This week marks the 20th anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. We are going to look at this event and its meaning, and then analyze its relationship to the current situation in Afghanistan.
International Secretariat of the IWL-FI
That day, four hijacked commercial planes full of passengers were flown into targets including the famous Twin Towers of the World Trade Center complex and the Pentagon. A fourth plane, presumed to have been intended for the Capitol or White House, crashed into the ground following a revolt by the passengers. In total, 3,016 people died and more than 6,000 were injured, mostly workers for the companies that had their offices there and firefighters who came to the rescue. The shocking images traveled the world. The government of George W. Bush attributed this suicide attack to the Al Qaeda organization, headed by the Saudi millionaire Osama Bin Laden, with support from the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan.
At that time, many workers and other people around the world were sympathetic to the attack, with the feeling that US imperialism had finally gotten a taste of its own poison in return for the many occasions it had invaded, attacked and bombed other countries and peoples.
We share this anti-imperialist sentiment but, at the same time, we express that the IWL-FI “does not support the use of individual terrorist attacks that are divorced from mass movements. We believe that the way to end [imperialism] is through the direct action of millions of workers.” 
In this sense, we believe that, for revolutionaries, the main task in imperialist countries is to win the workers and the masses to support the struggles of the oppressed peoples against their own imperialist bourgeoisie, as happened in the United States during the Vietnam War. Due to the attacks’ enormous civilian death toll, they had the opposite effect and created a mass base of support for Bush’s military retaliation.
The New American Century Project
Because Bush took advantage of the political effect produced by the attacks after 9/11, not only did he get the support of central sectors of the imperialist bourgeoisie but also popular support for his military efforts, which were presented as self-defense in the face of an attack. In this context, he launched the “War on Terror” against what he called “the axis of evil”: among others, the governments of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, North Korea and Iran.
The real content of the war was to carry out the so-called New American Century Project: the need to launch a global military offensive to guarantee control of natural resources (such as oil) and of the countries considered geopolitically central for that control. The Republican government of Bush reversed the policy that US imperialism had been applying since its defeat in Vietnam (focused on other tactics to defend its interests) and returned to the aggressive policy of the Second Postwar period (between 1950 and 1975).
The “War on Terror”
The first episode of that war was the invasion of Afghanistan, with the participation of troops from Great Britain and other imperialist countries, to overthrow the Taliban government (accused of having helped those behind 9/11), in October 2001. This coalition received the name of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The next step was the invasion of Iraq, in March 2003, to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein (accused of possessing “weapons of mass destruction”).
Both governments were easily overthrown, but imperialism was forced to maintain never-ending military occupations in the face of wars of national liberation that were objectively heading towards defeat for the US-backed forces. In these wars, we stand on the side of the Afghan and Iraqi people against imperialism, continuing the legacy of Marxists such as Lenin and Trotsky.
Within the framework of this position of principle, we were entirely aware that the leadership of this struggle was the Taliban, a reactionary organization, even with fascist features. For this reason, although we supported the same military struggle against imperialism (for as long as the war lasted), we always opposed the Taliban politically.
The Obama Turn
This increasingly unfavorable dynamic in the war in Afghanistan (and also in Iraq) was first felt in the US during the 2008 presidential elections, with the triumph of the Democrat Barack Obama. The new president first tried to “up the ante” and had a contingent of 100,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan, but this did not manage to reverse the situation.
The government began to change course: the gradual withdrawal of troops, eventually leaving around 10,000 soldiers at the Bagram base (accompanied by smaller contingents of soldiers from other imperialist countries). The objectives were, on the one hand, to protect Kabul, the central institutions of the puppet regime and the most central neighborhoods. On the other, carry out “selective assassination” operations against Taliban leaders. In fact, the strategy to withdraw was already defined.
For this reason, it simultaneously promoted, provided arms, trained and heavily financed the construction of an “Afghan National Army” capable of sustaining the Kabul regime and containing the Taliban. In theory, it had 300,000 well-armed and trained troops. But this was revealed to be a “paper tiger” that collapsed once the withdrawal of international imperialist troops was made clear. Especially in the interior, where its units were commanded by corrupt regional tribal chiefs who transformed into warlords.
The “Defeat Effect”
The Bush project of the New American Century and the “War on Terror” had been defeated. Every time imperialism suffers such a defeat, it has a strong impact on the rest of the world. This was what happened, for example, after the defeat in the Vietnam War (1975), when the term “Vietnam syndrome” was coined. What happened now is different, and may not have the same magnitude, but the “defeat effect” is similar.
What effects will defeat have? First of all, it impacts imperialism itself, which now doubts its ability to carry out massive military actions and fears thee potential consequences of such incursions. Imperialist powers become much more defensive. Without recognizing this phenomenon, it is impossible to understand the general turn that the Obama administration took in its international policy and the privileged use of negotiation and diplomacy tactics.
Even Donald Trump himself, who is exactly the kind of person who would have wanted to “go out and crush them”, was imprisoned by that reality. He could not bomb North Korea and had to choose the “Chinese way” of negotiation; he notoriously failed in his threats to invade Venezuela and, at the end of his government, he was the one who began to push for the definitive departure of US soldiers. He said “After all these years, it is time to bring our people back home,” and began negotiations with the Taliban.
Along with this weakening of imperialism, imperialism’s defeat also encourages workers and the masses of the world to fight against it, as it is proven that even in the hardest of conditions, it is possible to defeat imperialism. As stated in the previous statement of the IWL: “the great revolutionary upsurge in the Arab and Muslim world since 2011…was largely driven by the defeat which imperialism had objectively already suffered [in Iraq and Afghanistan].” Since then, this regional process and the revolutions in each of the countries followed various courses (some were defeated). But these later developments do not erase the motivating effects of imperialism’s military defeat.
Taking these two factors into account, we reaffirm our analysis that, despite all its contradictions, the general balance of this defeat of imperialism is very positive for the workers and the masses of the world.
The Biden government is the one that ends up making the withdrawal and comes out weakened because it pays a political cost for it, a kind of attenuated consequence of the “defeat effect.” Some polls show that if there were presidential elections now, he would be defeated by Trump, and his disapproval rating has risen.  At the same time, the media and imperialist think tanks are full of articles and essays that argue about whether or not Biden’s decision was correct: some try to make serious balances of the defeat and others limit themselves to “accounting.”
In our view, the key factor pushing the Biden government to finally withdraw is the defeat of the US imperialist project in Afghanistan. But this occurs within the framework of two other goals which Biden’s government identified as priorities: it was necessary to get out of “endless wars” (that is, those in which they were defeated, as in Afghanistan, or in those they had no real ability to influence, as in Syria) to concentrate on trying to solve political, economic and social problems at the national level (such as the anti-racist rebellions of 2020 and the impact of the pandemic) and on confronting China in its international politics.
The Triumph of the Taliban and the Fight Against the New Regime
What we have raised so far presents a deep contradiction: the leader of the victory against the imperialist occupation that took power is the Taliban, a deeply reactionary organization with fascist features that already ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, and did so with a regime that we characterize as a “theocratic dictatorship”, with laws based on an extreme and intolerant interpretation of the Islamic sharia.
These laws were harshly oppressive and repressive against women (who had to wear the burqa, could not attend school, and couldn’t even go out without the company of a man) and homosexual people. They were also nightmares for ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, such as the Hazara, who suffered several massacres.
The Taliban’s project is to re-impose that dictatorial regime and, for that reason, in addition to the fact that we never stopped denouncing them and fighting them politically, from the moment they took power we position ourselves as mortal enemies of that dictatorship. We support and defend all the democratic struggles that take place against their government, such as the incipient mobilizations that have begun to take place in defense of peoples’ rights.
On the other hand, in the country, especially in Kabul, there is a very difficult socio-economic situation, a product not only of the war but also because almost the entire state budget depended on imperialist aid. When this aid disappeared, the circulation of money was strongly affected, banks are closed, prices have skyrocketed and there are general shortages. A breeding ground for pockets of social explosion, to which the Taliban will surely respond with repression.
At the same time, everything indicates that this dictatorial regime of the Taliban will be working to consolidate itself as a bourgeois sector that enriches itself with the exploitation and delivery of the until now untouched mineral reserves that the country has, especially lithium, a soft metal, increasingly prized for its role in electric car batteries. The Chinese government has already shown its willingness to invest in such exploitation and the Qatari petromonarchy strongly supports the Taliban with a clear intent to become their partners. If this tendency to consolidate itself as the new Afghan bourgeoisie is confirmed, it would be another reason to fight against this regime.
None of this removes the general consideration that there was a defeat for imperialism. Not only the United States but all the countries that intervened in this war integrated in the ISAF, with troops and other support coming from Germany, Australia, Denmark, Spain, France, Great Britain, Italy and Turkey. All of them have been defeated and feel that impact. For us, the result of the war represents a call to the workers and peoples of the world to confront imperialism, especially in the dominated and colonized countries. A fight that must not only take place against the economic looting and austerity plans of the IMF and EU but also against the occupations, the military bases and the imperialist blockades.
For this to happen and to be carried out, it is necessary for the workers and the peoples to take this struggle into their own hands and in its course build leaders capable of taking it to the end. The IWL-FI puts its forces at the service of this task.
Translated from the Spanish version published here