This month British troops have left Afghanistan after thirteen years of bitter conflict. Camp Bastion has been handed over to Afghan troops in a development that ought to be called the end of an era. It is not. The end of military proceedings in Afghanistan does not feel like victory nor does it bring closure to the war on terror.
The Taliban are still strong and despite years of heavy fighting and military bombardment, coalition forces have failed to weaken their resolve. The war will probably go down in history as a defeat comparable to the disastrous American war in Vietnam, not a successful campaign targeting international terrorists. If we were to speculate on the end of war in Afghanistan thirteen years ago, we would have naturally assumed that its conclusion would have significantly softened the threat posed by Islamic terrorists. Theresa May’s plans to implement stronger anti-terror legislation is a clear sign that the opposite is the case. With the rise to prominence of the Islamic State, the persistent presence of Al Qaeda and an undefeated Taliban, what is next for the war on terror?
Firstly, it’s important to consider what exactly the war on terror is. The very concept of a war on terror is fundamentally Orwellian, it is the closest mankind has ever come to perpetual warfare. What is terror? Terror is war, so it’s a war on waging war itself. When George W Bush coined the phrase in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Centre, he declared an ideological war that, by its very definition, was impossible to win. Whether intentional or not, the phrase allowed a war to be fought indefinitely.
The war on terror has never been a war between two nation states where one will ultimately be the victor, it is war between two opposing ways of life. Add religious fundamentalism and nuclear weapons to this melting pot and you have one almighty mess. Mutual hatred, fear and cultural ignorance are the obvious consequences. Some may point to The Cold War and see hope that today’s seemingly perpetual conflict can come to an end but the fall of The Soviet Union was an internal collapse, not an American victory. In fact, The Cold War proves the point: ideological warfare breeds fanaticism to a cause that poses a threat not just to those concerned but to the survival of the entire human race.
The rise of the Islamic State is frightening. Their fanaticism knows no bounds and the government is rightly fearful of the fact that radicalised British Muslims are fighting in Syria. From the day of its inception, the war on terror has only escalated in horror and bloodshed. Civil liberties groups are in uproar about the new legislation citing worries of greater intrusion into our private lives and state censorship of social media. Again, there are worryingly Orwellian undertones. May argued that we now face a “greater terror threat than ever before” and perhaps she is right. This is not a defence of the new bill, civil liberties groups are right to be concerned about new state censorship but the point is a simple one: the prospect of the war on terror coming to an end is a very distant pipedream.
The old ‘lambs leading lions’ debate has been taken to a completely new level by the war on terror. It’s upsetting to the point of utter despair that so many brave men and women have lost their lives fighting in unwinnable ideological wars. Sadly, the end of conflict in Afghanistan only adds to the uncertainty.
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