“We must take stock of the war against terrorism”

According to Joe Biden, it “was time” to end “the longest war” in US history. With the withdrawal of American troops, which ended Tuesday in Afghanistan, it is a chapter begun 20 years ago, after the attack of September 11, 2001, which is closing. And for Christopher Preble, an expert at the Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, an influential Atlanticist think tank, terrorism is now far from being the main danger threatening the United States and the planet.

Christopher Preble of the Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council.

After the agreement negotiated by Donald Trump, was withdrawing from Afghanistan the least bad solution for the Biden administration?

The United States and its allies made the right decision in continuing with the withdrawal. Paradoxically, the rapid collapse of Afghan security forces in the face of the Taliban, which caught the Biden administration by surprise, illustrates how unattainable the goal of solidifying the government in Kabul was. And despite the initial chaos, the evacuation was almost heroic, with more than 120,000 people (including 5,000 Americans) evacuated.

Could leaving 2,500 or 5,000 American soldiers on the spot have, at the very least, made it possible to fight against terrorism?

This argument is difficult to defend. At the height of the coalition’s presence, we are talking about 150,000-170,000 foreign fighters in Afghanistan, in addition to the security forces. And despite this, the Taliban gradually took over territory and terrorism flourished. The only real alternative to a pullout would have been to triple those numbers for a successful counterinsurgency operation. It was not politically realistic.

The attack by the Afghan branch of ISIS at Kabul airport not a game-changer?

The risk posed by Isis-K (Islamic State group in Khorasan) exists outside of Afghanistan but it is less significant than when ISIS controlled territories in Syria and Iraq in 2013-2014. Nothing suggests that the interests of the Taliban and Isis-K are aligned. The Taliban are no longer insurgents, they are trying to establish a state, and Isis-K is a threat they must fight against.

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The Biden administration seems to be betting that the Taliban are a lesser evil. Isn’t that naive?

The United States attacked the Taliban because they offered refuge to Al-Qaeda at the end of the 1990s. Above all, we must not be naive, but keep in mind that we are facing a new generation. It is in their best interests to keep their promises as they are in desperate need of international assistance, especially to fight the pandemic and make their government work.

What is the outcome of the “war on terror” as the 20th anniversary of September 11 approaches?

The terrorist threat transcends borders, and countries like France have been hit hard. But contrary to what many predicted in the United States, 9/11 was not a harbinger of similar attacks and was rather an exception. We must therefore ask legitimate questions about the human and financial cost of this war on terror and make a real assessment. To wonder if we have found the right balance between national security and the protection of freedoms. Examine the consequences on religious tensions and on the emergence of hyper-nationalism in the United States and elsewhere. Not to mention that the vast majority of victims of terrorism have been in countries where the United States has engaged in operations.

Is this the end of American interventionism?

Although there were no other attacks similar to 9/11, fear of terrorism remained very high in the United States until recently. But for the past two years, public opinion has been more concerned with other dangers, such as the pandemic and climate change, or the threat from Russia or China. And that translates into new political priorities. If we had invested a fraction of the war budget in Afghanistan to develop our health system, would the Covid-19 crisis have been less severe? A leader should prioritize the dangers that are likely to do the most damage. And terrorism is not very high on this list.

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