Joe Biden has declared “mission accomplished” in Afghanistan on the strength of a promise that the Taliban won’t again harbour extremists (as distinct, presumably, from moderates like themselves who executed co-ed school teachers and blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas).
It has been inappropriate from the start to view Afghanistan in terms of the “War Against Terror” or indeed a war against drugs. 9/11 was not in any meaningful sense “launched” from Afghanistan; that is simply where Osama Bin Laden happened to be at the time. He could have been struck as effectively (and eventually was) without regime change in his country of residence. Islamic terrorism against the West has never been more than an irritant in the context of the global issues confronting us.
9/11 was a pin-prick. It would have been treated as such by any country not so used to having its moods indulged. Their punitive reaction was on a par with that of Austro-Hungary, which we went to war to oppose.
Western leaders from Carter to Bush have been Afghanistan’s problem and so made it ours. They facilitated the overthrow of a secular regime, leading to the rise of a theocratic one. They overthrew that too.
In their naive and self-congratulatory enthusiasm for democracy, they then handed over authority to govern while retaining the role of fighting anyone whom that government alienated. The result is the resurgence of the theocrats.
It is true that Afghanistan has been given long enough to build a national army; ten times longer than we took to go from raw recruits to storming the beaches of Normandy. But, following our professional model, they have not mobilised those who would be personally committed to stopping the Taliban. Power grows out of the barrel of a gun. For freedom to survive in Afghanistan, one needs to put guns in the hands of those who love the new freedoms.
We have withdrawn our ground forces, prompting the enemy to switch to the conventional offensive. This is when air support can be critical. Operating from floating airfields, our combat resources would not be tied up in force protection and supply. The capacity to sail away avoids our being trapped in unconditional support for the regime.
To withhold our assistance from the soldiers now fighting for their lives, as America did while the NVA advanced on Saigon, or to wait for leadership from the USA, would be a lasting disgrace for Britain and Europe.