Military Intervention in Afghanistan – Strategic Success or Disastrous Failure?

By Dr Qari Muhammad Asim

Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds



Britain ended its combat operations in Afghanistan on 26 October 2014.  The 13 year long U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan has been a costly war, in many respects, and has left many unanswered questions.

The war has cost £40 billion ($65 billion), 453 British lives and thousands of limbs. The conflict continues to kill thousands of Afghans each year and has claimed the lives of more than 2,200 American and other international armed forces in Afghanistan.

The fundamental question is: Has invasion of Afghanistan been a strategic success or a failure?

The answer to such question cannot be a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, especially when tens of thousands of lives have been lost and billions of pounds have been spent.

Anti-war campaigners say the UK’s mission in Afghanistan has been a failure as it has resulted in the death of 453 British soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians. Pro-Afghanistan mission campaigners maintain that the “mission” in Afghanistan has been accomplished.

This article is not concerned with judging the actions of British soldiers, as service men and women are bound to follow orders and they selflessly and bravely fought this war for their country. The loss of their lives is not only mourned by their family and friends but the whole country as those individuals put the honour of their service/ their country before their own lives.

However, Britain withdrawing from Afghanistan offers an opportunity to reflect on the mission and measure the relative success of the mission so that lessons can be learnt and in future our government does not plunge our armed forces into another ill-thought war, which may be seen as a “failure”.

When invading Afghanistan, was our goal to pursue those responsible for September 11 and to bring them to justice? If so, the world has not seen any of those culprits being tried in criminal courts.

Was our goal regime change? We succeeded in that many years ago but did not manage to stop violence being committed or bombs going off. Political stability is a distant dream. Despite installing a supporter of the West, Hamid Karzai as President, relations have turned sour. In his farewell speech Karzai blamed both the West and a neighbouring country for the continuing war with the Taliban-led insurgency and warned the new government to “be extra cautious in relations with the U.S. and the West”. He in fact went on to say that the West did not want peace in Afghanistan: “One of the reasons was that the Americans did not want peace because they had their own agenda and objectives,” Karzai said. This statement raises many questions.

Was our mission to establish more schools and facilitate girls being educated? This is clearly something that we seem to have achieved. However, there is nothing to say that Muslim leadership would not have been successful in making Taliban see some sense, and urging them not to deprive women of education, which is contrary to Islam. After all, women in many Muslim countries in the Middle East, South Asia and Far Asia hold very high positions in political, financial, social and academic fields.

Was our mission controlling the opium trade? Opium production in Afghanistan is higher than it has ever been, now providing around 90% of the world’s supply. Helmand province, which produces 80-90 percent of the opium that helps finance the Taliban’s insurgency, has seen fierce fighting this year. This shows that signs of a civil war breaking out in Afghanistan are already there. We know that one of the first things that ISIL did was control oil wells in Iraq in order to establish their authority.

Was our mission eradicating extremists and terrorists? We have clearly failed in that. We are fighting a generational struggle against extremist and terrorists but we need to ask whether our military intervention in other countries is resulting in more people becoming extremists. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) report published earlier this year noted that those fighting Western forces in Afghanistan were “motivated much more by opposition to foreign intervention than by global jihadism”.  Some of the evidence collated about young men leaving Britain to participate in fight in Syria and Iraq shows that they are more likely to be motivated by injustices committed against civilians than by their faith.

Was as our goal to make Afghanistan a safer and more stable country? If so, then only time will tell as Britain’s withdrawl from Iraq arguably resulted in Iraq being in worst place than when Britian went into Iraq. If Afghanistan’s state, built with the blood of countless lives and at such a terrible cost, is still standing a decade from now, the West’s campaign will be seen as a success.

Was our mission to make the world a safer place? If so, unfortunately, the tragic events in Australia and Canada this month indicate the threat of terrorism has become worse than it was 10 years ago. Ideologies cannot be suppressed through military actions.


Britain withdrawing from Afghanistan is end of a chapter, not the book. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan may reach an all-time high this year, with the United Nations reporting nearly 5,000 killed or wounded in the first half of 2014, most of them by the insurgency.

History will judge everyone but hard-hitting lessons must be learnt. It is a sobering fact that no one born in Afghanistan since 1972 will have real memories of what a peaceful society is like, if we take 1978/9 as the start of modern strife in Afghanistan. Given the demographic profile in Afghanistan, that is almost all of the economically active adult population.

Historic junctures such as these also offer an opportunity to ask critical questions of ourselves.  What has been the goal of Muslim religious leadership in the last 13 years to bring about peace and to reconcile hearts. What steps have been taken globally by religious leadership to build castles of peace and hope? Why are so many new extremist groups arising and using the name of Islam to materialise their ill-thought aims? Who are the people indoctrinating young individuals to join Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Shabab, Boko-Haram and ISIS and what steps are being taken to prevent young people being wrongly indoctrinated?  Is it lack of intolerance amongst the religious leadership that is either turning the new generation into violent individuals or turning them away from Islam? Is it lack of great intellectual and cultural creativity that is resulting in self-styled “shaykhs” emerging? There are so many other questions that religious and political Muslim leadership must ask of itself.

Muslims are looking for leadership to show them the right way in the current confusing environment and act as pillars of support in this distressing time of need. Faith leaders must work towards reconciling hearts and enhancing harmonious coexistence of humanity.

We must not give up our dream of freedom, justice, democracy, rule of law and fairer opportunities for Afghans in Afghanistan. However, no foreign authority is going to be able to secure that for Afghans. Afghans must commit for a long haul toward peaceful change and work towards building their nation. Violence, revenge, hatred and injustice do not represent Islam and therefore must not be followed by any fraction of Afghans.

Whether the West’s military operation in Afghanistan was a strategic success or a failure will be judged by history but in order to resolve conflicts the international community must apply sound intelligence, political dialogue, diplomatic and economic engagement. Military intervention must always be a last resort and must only be used with clear strategic objectives.

Let’s pray for much needed peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.

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