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Debate: War in Afghanistan

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Should the USA and its allies have invaded Afghanistan?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alastair Endersby. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

Even before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11th 2001, Afghanistan was probably the most isolated country in the world. Only three other states recognised its Taliban rulers, who in the mid-1990s had swept across the country to impose a very strict and distinctive form of Islamic law upon the Afghan people, ending nearly 20 years of civil war in the 90% or so of the country which they control. Osama Bin Laden, an exiled Saudi Arabian who is the USA’s prime suspect for the World Trade Centre atrocity and other terrorist attacks in the 1990s, had based his Al-Qa'ida organisation in Afghanistan since 1996. The Taliban said that Bin Laden was a “guest of the Afghan people” and refused to give him up, prompting calls for military action to be taken against the regime.

Argument #1


After the September 11th attacks, the USA was fully justified in waging war to punish those responsible and to prevent future attacks. The Taliban were not a passive host for Bin Laden but were closely associated with him ideologically, and in his debt for the crucial support he has lent them in their own civil war. By sheltering him and his terrorist network, and by refusing to give him up, the Taliban are his accomplices in the September 11th atrocities and should be overthrown in the interests of justice and global peace.


Even assuming that Bin Laden was guilty of masterminding the September 11th atrocities, that is no reason for a war on Afghanistan. Given the fragmentary nature of government in the country, even if the Taliban had wished to hand over Bin Laden, they were probably not capable of seizing him in order to do so.

Argument #2


The invasion of Afghanistan was aimed directly at capturing Bin Laden and overthrowing the Taliban regime that has harboured him, rather than being a war against the entire Afghan people. The Afghan people have suffered greatly under Taliban rule, especially women and ethnic and religious minority groups, and they deserve a different and better government. In the past few years the Taliban have made it very difficult for the UN and other aid agencies to deliver humanitarian relief in Afghanistan, so in the medium-term an invasion would improve matters.


Even if the Taliban were judged to be equally guilty with Bin Laden, the Afghan people are not; the Taliban conquered the country with the help of Bin Laden and thousands of other foreign, mostly Arab, fighters, and their rule is heavily oppressive. The invasion of Afghanistan is still likely in the long run to lead to a prolonged power struggle or civil war between different ethnic groups or local warlords, as before 1996. This will lead to many innocent lives being lost in the crossfire, prevent humanitarian aid that is desperately needed after three years of drought reaching millions of starving Afghans, and create a terrible refugee crisis.

Argument #3


Invasion was the only way to try to capture or destroy Bin Laden and his terrorist organisation. Bombing on its own can prepare the way for a ground invasion, guaranteeing air supremacy and disrupting the enemy’s command and control systems, but without the eventual commitment of land forces the USA’s global coalition could not hope to achieve its objectives. Conversely, the isolation of the Taliban regime before September 2001 means that there are no meaningful diplomatic sanctions that could be applied in an attempt to achieve these aims peacefully.


There are great dangers involved in fighting a ground war in Afghanistan, as the British discovered in the nineteenth century and the USSR found in the 1980s. The mountainous terrain and hostile weather conditions make a normal land campaign impossible, negate the USA’s technological advantages, and make it ideal for guerrilla warfare. Nor did invading Afghanistan guarantee the capture of Osama Bin Laden; his familiarity with the hostile terrain offered him plenty of hiding places. The failure of US forces to apprehend warlords in Somalia ten years ago showed how hard it was to target particular individuals, even in more promising circumstances.

Argument #4


Invasion was the only way to prevent future terrorists using Afghanistan as a base. The Taliban have provided a supportive base for a range of terrorist groups seeking to overthrow regimes in former-Soviet Central Asia, China and Kashmir, as well as for the global terrorist campaign of Al-Qa'ida. The stability of the whole Central Asian region pivots upon the installation of a new government in Afghanistan dedicated to peaceful coexistence with is neighbours, and this can only be achieved through an invasion.


An invasion using conventional military tactics and techniques will never be an effective measure against an elusive, diffuse, highly secretive international network such as Al-Qa'ida. If they are driven out of one country, they will always be able to find somewhere else to base their activities. To make the whole population of Afghanistan suffer in the vain hope of damaging such an elusive organisation was unacceptable.

Argument #5


Swift and decisive action against Afghanistan was necessary as a deterrent to other regimes thinking of supporting terrorism. If it is clear that allowing attacks upon other countries will result in massive retaliation and the swift overthrow of the sponsoring regime, then the world will have become a safer place and some good will have come out of the tragedy of September 11th.


Ill-considered action against Afghanistan has made the USA in particular, and the West in general more widely feared and hated. A brutal campaign increased sympathy for the Afghan people, the Taliban and Bin Laden, especially in Islamic countries. This in itself seriously increases the risk of future terrorist attacks, but it also threatens moderate and pro-western regimes throughout the Islamic world. In particular, it could seriously destabilise nuclear-armed Pakistan where the pro-USA stance of the military government had caused widespread and sometimes violent protest.



  • This House supports the invasion Afghanistan
  • This House celebrates the toppling of the Taliban
  • This House would overthrow regimes which support terrorism

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