This article is the English version of : Elie Tenenbaum, « Vers la fin de vingt ans de guerre contre le terrorisme ? », published in Politique étrangère, Vol. 86, Issue 3, 2021.
“Our objective was clear. The cause was just.” These were the words chosen by President Joe Biden on April 14, 2021, to describe the war unleashed twenty years earlier by one of his predecessors, George W. Bush, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Yet, despite the clarity of the objective and the justice of the cause, the newly inaugurated president was here to announce a galling withdrawal, one that looked suspiciously like defeat: “I’m now the fourth United States President to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan […]. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth. […] It’s time to end America’s longest war.”
In the months that followed, the effective withdrawal of US armed forces, scheduled to conclude on the poignantly symbolic date of September 11, 2021, would set in motion the collapse of the Afghan government, carried by Washington and the international community for two long decades, as a Taliban tidal wave swept the country—the same Taliban that had supposedly been roundly defeated by the end of 2001 in Operation Enduring Freedom. Between the eve of Joe Biden’s address on April 14 and mid-July, the number of Afghan districts under Taliban control grew from 77 to 222, encompassing almost 60 percent of the country’s territory. The insurrection had a similarly decisive influence in 112 other districts, leaving a mere 73 in the hands of a prostrate government that now only controlled the major cities.
Beyond the Afghan theater, it is in fact the entire “global war on terror,” first declared in 2001, that now seems to stand at a critical juncture…
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