In October 2001, the United States and its allies fired their first shot in what promised to be a prolonged War on Terror, by launching air attacks on the ancient nation of Afghanistan.
The country's Taliban leadership collapsed and fled. They left, in their place, a power vacuum Washington attempted to fill by installing Hamid Karzai as president; a choice, the US claimed, that had the popular support of the Afghan people.
Afghanistan was no longer the safe haven it had been for groups such as Al Qaeda, and with a new regime in place, Washington claimed its campaign a success.
With Soviet defeat still fresh in the memory, the swiftness of American military success in Afghanistan took many by surprise. But its longer-term aims had still to be put to the test. Now, more than 18 months after the first bombs fell, a better picture of what the war did--or did not--achieve is revealed.
Much has been made of the fact Osama bin Laden avoided capture and may now never be found. But more damning for the War on Terror is that countless numbers of Al Qaeda operatives fled with him--scattering across Asia and the Middle East where they were able to regroup.
Recent bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Bali and elsewhere by terrorists thought to be associated with the Al Qaeda network prove that far from being compromised, they are as capable of launching attacks now as at any time previously. Indeed, given that Al Qaeda's network of communication has been fractured, it is now more difficult for intelligence services such as the CIA to monitor their plans.
More worrying still is that senior Al Qaeda figures have formed alliances with other groups hostile to the US and its allies.
But, for the people of Afghanistan, what has changed? Washington used their plight at every opportunity to garner support for the conflict. With so many million Afghans facing starvation and persecution by the Taliban, something, they said, must be done. (Though why they felt nothing had to be done sooner remains unclear.)
The single most significant obstacle to the rebuilding of Afghanistan has been that President Hamid Karzai did not, after all, enjoy the popular support of the people. When the time came to select a leader, the people's popular choice, former monarch, Zahir Shah, was encouraged to remove himself from the spotlight by US envoy Zalmay Khalil Zad, a former adviser to American oil company Unocal who favoured, Hamid Karzai who was once employed by Unocal.