The Curious Case Of The War In AfghanistanJul 8, 2021 | Shalini Rai
“What was the point of all the destruction, killing and misery they brought us? I wish they had never come,” said Malek Mir, a mechanic at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, according to a Reuters report. Mir was left wondering what purpose did the decades-long foreign military presence serve in his country, which is now as susceptible to being taken over by the Taliban as it was in 2001, when U.S. troops first landed in Afghanistan.
So, what really was the point of the longest war in U.S. history?
Defeat Of Extremism?
Well, that hasn’t happened since the Taliban have regrouped and rearmed and remain as potent a force in 2021 as they were 20 years ago. More than 3,500 foreign troops have been killed in a two-decade war, which has claimed over 100,000 civilians since 2009 alone, according to United Nations records. And if they had to eventually sit down for ‘peace’ talks with the ‘dreaded’ Taliban in Qatar last year, what was the rationale behind taking up arms against them in the first place?
Emancipation Of Afghan Women?
Not in any lasting sense. The threat of the Taliban’s return and the concomitant imposition of cultural ‘mores’ and religious ‘traditions’ looms large over the female population of Afghanistan. Many are fearful that access to education and employment opportunities will be denied them and they run the risk of reverting to the dark days of the Taliban rule before 2001.
The only parties to have benefitted from this once seemingly-unending war are the defence contractors in the U.S. and other allied nations. All the Afghans have to show for the past 20 years is regret and bitterness. As Sayed Naqibullah, a shop owner in Bagram puts it in this Reuters report, “The Americans leave a legacy of failure, they’ve failed in containing the Taliban or corruption. A small percentage of Afghans got so rich, while the vast majority still live with extreme poverty.”
Given all of the above, one wonders who really gained from this conflict? Not the U.S. government, not the Afghan government (accused by many of being stooges of western powers) and certainly not the Afghan people.
The United States descended on Afghanistan and its Taliban government in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda, which had sought sanctuary in the country. By November 2001, about 1,300 American soldiers were on the ground, rising to almost 10,000 the next year.
But in 2003, the U.S. waded into another conflict – in Iraq, to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This worked to the advantage of the now-fragmented Taliban and other Islamist groups, which re-organised and launched an insurgency. In 2008, there were 48,000 U.S. troops deployed in this war-torn nation, sanctioned by President Bush and his Pentagon advisors.
By 2010, despite being elected on a promise to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, President Barack Obama boosted U.S. presence in Afghanistan to about 100,000 troops.
The purported objective of this decision was strengthening Afghan institutions and crushing the expanding Taliban insurgency. After the 9/11 attack mastermind – Osama bin Laden – was eliminated by US Special Forces in Pakistan’s Abbottabad in 2011, the US and NATO forces lost their raison d’etre for remaining in Afghanistan.
Although the NATO alliance ended its combat mission there by the end of 2014, troops remained on Afghan soil, to conduct anti-terror operations and train Afghan troops to ‘take over’ the country. What happened, however, was that in the following years, the Taliban insurgency spread and the Islamic State became active in South Asia.
When Donald Trump took over as U.S. President in 2017, he scrapped the withdrawal plan and committed thousands more troops, even as Taliban attacks against Afghan soldiers multiplied and the U.S. stepped up airstrikes in retaliation.
In 2018, with the war becoming increasingly unpopular in the U.S. and the Taliban insurgency showing no signs of letting up, the Trump administration opened ‘peace’ talks with the Taliban. He offered to withdraw troops if the Taliban promised not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for jihadist groups like Al Qaeda.
By 2020, a historic deal had been signed, with the US offering to pull out troops by May 2021, if the Taliban gave security guarantees and held peace talks with the Afghan government. Although these talks began in September 2020, they stalled after the Taliban attacked women, activists and journalists.
With Joe Biden as US President since January 2021, the offer has altered to troop pullout by September 2021, a four-month delay from the original May 2021 deadline. Violence by the Taliban has surged since, with the extremist group taking over rural districts near major Afghan cities and leaving Afghan security forces potentially facing a rout.
Last week, the US forces departed from the Bagram airbase without informing the new Afghan commander. The US shut off the electricity and slipped away in the night but did not notify the base’s new commander, who discovered the Americans’ departure more than two hours after they left, according to Afghan military officials.
It doesn’t get more dishonourable than this, a textbook ignominious exit.
Which brings us back to the question – cui bono (to whom is it a benefit, who gains)?
The ‘top-down’ strategy of funding employed by the West has created a corrupt, privileged class of Afghans, much like the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) in the US. These Afghans are warlords, contracted businessmen and politicians, all of whom made money from keeping the war going. And they are not alone.
In December 2019, The Washington Post made public a “confidential trove of government documents” — interviews with key figures involved in the Afghan War by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The documents revealed the degree to which senior Pentagon leaders and military commanders understood that the war was failing, yet, year after year, they provided “rosy pronouncements they knew to be false,” while “hiding unmistakable evidence that the war had become unwinnable.”
It seems there will be no reckoning where the U.S.’ endless wars and military establishment is concerned, whoever occupies the post of President — Bush, Obama or Trump, Republican or Democrat. The Pentagon has sunk billions of taxpayer money into endless wars but continues to evade both a comprehensive audit of all its programs and a re-evaluation of its expenditures.
However, this is not news to people who have even an iota of idea about the MIC.
Among the damning reports released by SIGAR was one which said that between $10 million and $43 million had been spent constructing a single gas station, $150 million had gone into luxury private villas for Americans ostensibly supposed to be helping bolster Afghan economy and millions more were wasted on programs to ‘improve’ Afghan industries involved in extracting the country’s natural resources.
In his memorable farewell address in 1961, former US President (and five-star General) Dwight Eisenhower had warned Americans about the “unwarranted influence” of the MIC. Six decades later, this entity continues to thrive, even as the U.S.’ national security interests are made subservient to the profits accrued by defence/military contractors, both in the US and elsewhere (including Afghanistan).
Unending, long drawn-out, nugatory wars — in Vietnam, Korea as well — only highlight the fact that war for war’s sake is profitable for some very powerful entities and their ancillary segments. These include lobbyists, columnists, defence ‘experts’, defence analysts, researchers — a majority of whom are bankrolled by the MIC and its subsidiaries.
For lasting peace to prevail, it is critical to first unmask this set-up, then acknowledge its power and reach, and finally, expose its nefarious influence over war machines and war-mongers, all working towards prolonging conflicts and keeping the MIC in business.