A Political Fiasco in Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s decades-long civil war hasn’t reached an end. In fact, President Joe Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has further proved a disastrous and humiliating fiasco. Crime and violence are rising at so many places all over Afghanistan. Still, being a most profitable business, wars won’t cease!
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the September 9/11 attacks, when the Islamist terrorists flew two planes into World Trade Center in New York City and another into the Pentagon (located just outside Washington, D. C.). Out of fear of more such attacks, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, whom they said were harbouring Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures linked to the 9/11 attacks.
But, even before U.S. combat forces completed their pullout on 31st of August, Taliban forces, on the path of victory, had swept across the country and captured provincial capitals. It threatens to clamp the country under the Taliban’s strict
interpretation of religious law, erasing much of the gains, especially in respect of human rights.
The cost of this 20-year military and security engagement has been astronomically high – in lives, in livelihoods and in money. Since the war against the Taliban began in 2001, there have been more than 3,6 00 coalition deaths, of which more than 2,448 have been US soldiers, 1,144 service members from NATO and other allied countries, according to the Pentagon. A further 20,660 US soldiers have been injured in action. President Ghani said in 2019 that more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed since he became president five years earlier. Nearly 111,000 civilians have been killed or injured since it began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009. And the estimated financial cost to the US taxpayer is close to a staggering US$1 trillion.
So, this has to go down in history as a major American disaster. Certainly, there’s no ‘mission accomplished’
It has long been apparent that America’s exit from Afghanistan would tantamount to the Taliban’s victory. It reinforces the impression of an unplanned United States withdrawal that was based on a misjudgement. President Joe Biden didn’t have the notion that Afghanistan would inevitably fall to the Taliban after the U.S. withdrawal:
“Because you — the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable,” he said.
But the reality has been that, not only did this large ‘well-equipped’ army collapsed like a house of cards as the Taliban advanced and captured one key city after another, but it also failed even to stop the Taliban from taking over the vast majority of the country and toppling the government before the U. S. completed its scheduled withdrawal by August 31. The U. S. insistence on supplying the Afghan military with modern Western military hardware also proved unsustainable.
As with the Taliban today, the pre-June 2014 Iraqi Army also appeared well capable of prevailing over comparably lightly armed insurgents given their superior numbers and military hardware. Instead, what happened was that a force of 30,000 Iraqi soldiers in Mosul fled as a comparably tiny force of no fewer than 800 ISIS militants captured that metropolis. In both cases, large quantities of American military hardware and weapons were captured intact by the plundering militants.
The swift collapse of the Afghan army and consequent chaos in Kabul proves that America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was excessively rapid. The presumption that the U.S. president has both the right and capacity to “assert command over world events” is what allowed the mainstream media to condemn Biden’s
withdrawal without scrutinizing counterfactuals. No doubt, America had the capabilities, but the Taliban had greater commitment.
All together, one of the great tragedies of the Afghanistan war was that the United States could have gotten a much better result back in 2002 by negotiating a deal with the Taliban. At that point of time, the Taliban were willing to evolve into a political party. But the Bush administration didn’t even consider it. Had the U. S. been a little more pragmatic, then maybe they could have cut a deal at far lower costs for America and for Afghanistan. Hence, George W. Bush’s mistake was the way he stayed in Afghanistan, while President Joe Biden’s mistake was the disorderly and chaotic way he got out.
Before World War II, the United States won nearly all the major wars that it fought. But after that, except the Gulf war in 1991, it has barely won any major wars. Since Korea, they have had Vietnam –America’s most infamous defeat—and Iraq, another major failure. And we even add other conflicts like Libya and Somalia. Indeed after World War II, the nature of war itself had changed. Now, nearly all wars were civil wars, complex arenas of counter insurgency and terrorism.
As a result, at the time the U. S. intervened in Afghanistan in 2001, it didn’t even have maps of the terrain. Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, wrote in his memoirs that the U. S. was relying on old British Empire maps of Afghanistan; while the Taliban had a greater understanding of those local
networks and kin relationships and the complex loyalties. They even had made deals with Afghan army commanders. This type of ignorance was deadly in those kinds of foreign conflicts. Thus, the war in Afghanistan was basically an alien war for America.
After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush believed that “democracy would flourish, and we could shape the world in our image using our guns and our money.” But, he was lying. Indeed it was a fear that drove the United States into Afghanistan; a fear of another attack by al-Qaeda using chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons. Experts had also warned that it was just a matter of time before the next big attack. Even a year after 9/11, more than 6 in 10 Americans were worried about a new attack. Americans agreed that increasing the U.S. military presence abroad was a more effective means of combating terrorism.
This led them into efforts that could be described as “nation-building” but that were basically what the U.S. military had always tried to do, when engaged in occupations in Vietnam and in the Balkans in the 20th century, in Cuba and the Philippines decades before that, and even in the South after the Civil War. Building schools and hospitals, trying to reduce corruption and improve local administration
has been standard operating procedure following nearly all U.S. interventions. His successors mostly took the same direction.
The killing of bin Laden in May 2011 led most Americans to believe that the mission had been accomplished, and President Obama started speaking about the need to “focus on nation building here at home.” But as Obama withdrew the troops sent in for the surge and planned further draw downs, the Taliban recovered, and outside Afghanistan the general terrorist threat increased with the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Today, many Americans increasingly believe that those earlier perceptions were mistaken or even manufactured. With America’s departure from Afghanistan, one may begin to learn who was more right.
Now, with the departure of the United States out of Afghanistan, the Taliban is just the latest devastating event to rock the landlocked country of about 40 million peoples. It could have far-reaching economic as well as political consequences. Fears have arisen once again that the Taliban’s previous stint as rulers — chaotic and repressive— will once again follow a similar script. There are also concerns in the West that the Taliban could seek to develop its lithium, rare earths and other metals with the help of China and Russia to fund its illegitimate regime. Both China and Russia have reportedly kept their embassies open in the country.
Afghanistan has a GDP of around US$19 billion and a GDP per capita of US$507, making it one of the world’s poorest countries, with poverty levels hitting 47 per cent, according to the Asian Development Bank. But, despite its being poverty stricken, the country is resource rich, with an abundance of coal, natural gas, copper, lithium, gold, iron ore, bauxite and prized rare-earth mineral reserves. Afghanistan’s resources could be worth US$ 3 trillion, according to the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum in 2017. The Taliban, with limited resources at its disposal, may be eager to take advantage of supplying raw materials to other countries.
So, in the scenario, the difficult question that has to be asked is: was it all worth it? According to a report in The Intercept, for the top five US defence contractors — Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman — the 20-year Afghanistan war was an “extraordinary success.” War being a profitable business, in 2011, the 100 largest contractors sold $410 billion in arms and military services. These companies have benefited tremendously from the growth in military spending in the U.S., which by far has the largest military budget in the world.
As the US remains a top arms exporter, the profitable business of war likely won’t cease; though the Taliban still believe they have won the war and America has lost”. Evidently, the war in Afghanistan was about American imperialism.
*Editor, Asian Times