20 Years of 9/11

Why the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan should be defended, and why America’s perpetual war footing must be abandoned.

In These Times Editors

The Downtown Manhattan skyline (view from Brooklyn) as it was September 11th 2001. Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images

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Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, the so-called War on Terror — initiated by George W. Bush and continued by successive administrations since — has turned the whole world into a potential battlefield, forging a path of ruin across many countries, most horrifically Iraq and Afghanistan. While the Biden administration has (rightfully) withdrawn from Afghanistan, the open-ended and nebulous War on Terror continues, from drone strikes in Somalia to bombings in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, there is a growing bipartisan push for the U.S. to take a more confrontational posture toward China, one that is already resulting in the increased militarization of the Indo-Pacific region. 

The staff of In These Times has spent the lead-up to this grim anniversary writing about why the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan should be defended, and why America’s perpetual war footing must be abandoned. 

The True Cost of 20 Years of the War on Terror
Catera Whitson (C) and Kyler Melancon (R) ride in the back of a high water truck as they volunteer to help evacuate people from homes after neighborhoods flooded in LaPlace, Louisiana on August 30, 2021. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Imagine If We Had Spent the Last 20 Years Fighting Climate Change Instead of the War on Terror

At the dawn of the new millennium, we directed our national resources in the exact wrong direction. But it’s not too late to turn things around.

The War on Terror Gave Us Donald Trump

In an interview, Reign of Terror author Spencer Ackerman explains how the brutal legacy of America’s post‑9/​11 wars has reshaped U.S. society, revealed the complicity of liberal elites and led to our era of authoritarian demagoguery.

Leaving Afghanistan
A U.S. Chinook military helicopter flies above the US embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Leaving Afghanistan Is the Right Thing To Do. We Never Should Have Been There.

Now our obligation is to those Afghans living with the consequences of our four decades of intervention.

Military Contractor CACI Says Afghanistan Withdrawal Is Hurting Its Profits. It’s Funding a Pro-War Think Tank.

What CACI reveals about the feedback loop between military contractors and think tanks.

Afghan Activist: We All Deserve Refuge, Not Just Those Who Served the U.S.

This was a stupid occupation and invasion where nobody received anything,” says Afghan activist Nematullah Ahangosh.

Sanctions Didn’t Help Cubans, Iranians or Venezuelans. They Won’t Help Afghans.

Economic punishment is taking a brutal toll during the pandemic.

U.S. Media Outlets Are Still Banging the Drums for the Afghanistan War

Major press outlets are trying to goad Biden into staying in Afghanistan.

The Lessons of 9/11
U.S. soldiers board an Army Chinook transport helicopter after it brought fresh soldiers and supplies to the Korengal Outpost on October 27, 2008 in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. PHOTO BY JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES

Empires Don’t Last, But Their Scars Do

The Afghanistan withdrawal reteaches an old lesson about blowback to American intervention.

9/11 and the Illusion of War Without Casualties

Twenty years ago, Naomi Klein wrote that 9/11 shattered Americans’ illusion of war without casualties.” Now, after combat troops have been pulled out of Afghanistan, is it really game over”?

We Can’t Let the Generals Who Lied About the Afghanistan War Define Its Legacy

The U.S. architects of the ruinous war are getting the last word on its lessons.”

We also want to spotlight some of our earlier coverage. Readers of In These Times’ investigative reporting over the years have seen that the reality on the ground in Afghanistan was far from the military propaganda echoed on America’s cable news.

The West’s talk of women’s rights in terms of jobs, education and not enforcing the veil is mostly lost on the women trapped in never-ending war,” wrote Anna Badhken in a lyrical 2012 report from Balkh Province, where she spent weeks with the women of Pashtun farming village. For them, the defining event of the war” was a U.S.-backed raid in the fall of 2001 in which they were orphaned, widowed and raped by a local warlord’s militia. While their urban, educated counterparts feared the Taliban’s return, the rural women remembered the reign of the Taliban as a relatively peaceful interlude, and just wanted an end to the privations of war: enough food, working infrastructure, protection from raids.

A 2017 piece by Afghanistan-based reporter May Jeong, The U.S.-Trained Warlords Committing Atrocities in Afghanistan,” supported by the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting, showed that that first 2001 raid was no fluke. Jeong meticulously documented villagers’ accounts of a massacre in 2009 in which a warlord hunting for Taliban, accompanied by U.S. advisors, gunned down seven men working in the fields. Despite voluminous reports by human rights groups of such violations over the years, Jeong wrote, the U.S. was continuing to rely on Afghan militias, who cost a quarter of the price of U.S. troops.

Together, Badhken and Jeong’s accounts intimately acquaint us with the people who must live with the hubris and devastation of U.S. imperialism — topics In These Times is dedicated to covering unsparingly.

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