Osama bin Laden
A video grab from an undated footage from the Internet shows Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden making statements from an unknown location. REUTERS

With 2011 well under way it might be worth reflecting on the fact that this year will mark the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 11 September and the beginning of the still raging war in Afghanistan.

The ten year mark will bring the conflict dangerously close to the point where it will have been going on for longer than the First and Second World Wars combined. With the conflict lasting as long as it has done and with few prospects for victory in sight one can't help but wonder if the whole thing has been a failure on its own terms.

This is not a comfortable thought and one does not like to consider it now that hundreds of British soldiers have died fighting this war, along with around 2,000 (mostly American) international troops and countless Afghans of various persuasions.

Just as in the 1914-18 war, when the current war began the consensus seemed to be that it would be pretty much over, if not by Christmas, then certainly very quickly. And indeed it proved to be the case that the military might of the West quickly deposed the Taliban regime as it would later depose Saddam Hussein in a matter of weeks.

By this fact alone we might say that the war in Afghanistan has been a success, despite the continuing presence of the Taliban in significant parts of the country.

However deposing the Taliban was not the reason we invaded Afghanistan.

It may not be well remembered now but before the invasion in late 2001 the Taliban were told that they could stay in power if only they would hand over Osama bin Laden, the man behind the 11 September atrocities.

Their refusal to do this was what prompted the invasion. Their treatment of women, their bombing of ancient Buddha's and all the rest of their barbaric theocracy could be tolerated for the price of handing over the world's most wanted terrorist.

As such it seems strange that politicians currently say that we must stay in Afghanistan in order to prevent the Taliban coming back.

This is flawed on two levels. First of all because back in 2001 they were not that worried about keeping the Taliban in power and secondly because it is an admission that despite nearly ten years of "democracy", western aid and conflict the Afghan people are still not averse to Taliban rule.

After all what special powers do the Taliban have that the disappearance of Western troops would bring them back into power by default? What secret weapons and special training do they have that would make them the automatic winners against anti-Taliban Afghans?

If it is true that the Taliban are so well placed to re-take power, but for Western forces, it can only be because they have more support among the people than we would like to think. Indeed a recent BBC report from Afghanistan showed that while local Afghan's appreciated the efforts of British soldiers they would still rather like it if the Taliban took over again just to restore a bit of order.

Even if we put the return of the Taliban to one side we still have to face up to the fact that on its own terms the invasion failed in its primary objective: the capture of Osama bin Laden.

Since the invasion bin Laden has proved to be more elusive than the Scarlet Pimpernel, although the general consensus is that he's hanging around somewhere near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, most likely on the side in theory controlled by our Pakistani allies.

But whether he's there or not the fact remains that after ten years (in fact more than that as he was wanted long before 11 September for other terrorist attacks) bin Laden is not likely to be facing the charges against him any time soon and is free to continue making his contributions to the Af-Pak film industry.

Bin Laden's likely presence in Pakistan brings us to yet another point made by those who see the continuation of the war as necessary. That of preventing terrorism in the west.

Now when the invasion began the capture of Mr bin Laden was the first objective, but second to that came the destruction of Al-Qaeda's terrorist training camps.

This we can say was slightly more successful but only in the short term because many of those camps have relocated to (where else) the territory of Pakistan. Not only that but many of the terrorist outrages, or attempted outrages, since 2001 have been committed, not by Afghans, but by people from Britain, Morocco, India and Iraq as well as Pakistan itself.

The idea that a continued presence in Afghanistan keeps British streets safe has been significantly undermined by the advent of the British-based terrorist, who more often than not gets his inspiration from Pakistan rather than Afghanistan. The streets of Bombay were not noticeably safer in November 2008 and even Times Square, New York has come under threat from Pakistani terrorists.

So then the reasons given for our continued presence are extremely weak. If the capture of bin Laden and the prevention of terrorism are our objectives then we would be better off having troops in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, but even this would do little to stop home grown terrorists who claim to be motivated by the very presence of western troops in Muslim countries.

That leaves us only with keeping the Taliban at bay in Afghanistan as the only reason we are there. But as we know this was not why we went there and in any case what are we supporting in place of the Taliban? A corrupt government, fraudulent elections and a country where journalists can be sentenced to death for making rude comments about Mohammad. Surely this is only marginally better than the Taliban bogeyman we are so desperate to oppose.