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The Cost to Our Security

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Crowds of people show their documents to U.S. troops outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

With a terror attack today outside the Kabul airport, the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan looks set to end the way it began — in chaos.

Still, the harrowing events of the last two weeks, with more sure to come, shouldn’t obscure the long-term blow to American national security. The Biden pullout, eschewing even a limited U.S. footprint and carried out in a manner that will dissuade valuable informants from cooperating with American agencies, is a devastating blow to the counter-terrorism strategy that, for 20 years, has prevented a reprise of the 9/11 attacks.

All the talk of nation-building and “forever wars” makes it easy to forget why President George W. Bush, with nigh-unanimous congressional backing, dispatched American forces to Afghanistan. To say our nation had been attacked is almost an understatement. Nearly 3,000 Americans were slaughtered on 9/11, a death toll higher than that suffered in the Pearl Harbor attack that catapulted our nation into World War II.

The 9/11 terror strikes were not an isolated incident. They were the culmination of a series of jihadist operations against the United States that began in the early Nineties and intensified after 1996. That is when al-Qaeda, which had emerged out of the Afghan mujahideen’s 1980s jihad against the Soviets, re-established its headquarters in Afghanistan.

The terrorists had been enticed there because the like-minded Taliban had seized power. With the protection and encouragement of the host regime, Osama bin Laden openly declared war against the United States. His al-Qaeda network followed this up in 1998 by bombing the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing over 200 people. The plot worked because the Afghan haven gave al-Qaeda the time and space it needed to surveil American targets in the region, study their vulnerabilities, and train saboteurs.

After a failed 1999 attempt to blow up one of our naval destroyers, the USS The Sullivans, al-Qaeda again exploited its Afghan sanctuary to assess what went wrong and

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