Is Afghanistan the center of the war against terrorism?


Should Afghanistan be the focus of the war against terrorism?   Assuming arguendo that Osama bin Laden is captured or killed, would that put al-Qaeda out of business and bring an end to Islamic fundamentalist attacks against the U.S. and other Western societies?

After initially being defeated by the U.S. and Afghanistan fighters, al-Qaeda and the Taliban subsequently found safe haven in Pakistan, where they have established a new headquarters and training sites to continue their battle against those who oppose or disagree with their fundamentalist version of Islam, known as Wahhabism, which was founded in Saudi Arabia.


“Committed fundamentalist insurgents, often described as ‘Taliban,’…are … engaged in a protracted guerilla war against the current government of Afghanistan...”  (Wikipedia)

The argument that the U.S. should not have entered Iraq but should have concentrated on defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan conveniently overlooks the fact that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are not one and the same.  The Taliban are not part of bin Laden’s Wahhabist movement, although they are both fundamentalist Islamic groups.  

Although the Taliban provided a base in Afghanistan for bin Laden’s world headquarters and for training camps, removing them from power has not stopped the ongoing struggle for control of that country.  Cooperating with the al-Qaeda forces, now based in Pakistan, the Taliban have reconstituted their organization and are still fighting to regain power.


Al-Qaeda is not a hierarchal organization with a direct command and control function, each level reporting and being directed by the next level of command above.  Instead, it is actually composed of many small groups or cells, each of which operates independently.  Widely disbursed around the world, it has no central headquarters to plan specific attacks, which generally are conceived and carried out by separate groups, most of which have little or no knowledge of the others.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer, commenting in the Washington Post, said: “The Democratic insistence on the primacy of Afghanistan makes no strategic sense. Instead, it reflects a sensibility. They would rather support the Afghan war because its origins are cleaner, the Casus Belli clearer, the moral texture of the enterprise more comfortable. Afghanistan is a war of righteous revenge and restitution, law enforcement on the grandest of scales...”


Krauthammer also wrote, “…the United States is involved in two hot wars against radical Islamic insurgents. One is in Afghanistan …(t)he other is in Iraq, one of the three principal Arab states, with untold oil wealth, an educated population, an advanced military and technological infrastructure that, though suffering decay in the later years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, could easily be revived if it falls into the right (i.e., wrong) hands. Add to that the fact that its strategic location would give its rulers inordinate influence over the entire Persian Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf states…Which is the more important battle?” (“Which Is The Real War,” By Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, March 30, 2007)

“Just this week, The New York Times reported that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Southeast Asia have all but disappeared, starved of money and support…” (“Bush’s America: 100 percent al-Qaeda Free Since 2001,” By Ann Coulter, June 11, 2008).

Even if bin Laden were captured or killed, the Islamic war against the United States would continue, and Iraq, not Afghanistan, would still be the center of the fight for control of the Middle East.