President Joe Biden's announcement this week that all US troops are to leave Afghanistan by 11 September ought to be the final act of a tragic and brutal play.
Since the Nato-led invasion in 2001, at least 175,000 Afghans have been killed and more than £800 billion spent. The US laid waste to a country that had already suffered years of war and occupation.
Withdrawal now is a bitter defeat for the US, Nato—and Britain.
All the alliance has to show for it now is an unstable puppet regime in Kabul, with the country outside the capital still largely controlled by the Taliban resistance.
After 20 years of fighting the US has been forced to admit that its “forever war” in Afghanistan cannot be won.
The decision shocked some of the right in the US. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced it as giving in to terror. “It is a retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished, an abdication of American leadership,” he said.
But Biden’s declaration won't herald the beginning of a new era for the country.
The Pentagon, US spy agencies and Western allies are preparing new ways of controlling Afghanistan—although in much less visible ways.
That’s why Biden is discussing repositioning forces, possibly to neighbouring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. And it's why the US will continue paying the salaries of all Afghan security forces.
The New York Times newspaper this week reports, “Attack planes aboard aircraft carriers and long range bombers flying from land bases along the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and even in the United States could strike insurgent fighters spotted by armed surveillance drones.”
The great fear stalking Washington is that Afghanistan will follow a similar trajectory to that of Iraq after US troops withdrew in 2011. There a weak and unpopular Western-backed government was quickly overrun by the rise of ISIS and the Islamic state movement.
Positioning forces all around Afghanistan will mean the country will remain in a state of siege for many years to come.
The rhetoric of 2001 which accompanied Western intervention in Afghanistan is also acting a political pressure on the US. President George Bush and Britain’s Labour prime minister Tony Blair regularly talked about the mission being one of “humanitarian intervention”.
They said Western troops would be “nation building” and guaranteeing women’s rights in Afghanistan.
Of course, the real aim of the mission was to demonstrate the power of Western imperialism, and frighten the Middle East in particular into accepting US dominance over the region.
So, despite having failed to achieve any of its “humanitarian” aims, the US is today keeping up the pretence that it will always be around to stick up for human rights.
Using typically hollow words, Biden said, “We'll continue to support the rights of Afghan women and girls by maintaining significant humanitarian and development assistance."
But his presidential address this week was clear about the real reason for ending the occupation.
"Rather than return to war with the Taliban, we have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us. We have to shore up American competitiveness to face the stiff competition from an increasingly assured China," he said.
The disastrous war on Afghanistan was paid for in blood by thousands of civilians, and now it seems the US is ready to move on to the next “bad guys”.