CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

On August 31, 2021, after twenty years of war against the Taliban, American troops withdrew from Afghanistan. This brought an end to the longest conflict ever waged by the United States (US), and marked the final phase of disengagement of the US’s military resources, which had been deployed on a massive scale in the Middle East since 2001. It indicated an operational change in the fight against terrorism, now no longer an open declared war, but once again a covert war. Most commentators drew a line under the event as an end to the sequence that began on September 11, 2001. But on a more fundamental level, the withdrawal from Afghanistan signaled an end to the policy of military interventionism pursued by the West since 1991.
Over the last three decades, the Western world (the US and its allies—Europe on the one hand, and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand on the other) has been engaged in over a hundred military operations, most often as support to the US. These operations of greatly varying intensity—some authorized by a mandate from the United Nations (UN) and others not, some led by a single state or by ad hoc coalitions, or by permanent organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the European Union (EU)—can be grouped into two cycles. The first cycle, between 1991 and 2001, primarily consisted of military projections instigated in the name of peacekeeping and peacemaking missions. The second cycle, from 2001 to 2021, consisted of engagements predominantly related to the war on terror or aimed at protecting security interests (particularly in relation to counter-proliferation)…


The withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 signaled a military policy failure for the United States and its allies, a change of approach in the armed struggle against terrorism, and a reversal of the military intervention policy pursued by the West since 1991. Americans and Europeans no longer have the strategic dominance and the tactical superiority that guarantee low risks. What’s more, by making the use of force routine, they have encouraged others to follow the same route.

  • Foreign operations
  • United States
  • Europe
  • NATO
Louis Gautier
Louis Gautier leads the Contemporary Major Strategic Issues Unit at the Université Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and is the former French Secretary General for Defense and National Security (2014–18). His most recent publication, as editor, is Mondes en guerre, Tome IV, Guerre sans frontières (Paris: Passés/Composés, 2021).
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