Colin Brazier: The West's moral high ground has been squandered by recent events in Afghanistan
'Afghanistan was the good war that was followed by the bad war of Iraq. America's 9/11 rage simply wasn't sated by toppling the Taliban,' says Colin Brazier
This was when the penny dropped for me one month ago, Kunduz, an Afghan city not in the southern Taliban heartlands of Helmand, but in the north where the alliance which forced out the Taliban took root 20 years ago.
I saw condos fall, then standing on a hill, flanked by Northern Alliance fighters, bracing as American B-52 bombers released their payloads directly above us before watching their bombs gliding onto Taliban positions even from half a mile away. It felt like an earthquake.
It was an unequal contest in 2001, first world military might against fanatics with AK-47s and four by fours, but take away the Americans and everything has changed.
Kunduz was recaptured by the Taliban earlier this month. That prompted the CIA to predict that Kabul could fall to within 90 days in the event. As we've seen, it didn't last another 90 hours. Ignominy for Joe Biden and a far cry from November 2001 when a different American president said this: "Thanks to our military and our allies and the brave fighters of Afghanistan, the Taliban regime is coming to an end."
I was in Washington for President Bush's inauguration today. It's hard to remember how much 9/11 defined his presidency. Nobody in Britain under 30 really understands the visceral shock of the September the 11th attacks conceived in Afghanistan, what it was like even on this side of the Atlantic, watching office workers on television as they leapt to their deaths from the Twin Towers, the ruined skyline of New York, nearly 3000 dead, including 67 Britons.
Who killed them? There were conspiracy theories from the start within weeks of 9/11, I was in the home of a former head of Pakistan's intelligence agency in Rawalpindi listening to his ravings about how the Jews were behind the attacks. But Bush knew better and eventually got the man most sane people held responsible. Osama bin Laden killed by Navy SEALs in Pakistan a decade after the attacks he planned in neighboring Afghanistan.
It was a moment when justice was served in the West, who felt good about its role as a global policeman.
Sadly, that moral high ground has been squandered by recent events in Afghanistan. But before then the West's authority hasn't just disappeared as quickly as the Afghan president fled his capital, it has dribbled away failed interventions in Syria and Libya, but especially Iraq.
For many people, myself included, Afghanistan was the good war that was followed by the bad war of Iraq. America's 9/11 rage simply wasn't sated by toppling the Taliban.
In Baghdad, where I was embedded with the U.S. infantry, I saw how quickly an invasion can succeed once an army loses its will to fight, then it was Saddam's Republican Guard. Fast forward to now, and Western analysts can scarcely believe how quickly the Afghan army folded in the teeth of the Taliban's advance.
And what then of the future? I visited one of the giant Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. They're likely to become a feature of life again for thousands of Afghans who would rather flee the Taliban than stay and face a life of medieval brutality.