The Twenty Years War

Trump was already tweeting in 2012 that it was ‘time to get out of Afghanistan’ (1), though it remains to be seen if he will manage any better than Barack Obama: 18-year-old US soldiers setting off to fight there today were not born when the war started. Every attempt to disengage the US militarily — from Syria, Libya, South Korea or Germany — draws loud protests in Washington, with the war lobby crying that the Russians are coming. The US defence budget, $738bn in 2020, may be 10 times Russia’s, but just mentioning Russia is enough to make both Republicans and Democrats quail.

They can count on the support of the New York Times, which on 26 June reported a CIA leak alleging that Russia had offered Afghan militants a bounty for killing US troops (2). Yet everyone remembers that in the months before the invasion of Iraq the Times played a key role in spreading fake news about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the paper’s anti-Russian psychosis is clear to anyone who types ‘Russia’ or ‘Putin’ into its search engine.

The Afghan scoop — whose authenticity the Times seemed to doubt only a week after publishing it— raises other questions. What can such ‘information’ accomplish when the withdrawal of US troops appears more or less settled? Why should the US be indignant that its declared adversary may be helping Afghan insurgents, when its ally Pakistan has been doing so for years, and between 1980 and 1988 the US itself supplied the mujahideen (then fighting Moscow) with sophisticated weapons that allowed them to kill thousands of Soviet troops? Why did the Times, which devoted space to a lengthy description of three US marines said to have been victims of the Russian bounties (one was tall and moustachioed, and lifted weights, another was a Star Wars buff, the third doted on his daughters), initially ‘forget’ to inform its readers that the US National Security Agency gave no credence to the CIA scoop (3)?

On 1 July a broad coalition of Democrats and Republicans in Congress used the Times’s ‘revelations’ to make it harder for the US to withdraw from Afghanistan. Yet the best way to stop more foreign troops dying in that country would be for them no longer to be there.

Translated by Charles Goulden.


(127 February 2012.

(2Russia offered Afghans bounty to kill US troops, officials say’, The New York Times,27 June 2020.

(3NSA differed from CIA on Russia bounty intelligence’, The Wall Street Journal, New York, 1 July 2020.

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Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

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