistan, Sudan would be able to attack America, kill 100,000 (maybe a million) innocent civilians and do so even though aid organizations were saying that 21 million (maybe 210 million) Americans would probably starve to death. And the same would be true of Nicaragua. In the 1980's America's contra war against Nicaragua was condemned by the World Court for "unlawful use of force" - in other words terrorism. There are no accurate figures for how many innocent Nicaraguans were killed by the war and the economic strangulation but all estimates make it above 10,000. In fact, 9-11 can be justified under the logic that America could attack Afghanistan in response to 9-11. The reason given (probably not sincerely) by Al Qaeda for 9-11 was that it was a response to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the sanctions against Iraq. Focusing only on the sanctions against Iraq, they were estimated in 1998, by US judge Ramsey Clark, to have killed 1.5 million innocent Iraqis. I have discussed the sanctions in some detail, as well as giving sources, in this supporting quotation to a debate on humanitarian intervention here. Under the logic that justified Afghanistan, 9-11 was not only a justified response but it should have killed 50,000 times more innocent Americans. Now, of course this is ridiculous. But the ridiculousness of this sheds alot of light on this justification for bombing Afghanistan.
  • But even if we are going to accept that we are complete hypocrites and say that bombing innocent Afghans is ok, but bombing innocent Americans is not, there is still one problem. The attack on Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9-11. It was planned before 9-11 even happened. According to John Pilger, a senior US diplomat told Pakistani foreign minister, Niaz Naik, on the 21st July 2001 (a month and a half before 9-11) that plans had been made to invade Afghanistan. More information on this can be found here.
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Was the invasion justified by the overthrow of the Taliban government?

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Yes

The invasion of Afghanistan was aimed directly at capturing Bin Laden and overthrowing the Taliban regime that has harboured him, rather than being a war against the entire Afghan people. The Afghan people have suffered greatly under Taliban rule, especially women and ethnic and religious minority groups, and they deserve a different and better government. In the past few years the Taliban have made it very difficult for the UN and other aid agencies to deliver humanitarian relief in Afghanistan, so in the medium-term an invasion would improve matters.

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No

  • Even if the Taliban were judged to be equally guilty with Bin Laden, the Afghan people are not; the Taliban conquered the country with the help of Bin Laden and thousands of other foreign, mostly Arab, fighters, and their rule is heavily oppressive. The invasion of Afghanistan is still likely in the long run to lead to a prolonged power struggle or civil war between different ethnic groups or local warlords, as before 1996. This will lead to many innocent lives being lost in the crossfire, prevent humanitarian aid that is desperately needed after three years of drought reaching millions of starving Afghans, and create a terrible refugee crisis.
  • The US did not care about the Taliban's abuses of human rights. This can be shown in 2 ways. Firstly the fact that the US supported the Northern Alliance, who had committed, and did commit, all the same human rights abuses that the Taliban. They were the ones that tore up Afghanistan in the early 1990's and they were so bad that many Afghans actually welcomed the Taliban's rise to power at first because it meant an end to the fighting within the Northern Alliance as well as such abuses as rape being constant. Secondly, we know from what State Department officials said. John Pilger wrote that "a state department briefer had predicted that “the Taliban will develop like the Saudis did”, with a pro-American economy, no democracy and “lots of sharia law”, which meant the legalised persecution of women. “We can live with that,” he said." This can be found here.
  • It was not the Taliban that made it difficult for aid organizations to give food to the Afghan people, but the US bombing. Not only did many aid organizations have to leave Afghanistan when the bombing started because they were going to be bombed but the US also blocked the roads from Pakistan. The same roads that were being used transport aid to Afghanistan. Aid organizations, such as the UN World Food Program, were warning before the bombing that if it were initiated 7 to 8 million Afghans would starve to death. No one has counted how many Afghans starved to death as a result of the bombing but Medicine without Frontiers reported a doubling of the child mortality rate between August 2001 and January 2002. We do not know how many afghans have starved to death as a result of the war because we don't care. Just to put the 7 million figure that was predicted in context: the Nazi Holocaust killed about 6 million jews. What on earth could justify that? For more information on the blocking of aid see Michael Albert And Stephen Shalom Interview and 9-11 by Noam Chomsky.
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Argument #3

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Yes

Invasion was the only way to try to capture or destroy Bin Laden and his terrorist organisation. Bombing on its own can prepare the way for a ground invasion, guaranteeing air supremacy and disrupting the enemy’s command and control systems, but without the eventual commitment of land forces the USA’s global coalition could not hope to achieve its objectives. Conversely, the isolation of the Taliban regime before September 2001 means that there are no meaningful diplomatic sanctions that could be applied in an attempt to achieve these aims peacefully.

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No

There are great dangers involved in fighting a ground war in Afghanistan, as the British discovered in the nineteenth century and the USSR found in the 1980s. The mountainous terrain and hostile weather conditions make a normal land campaign impossible, negate the USA’s technological advantages, and make it ideal for guerrilla warfare. Nor did invading Afghanistan guarantee the capture of Osama Bin Laden; his familiarity with the hostile terrain offered him plenty of hiding places. The failure of US forces to apprehend warlords in Somalia ten years ago showed how hard it was to target particular individuals, even in more promising circumstances.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Invasion was the only way to prevent future terrorists using Afghanistan as a base. The Taliban have provided a supportive base for a range of terrorist groups seeking to overthrow regimes in former-Soviet Central Asia, China and Kashmir, as well as for the global terrorist campaign of Al-Qa'ida. The stability of the whole Central Asian region pivots upon the installation of a new government in Afghanistan dedicated to peaceful coexistence with is neighbours, and this can only be achieved through an invasion.

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No

An invasion using conventional military tactics and techniques will never be an effective measure against an elusive, diffuse, highly secretive international network such as Al-Qa'ida. If they are driven out of one country, they will always be able to find somewhere else to base their activities. To make the whole population of Afghanistan suffer in the vain hope of damaging such an elusive organisation was unacceptable.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Swift and decisive action against Afghanistan was necessary as a deterrent to other regimes thinking of supporting terrorism. If it is clear that allowing attacks upon other countries will result in massive retaliation and the swift overthrow of the sponsoring regime, then the world will have become a safer place and some good will have come out of the tragedy of September 11th.

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No

Ill-considered action against Afghanistan has made the USA in particular, and the West in general more widely feared and hated. A brutal campaign increased sympathy for the Afghan people, the Taliban and Bin Laden, especially in Islamic countries. This in itself seriously increases the risk of future terrorist attacks, but it also threatens moderate and pro-western regimes throughout the Islamic world. In particular, it could seriously destabilise nuclear-armed Pakistan where the pro-USA stance of the military government had caused widespread and sometimes violent protest.

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Argument #6

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Pro

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No

The US led war has already killed at least 30,000 people. That is 10 times more than the amount of people who died in 9-11. And that is not counting starvation as a result of the war, which Aid agencies were predicting in 2001 would take the lives of 7 million people if the US bombed. As well as this colossal mass murder, the US has empowered the warlords who destroyed Afghanistan in the 1990's. These warlords now form the Northern Alliance and the US has given them huge support, continuing the saga they began in the 1980's when they supported these warlords to fight the Soviets. The war against Afghanistan has caused massive harm to Afghan society. It is also the supreme international crime of aggression and the only moral thing the US could do is withdraw immediately.

Sources:

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Argument #7

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Pro

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No

The war against Afghanistan is illegal under international law. Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild wrote that “Under the [UN] charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men - 15 from Saudi Arabia - did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the US or another UN member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The US war in Afghanistan is illegal.”

See also

External links

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