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Progress and setbacks after the invasion

Much has changed in Afghanistan in the 20 years since the US-led coalition intervened in the country to expel Al Qaeda, as a result of the 9/11 attacks. The process is now almost done. Here are five examples of improvements – and mistakes made.

Afghan government soldiers are on alert for the election of President Ashraf Ghani ahead of the September 2019 presidential elections.picture: Rahmat Gul / AP / TT

Fragile democratization

Afghanistan’s modern history is marked by foreign interventions and withdrawals. The ongoing turmoil has made it difficult to establish any strong social institutions. Attempts after the Taliban were ousted in the US-led invasion in 2001 made cautious progress.

Despite the war, several presidential and parliamentary elections were held, although they were marked by violence, lack of turnout and fraud. The diverse government, made up of representatives from several different ethnic groups, nonetheless managed to hold itself together fairly well.

The crucial change is that women – who were alienated from society during Taliban rule – have taken their place in politics, at the government level, and through the quota system, in parliament and district councils.

an exercise

Perhaps the most obvious change is that more children can now go to school. In the wounded community ruled by the Taliban, it was believed that the existing schools had around one million students, nearly all of them boys. After years of investing in building the education system – and removing the school ban for girls – the number of school children today is nine times that, according to official figures.

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Up to 40 percent of girls.

In addition, higher university-like education could have been established in major cities.

“Educating people was an important part of the general capacity building work in the country,” says Helen Lackenbauer, Afghanistan expert at the Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOI).

However, in poor rural areas, few have the opportunity to complete elementary school. The war has also forced many schools to close and many parents do not dare to send their children away due to the security situation. About 3.7 million children do not go to school, according to UNICEF.


Access to healthcare has improved and many Afghans today are somewhat closer to a health center. International support has strengthened the community’s ability to provide health care, although many clinics are still run by humanitarian organizations.

Life expectancy has increased significantly.

In addition, maternal mortality has decreased, which is an important indicator of development, says Helen Lackenbauer.

Eliminate the Taliban

After the Taliban were ousted, a conference was held in December 2001 in Bonn, Germany, to decide how to rebuild and govern the country. But one of the most important players was not invited.

The Americans refused to allow the Taliban to join. Consequently, there can be no agreement between the most important warring parties, says Helen Lackenbauer.

They missed the opportunity to create a social order that might not have been optimal, but which would have led to a more peaceful society.

The conflicts continued year after year, claiming the lives of up to 40,000 Afghan civilians.

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Bonn’s plans to impose a new state according to the Western model in a short time, without much consideration of the conditions in Afghanistan, were met with criticism from many observers.

Helen Lackenbauer says that change must be owned by those who will live in the society that will change.

There has been a lot of money for nation-building initiatives for a long time – but no knowledge of how to use them in the best way, Lackenbauer points out.

The foreign actors understood Afghanistan very poorly, and had little knowledge of the dynamics existing between the various groups that were crucial to governance.

If you do not fundamentally know and understand society, it is very difficult to undertake military interventions the way you did.


The United States and the War in Afghanistan

On May 1, the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan began. The last soldiers must have left before 9/11. History marks exactly 20 years since the Al Qaeda terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. As a result, the United States launched a military intervention in Afghanistan to expel Al Qaeda.

Just minutes after President Joe Biden announced on April 14 the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a statement came from NATO that other member states would also begin withdrawing on May 1. The NATO operation in Afghanistan includes a total of 9,600 foreign soldiers, including between 2,500 and 3,000 Americans.

When the last American soldiers leave Afghanistan, it also means the end of the United States’ longest military operation.

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The war cost the United States more than 2,000 billion dollars and killed more than 2,400 American soldiers. According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 civilians have been killed or injured in the fighting in the country.

And there was criticism in both the United States and internationally that a complete US withdrawal threatens to exacerbate the situation in Afghanistan, which is characterized by violence, turmoil and conflict. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promised to provide financial support to the Afghan security forces.