Submitted by George Callaghan…
Uncle Sam is going home with his tail between his legs. John Bull is going with him. Johnny Cancuk, Marianne, Fritz and all the gang have also been humiliated. It is a defeat of unexampled ignominy.
Afghanistan has been by far the longest conflict in which the United States has been engaged. Yet after 19 years, 4000 deaths and countless billion splurged the United States has been vanquished. The other NATO countries have sustained a couple of thousand fatalities between them. As for NATO’s Afghan allies they have suffered tens of thousands of deaths.
The Taliban have not got off lightly. Tens of thousands of them have been slain. Huge numbers of Afghan civilians have also lost their lives.
A peace agreement has been signed with the Taliban. Make no mistake this is not a draw. It is an ignominious defeat for NATO.
The so called peace agreement is a face saving way of saying this is not defeat. But NATO has lost. It pains me to write it. NATO belaboured the Taliban for two decades but never came close to conclusive victory.
What was NATO’s objective? It was to extirpate the Taliban. What was the Taliban’s objective? It was to survive. The Taliban has certainly not been wiped out. In fact it controls about 60% of the country. When the conflict began it controlled about 90% of the land. Although the Taliban was on the run for a while it made a comeback.
Make no mistake. I hold no brief for the Taliban. The Afghan people lived under insupportable oppression where the Talibs ruled. These theocrats, reactionaries and misogynists are odious.
NATO dealt the Taliban many mighty strokes of war. But such was the Taliban’s pertinacity that it was not crushed. They rose like phoenix from the ashes. They took shelter with their kith and kin over the Durand Line. They returned from Pakistan.
The Pakistanis have a vexed relationship with the Taliban. Pakistan is a society riven with ethnic, religious, regional, linguistic and social divisions. Certain elements of Pakistan were four square behind the Taliban. Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is Pakistan’s answer to the CIA. ISI is Pakistan’s deep state. Despite there having been a formal military dictatorship for half of Pakistan’s short history it is the ISI which runs the country. The ISI is l’eminence grise. The ISI had at best a complicated relationship with the Taliban. At worst the Taliban was a mere emanation of the ISI. It is true that the Taliban sometimes attacked and killed the Pakistani Army. But they never attacked the ISI. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. There is rivalry and sometimes enmity between the ISI and the army.
The Taliban is not a monolith. Afghanistan consists of several ethno-linguistic groups. They are subdivided into tribes. Some Taliban factions clash with others. Certain Taliban factions in Pakistan clashed with the army and others did not.
The United States is going to totally withdraw from Afghanistan. The US gets nothing in return. The Taliban has the chance to take over the whole country.
This makes grim reading for anyone who cares about human rights in Afghanistan. What about free expression? What about women’s rights? What about freedom of conscience? Dare I mention elections?
The Republican Party castigated the Obama Administration for pulling out of Iraq. At that time Al Qa’eda and its Shia equivalents had been smashed. America’s allies ruled the whole country. ISIS had not been founded. The Iraqi Government did not agree to extend the US presence in most of the country. Obama was not going to keep his troops there against the express will of a sovereign state. That would be illegal occupation. Baghdad agreed to the US retaining one air base. The Obama withdrawal was sensible and timely. ISIS emerged a few years later. No one predicted that at the time. That was mainly owing to the Syrian debacle. The Grand Old Party then rounded on Obama. They lambasted him for not keeping troops in Iraq. Many Republicans had supported the withdrawal when it had been implemented. But hindsight is 20:20.
The Trump withdrawal is far worse than the Obama withdrawal. The Trump Administration is in effect handing Afghanistan over to America’s mortal foes. This defeat will suppurate in the US for decades. Apart from Vietnam this is only conflict that America has ever lost.
What not for Afghanistan? The Taliban will take over by hook or by crook. It might be through the guise of elections. But an Islamist caliphate shall be re-established. The country will then be an adjunct of Pakistan but have a strained relationship with Iran.
It has long been said that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. At Britain’s apogee she fought three wars against the Afghans. None of them were victorious for Victoria or George V. The USSR was drawn into the Afghan quagmire. Now America has to eat a generous helping of humble pie.
America’s harlequinade was always going to be a shit show. Anyone could have told you that. The US had to pretend it was battling against Islamic extremism when it truth America’s confederates there were also Islamic fundamentalists. The US was funding the Pakistanis who were arming the Taliban. Despite this the US carried on bankrolling the Pakistani generals. Washington DC said it was fighting for democracy. But everyone knows the US has often destroyed democracy and imposed dictatorships on lesser breeds without the law. Americans were told that their boys and girls were fighting to interdict drugs. But even the dogs in the street know that Hamid Karzai, America’s man I Kabul, was a scion of Afghanistan’s main opium cartel. Family is everything in Afghanistan. Everything!
To many in the USA this country is the puzzling east. Its mores are alien. There were many incidents when an Afghan soldier would kill several of his American comrades before being shot himself. Why? The people in the immediate surroundings of the shooter were all dead. We can only speculate that an American was culturally insensitive. He said or did something that mortally offended the Afghan. Any disrespect towards his faith or clan would be an insult that could only be purged with blood.
The hearts and minds stratagem was only semi-successful. It bore fruit in the more liberal areas. Aid was all too often creamed off by functionaries and warlords. Too little percolated down to the poverty-stricken people. Peculation is a way of life here. As for the hard-pressed farmers of course they were going to grow opium poppies. The culture of opium pays an order of magnitude more than any cereal crop.
What lessons can we learn from the blood-soaked sand? NATO does not lack for equipment. It suffers no dearth of money. Its troop numbers are low. It lacks staying power. There is no determination. With pertinacity victory would have been obtainable. NATO countries were unwilling to pay the blood price. If they had gone all out for victory it would have been won. Supposing NATO had been prepared to suffer not 6 000 deaths but 60 000 deaths then victory would have been achieved.
We all know that Pakistan played both sides of the street. If NATO had got serious with Islamabad then the outcome could have been different. NATO would have had to have put the fear of the Lord into the Pakistanis. Relying on provisions and munitions coming via Pakistan made NATO a hostage to fortune. These supply convoys were regularly destroyed by the Taliban often with the connivance of the Pakistani drivers. Supplying NATO forces exclusively by air would have been much costlier. But it would have had the virtue of not indirectly funding the Taliban which is what paying Pakistani drivers did. At the very least NATO would have had to say to the Pakistanis you do not provide a safe haven for the Taliban or you will not get a cent out of us. Drone strikes on Taliban positions in Pakistan did some good. As the operation to kill Bin Laden showed more raids could have succeeded. The Pakistani Military was caught napping. In the final analysis NATO would have had to have shown brinksmanship to win. NATO needed to be willing to say to the Pakistanis you must annihilate the Taliban or we will come in and do it. If Islamabad said then that will be war then NATO needed to say: so be it. NATO might have been able to enlist Indian support.
The Taliban had nothing but their propitiations to Allah to aid them. If I were not so rational then I might imagine that these orisons had something to them.
So much for Trump being a toughie. He said in 2016 he wanted to pull out of Afghanistan as soon as he became president. If he had done so the day he took office that would have spared a lot of immiseration. As it happens he had his troops fight on in a losing battle. The result has been the same.
The Afghan misadventure raises fundamental questions about the assumptions that underpin the Atlantic Alliance. What is NATO for? If NATO cannot put paid to a few dirt farmers with small arms then what chance does NATO stand against a superpower?
What can we learn from this unedifying episode? Do not fight. If you are going to fight it cannot be a half war. You need grit and resolve. You must go all out for victory.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.