A Political Fiasco in Afghanistan

By Dr. P. R. Kalia


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