“between direct ground troop assaults (up to and including the assassination of Osama bin Laden), targeted drone strikes, and a greatly expanded system of intelligence sharing both among US intelligence agencies (like the CIA and FBI, which famously failed to share intelligence before 9/11) and with foreign intelligence agencies, al-Qaeda’s operational capabilities have been badly degraded, especially when it comes to attacking the US.
This is not merely because of successes in the US-led war on terror. ISIS, a group that emerged as a direct result of the war, became a more effective recruiter of young aspiring militants than al-Qaeda, especially in 2014 and 2015. But it seems fair to credit at least a good share of the group’s weakening to US actions.”
“Let’s suppose for the sake of argument, though, that al-Qaeda was capable of more attacks on the scale of 9/11, and that absent the war on terror, the US would have lost 3,000 people (the approximate death toll on 9/11) annually due to al-Qaeda strikes. That amounts to some 60,000 lives saved to date. Whoa, if true.
But even with that degraded capability, global deaths from al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Taliban attacks have not fallen since 9/11. While al-Qaeda’s ability to attack America has been badly degraded, its operations in countries like Yemen, Syria, and Libya are still significant and deadly. ISIS’s attacks, and those of the pre-conquest Taliban in Afghanistan, were even deadlier.”
“The Costs of War Project estimates that between 897,000 and 929,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other post-9/11 war zones. These are conservative figures; they exclude, for instance, civilian deaths in countries like the Philippines and Kenya that have seen drone or special ops engagements but for which reliable civilian death figures are not available. It uses only confirmed deaths that are directly due to the wars, rather than estimated deaths using mortality surveys”
“Crawford and Lutz estimate that 15,262 American military members, Defense Department civilians, and contractors have died in these conflicts — a much lower toll.”
“The most comprehensive attempt I’ve seen of a cost-benefit analysis of counterterrorism policies is in the book Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security, a 2011 book by political scientist John Mueller and engineering professor Mark G. Stewart.
They estimate the cost of a 9/11-scale attack at roughly $200 billion, both in economic costs in rebuilding, health care for survivors, and reduced business activity in the wake of the attack, and, more important, in the lives of those lost. To calculate the latter, they use a measure known as the value of a statistical life. The idea is to use, for instance, the extra wages that workers in especially dangerous jobs demand to be paid to estimate how much the typical person is willing to pay to extend their life.
In Mueller and Stewart’s book, they put the value of a statistical life in the US at $6.5 million (that’s actually lower than the $7 million a recent review of studies found). Using that, the gross cost of the war on terror falls to “only” about $13.9 trillion.
That implies that for the war on terror to have been worth it, it had to have prevented more than 69 9/11-scale attacks over the past two decades, or about 3.5 attacks every single year.
More plausibly, the war on terror could be justified through, say, the far greater number of lives saved through aid to the Afghan health system.
Here, too, though, the necessary number of lives saved needs to be enormous to justify the costs. At a total cost of $13.9 trillion and a value of $6.5 million per life saved, the entire effort would have had to save at least 2.1 million lives to have been worthwhile.
There’s simply no evidence suggesting that the war on terror, or the public health programs launched as part of it, saved that many lives on net. The only estimate I’ve seen in that territory is the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon telling his colleague Jonathan Rauch that he “guesstimates that U.S. activities [in Afghanistan] saved a million or more lives.””
“It is also important to think of the opportunity cost of the war. Coincident with the war’s launch was the initiation of PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. That program, then and now, buys and distributes massive quantities of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV and AIDS in developing countries, and promotes condom distribution and other prevention measures.
One influential study of PEPFAR’s impact found that in its first four years, in 12 specific focus countries, the program reduced the death rate from HIV by 10.5 percent, resulting in 1.2 million lives saved, at a cost of $2,450 per death averted. It is truly one of George W. Bush’s great achievements.
That implies that the US, by expanding funding for HIV treatment and in other cost-effective areas like malaria prevention, could save 2 million lives at a cost of more like $5 billion, or less than one-thousandth the cost of the war on terror.
When you step back and think about the cost of the war on terror and all the possible benefits that could have come from it, you would be hard-pressed to arrive at a place where the benefits outstrip the costs. Indeed, the former never comes remotely close to the latter. The war on terror was as wasteful, and morally horrific, on the balance sheet as it was in the collective memory.”
“Americans have remained convinced that a terrorist attack is likely. A series of polls from The Economist/YouGov conducted from 2013 to 20211 asked what Americans think are the chances of a terrorist attack in the U.S. in the next 12 months. Those who thought an attack was “very” or “somewhat” likely rarely dipped below 50 percent and often spiked following major terrorist attacks in the U.S. or Europe. (Any time the responses rose about 70 percent, it was following a major attack.)
Similarly, Pew’s annual survey of policy priorities has found Americans rank terrorism at or near the top of the list year over year. As recently as 2020, 74 percent of Americans said defending against terrorism should be a top priority for the president and Congress, making it the number-one policy issue. Even in 2021, as the pandemic altered priorities, 63 percent of Americans still rated terrorism as their top issue, making it fourth overall, behind the pandemic, the economy and jobs.
Americans also consistently say that 9/11 has had a lasting impact on this country. In Washington Post/ABC News polls from 2001, 2002, 2011 and 2021, the proportion of Americans who said the attacks “changed this country in a lasting way” has never fallen below 83 percent, with 86 percent saying so in a survey conducted within the past month. Notably, though, the feelings on whether this is a change for the better or worse has shifted: In 2002, 67 percent of Americans said that the 9/11 attacks changed America for the better. That number has declined since, with only 33 percent saying so in 2021.”
“In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the United States invaded and occupied two countries, bombed four others, helped create 21 million refugees and cause over 800,000 deaths, and spent over $6 trillion on combat and anti-terrorism measures. Republican and Democratic presidents and congressional leaders authorized sweeping new initiatives that effectively put all American citizens under surveillance.
Even as the United States has left Afghanistan, ending our longest war, many of the programs and mindsets born out of events 20 years ago are still firmly in place. In Reign of Terror, national security reporter Spencer Ackerman argues that the war on terror also profoundly destabilized American politics and helped to produce the Donald Trump presidency by stoking fears of a racialized Other. “The longer America viewed itself as under siege,” he writes, “the easier it became to see enemies everywhere.””
“In 2008, as part of the ongoing effort to supply the newly formed Afghan Air Force with transport planes, the U.S. purchased 20 of the Italy-made Aeritalia G-222 planes for about $486 million and had them delivered to Kabul. Unfortunately, no one seemed to anticipate that the planes would have difficulty in the dusty environment of Central Asia. Less than five years after the fleet arrived, 16 of the planes were scrapped—for six cents per pound. (The other four were put into storage at a base in Germany.)
And that’s how the U.S. military turned nearly half a billion of taxpayer dollars into $32,000 of scrap metal.”
“As of December 2019, SIGAR had audited about $63 billion of Afghanistan reconstruction spending. Of that total, it concluded, “a total of approximately $19 billion or 30 percent of the amount reviewed was lost to waste, fraud, and abuse.” An update published in October 2020 added another $3.4 billion to the amount wasted.”
“An Islamic State suicide bomber struck at a mosque packed with Shiite Muslim worshippers in northern Afghanistan on Friday, killing at least 46 people and wounding dozens in the latest security challenge to the Taliban as they transition from insurgency to governance.
In its claim of responsibility, the region’s IS affiliate identified the bomber as a Uygher Muslim, saying the attack targeted both Shiites and the Taliban for their purported willingness to expel Uyghers to meet demands from China. The statement was carried by the IS-linked Aamaq news agency.
The blast tore through a crowded mosque in the city of Kunduz during Friday noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week. It was the latest in a series of IS bombings and shootings that have targeted Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, as well as religious institutions and minority Shiites since U.S. and NATO troops left in August.”
““You focus on Iraq very early on and so we never got ahead of the situation in Afghanistan, where of course the Taliban are shattered and al Qaeda is shattered. They’re all over in Pakistan and they gradually start to regroup. It takes them years to do this, during which we completely missed the opportunity to start building host-nation security forces in a serious way and start supporting host-nation governance.””
“ISIS-K has been a thorn in the Taliban’s side for years. Formally known as the Islamic State – Khorasan, it has existed since 2015, formed initially by the defection of disaffected members of various other jihadist groups in the region, including some former members of the Taliban. The group initially gathered thousands of followers and seized some small areas in the east and north of the country. In the years since then, the group has declined in size and stature due to relentless pressure from the United States, Afghan and Pakistani security forces, as well as the Taliban.
It has also been notoriously resilient. A U.S. special operator once told me he estimated that the U.S. had killed “five-thirds” of ISIS-K’s manpower over the course of several years. Since 2015, the group has lost four emirs to capture or death in operations conducted by U.S. and Afghan forces. Reports estimate that by 2019, 11,700 ISIS-K militants had been killed, 686 had been captured and 375 had surrendered.
Over the course of 2020, ISIS-K attempted to rebuild its forces from these heavy losses. These efforts met with mixed results, in part due to tacit cooperation between the U.S. military and Taliban forces in efforts to dismantle the group. Today, ISIS-K is generally estimated to have a few thousand fighters at its disposal and is considered degraded but not defeated, though such estimates may need to be revised based on reports of thousands of ISIS-K prisoners having escaped from Afghan penal institutions in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover.
Its resilience stems from the high degree of its members’ motivation, its network of alliances with other jihadi groups that provide ISIS-K assistance and multiply its reach, its attraction to disaffected members of the Taliban and other militants (especially from Pakistan), and its ability to recruit individuals from outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including from India. One of the group’s key assets is its ability to attract a steady stream of experienced leaders and fighters from other local groups who know the region and how to survive in it.
Prior to the beginning of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, there was general consensus that ISIS-K was a threat outside of Afghanistan’s borders as well, with intentions to launch attacks on the United States and other Western countries. The combined efforts of the U.S. and others over the past five years have left the group without the capability to do so. However, U.S. intelligence estimates earlier this year suggested that if counterterrorism pressure were removed, the group might reconstitute the ability to attack the United States directly within 18 to 36 months.”
“ISIS-K is also a sworn enemy of the Taliban. The group sees the Taliban as a bunch of sell-outs, who have abandoned the higher calling of a global caliphate in pursuit of their own goal of ruling Afghanistan. Calling them (among other things) “filthy nationalists,” ISIS-K has consistently sought to denigrate the Taliban and seize the mantle of jihad from its amīr al-muʾminīn (“Leader of the Faithful”), Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.
For the Taliban, ISIS-K represents one of two immediate internal challenges to its writ as the new government of Afghanistan (the other being the National Resistance Front). For the U.S., the group’s rivalry with the Taliban presents both opportunities and challenges.”
“According to the head of U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, the U.S. has been providing the Taliban sanitized intelligence on ISIS-K threats in Kabul since Aug. 14. Further, he gave credit to the Taliban for having taken action on that intelligence, saying “we believe that some attacks have been thwarted by them.” So one opportunity is to build on this relationship of counterterrorism cooperation, at least insofar as it applies to the common enemy of ISIS-K.
A significant challenge, however, is how far to take such cooperation given both the political and operational risks. For example, the reported provision by the U.S. to the Taliban of names of Americans and Afghans that the U.S. wanted to be let through Taliban checkpoints created political uproar at home, with critics claiming that such action amounted to putting those Afghans on a Taliban “kill list.” Another major challenge is the Taliban’s cooperative relationship with jihadist groups beyond ISIS-K. The most notable of these from a U.S. perspective is al-Qaeda, which retains a small presence in Afghanistan and close ties to the Taliban that neither group is likely to sever anytime soon.”
“A Thursday night news brief on Fox News contained a remarkable claim — that the network doesn’t have enough information to determine what motivated a man spouting right-wing conspiracy theories to shut down a significant portion of Washington, DC, around the Library of Congress by claiming to have a bomb earlier in the day.
“So far, no word on a possible motive,” said anchor Jackie Ibanez at the conclusion of a 15-second brief that amounted to the entirety of Fox News’s Thursday night coverage of the incident.
The brevity could conceivably be excused: No one was injured, and US Capitol Police announced Thursday evening they had cleared the suspect’s black pickup truck. And Fox News covered the incident as it was ongoing earlier in the day. But Ibanez’s claim about motive bears more scrutiny.
It’s true that after the bomb threat suspect — later identified as 49-year-old Floyd Ray Roseberry, of Grover, North Carolina — surrendered to law enforcement, police said “we don’t know what his motives are at this time.” (Fox News didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry from Vox asking the network to explain Ibanez’s “no word on a possible motive” report.)
But Ibanez’s comment may have been intended to obscure an uncomfortable truth for America’s most-watched cable news network. In videos streamed to Facebook before and during the bomb threat while he sat in a truck, Roseberry made clear he’s immersed in right-wing conspiracy theories and grievances that receive heavy play on Fox.
“Once this dickhead Biden’s out of office and the Democrats sitting down there in the f**kin’ jailhouse, our president’s gonna be Donald Trump, and this is no limit on his pardons,” claimed Roseberry in a video posted early Tuesday morning, alluding to a lie propagated by former President Donald Trump on Fox News as recently as Wednesday about the 2020 election being stolen from him.
“I just got chose for the job. Unlike you,” Roseberry added. “This ain’t about politics. I don’t care if Donald Trump ever becomes president again. I think y’all Democrats need to step down. Y’all need to understand people don’t want you there.””
“Facebook eventually removed Roseberry’s profile, but not before his videos were widely watched and summarized in media reports. Yet if you’d watched Fox News Thursday night, you’d have no idea those videos existed.”
“This isn’t the first time in recent years a violent right-wing extremist has been motivated by the same sort of incendiary rhetoric that the network traffics in.
In October 2018, social media posts from the lone suspect in a shooting that killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh indicated he was motivated by conspiracy theories about migrant caravans to the southern border representing an “invasion” of the country, conspiracy theories that continued to receive play on the network even in the days immediately following the shooting.
That same month, Fox News strained to avoid acknowledging the right-wing fanaticism that inspired a man to send explosive devices to CNN and other perceived enemies of then-President Trump
Hammering people with lies about Democrats stealing elections and overseeing an immigrant invasion of the country can have deadly consequences. It’s notable but not surprising that Fox News is unwilling to reckon with those consequences — especially in comparison to the wall-to-wall coverage that would likely ensue if an adherent of antifa or Black Lives Matter shut down the Capitol area with a bomb threat.”