Sunday, June 4, 2017
Afghanistan: A failure or success for the US?
Sixteen years after ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ first kicked off, Afghanistan, much like Libya and Iraq, the sites of other US-led ‘interventions,' is in flames.
The string of violence in this Central Asian hotspot of late is breathtaking: On Wednesday, a truck bomb detonated near the German Embassy in Kabul and killed nearly 100 people. On Friday, at least seven people were killed and over a hundred wounded in three separate explosions during a funeral in the Afghan capital. This follows deadly attacks the previous week across the country in which over fifty people lost their lives.
Afghanistan, lest we forget, is where the post 9/11 US-led ‘war on terror’ began to great fanfare in late 2001. The country had to be invaded to make Western civilians safe. It was our moral duty to invade and set the country on the ‘right’ path.
‘Victory’ was declared in November 2001 as the US-backed Northern Alliance captured Kabul. In December of that year, British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the fall of Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold.
But in 2003, as the neo-con hawks in Britain and the US focused on fighting secular Iraq-which was falsely accused of possessing WMDs, the Taliban fight back began. The conflict since then has ebbed and flowed.
NATO powers have at various times increased troop numbers, then pulled out, or announced withdrawals and postponed them, and then later redeployed forces. Today, the Taliban, whose defeat was being toasted in late 2001, either have control of or a significant foothold in around 30-50 percent of the country. Taken on its own terms, the US/NATO ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan has been a huge, costly failure.
Over 3,4000 coalition troops and over 100,000 Afghans have been killed. In 2013, it was calculated that the intervention had cost over £37bn amounting to over £20,000 for every British household. Meanwhile, in 2015, a CRS report put the cost of the Afghan war to the US at a staggering $686.5 bn.
And for what? This is the question British and US taxpayers reeling from cuts to vital public services at home ought to be asking.
The security risk to civilians in the UK and elsewhere has got much worse since 2001 with this weekend’s horrific attacks in London only the latest example. Not only do the Taliban control their largest share of territory in Afghanistan since 2001, ISIS and al-Qaeda also have significant presence there too. Remember all that talk from George W. Bush and Company of there being no ‘safe havens’ for terrorists? Thanks to US foreign policy there are now plenty.
Much was made by NATO-propagandists of the so-called “train, advise and assist” mission. We would withdraw forces and help the Afghans ‘do it themselves’. Just how cool was that? Yet last week’s blast occurred in the diplomatic quarter of Kabul which was thought to be one of the safest areas of the city. Were those providing security there trained by NATO? If so, what sort of training were they given? Again, these are questions that need to be asked. No wonder Kabul citizens are angry.
It’s likely the recent spike in violence will see an increase in foreign military involvement in Afghanistan. There are around 13,000 international troops there already,including 8,400 Americans, supporting the Afghan government. We’re told that US President Donald Trump is weighing up a ‘troop surge’. But how many would be needed to push back the Taliban and deal with the Islamic State? And aren’t we just going round in circles here?
To take attention away from NATO’s failures, Russia has been repeatedly accused of “supporting the Taliban”. There’s zero evidence of this. But what we do know is that the US and allies did back the Mujahideen which the Taliban grew out of when Soviet troops were in Afghanistan supporting the left-wing government in the 1980s. As I detailed here, the aim of Zbigniew Brezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser was to make the Soviet Union "bleed". In fact, Afghanistan has known nothing but violence since Zbig decided to give the Soviets their own Vietnam by backing Islamist 'freedom fighters'. Back in the 1980s, the US did all they could to prevent diplomatic solutions to the Afghan conflict. And it’s the same today.
Which begs the question:is the US’s Afghanistan policy really a failure or is keeping the fire going there actually the plan? Either the US and its allies have been spectacularly stupid, or there’s a more sinister game afoot.
In his book, Divide and Ruin, fellow Op-Edge contributor Dan Glazebrook argues that the new imperial strategy is not about Washington replacing one ‘regime’ for another, but in making sure strategically important nations remain devastated by war and can never again function as independent actors. If the war in Afghanistan ended, then the government there would inevitably pivot towards Russia and China. But by keeping the hostilities going, and the country permanently destabilized, the Afghans’ military dependence on the West is maintained.
This could explain why every time the US has had the Taliban on the run, the radical Islamist force has been allowed to regroup. Then when it gets too strong, it goes back in. And, when there’s been a chance to get people round the negotiating table, the US has sent in the drones or captured leaders who might talk peace.
If you think it’s all a bit conspiratorial, then it’s worth bearing in mind the words of Hamid Karzai, the former Mujahideen fundraiser, who came to power with US support following Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. In his farewell speech as President in 2014, Karzai blamed the US for the fact that his country was still at war. "Today, I tell you again that the war in Afghanistan is not our war, but imposed on us and we are the victims," Karzai said. "One of the reasons was that the Americans did not want peace because they had their own agenda and objectives."
Karzai’s spill-the-beans speech should have made front page headlines across the word. But guess what? It didn’t.
The question we need to ask as the cycle of violence continues is 'cui bono?' The US defense industry and associated war profiteers have done very well out of Afghanistan. The people of the country and those caught in the terrorist blowback, much less so.