Convoluted pomposity. Uninformed hubris. That’s what comes to mind listening to the outrage of the American media and cynical warmongering politicians to the rapid collapse of the Afghan military as Taliban forces overrun the country following the pull out of the armed forces of western nations. The western press, by their self-righteous indignation to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, reveals how little they know of the history of the Afghan people and their failure to feel the pulse of the Pashtuns who live in the mountainous villages of Afghanistan. The lament of the American political class over the catastrophic collapse of the Afghan government is a hypocritical shedding of crocodile tears.
The premise for the US and allied Western nations’ 20-year occupation of Afghanistan was that they were going to build an Afghan government and an Afghan military that is strong enough to stand on its own two feet. Western nations deluded themselves into thinking they could just walk into this ungovernable and unconquerable nation, pour trillions of dollars into it, and expect they’ll be able to impose their will, culture, and style of government on a people who have shown, over the course of its history, that they possess an indomitable spirit.
There’s a good reason Afghanistan is called the graveyard of empires. Over the course of many centuries, kings and kingdoms have come and gone, and all of them have failed in their desire to conquer this nation of mountains and their attempts to subdue these people of the hills have been totally futile. Those who know history understand that the knees of the Afghan people will not bend to the will of foreign invaders, no matter how powerful.
Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States by Al Qaeda, the US invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban who had harbored Al Qaeda in the country from where the terrorist attacks were launched. The US went on to install an Afghan government that took the reign in Kabul. The American backed Afghan government was composed of a corrupt elite who did not enjoy much support or command any loyalty from the Afghan people. The United States spent 20 years to prop up a government that was corrupt, incompetent, inept, and unpopular.
Despite 20 years of military and police training provided by the United States, the Afghan government, its military, and internal security apparatus collapsed spectacularly in a matter of weeks after President Biden announced a date of American pullout from Afghanistan. In a negotiated surrender that started in the rural villages and proceeded to the provincial cities and all the way to the nation’s capital in Kabul, the Taliban forces marched in and took over as Afghan government forces handed over their weapons in exchange for cash.
Some have described the collapse of the Afghan military as the most spectacular military defeat in history. Others have criticized the Biden administration for cutting and running. These folks argued that if the US had stayed just a little while longer, the Afghan government would have been made stronger and its military much more powerful to withstand the Taliban forces.
That’s all bunkum. Those who make such arguments are wrong. The US war in Afghanistan was, is, and always has been an unwinnable war. The proponents of such inanity should ask Genghis Khan of the Mongols, the British East India Company of the 19th century, the mighty military of the Soviet Union how that worked out for them. Sadly, many of those lobbying such criticisms are mere mouthpieces for the military industrial complex, big corporate entities who raked in billions of dollars in profit during the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan and would rather have the US remain in the country permanently because it’s in their best financial interest and it serves their bottomline.
According to Forbes Magazine, “in the 20 years since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent more than $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan. That’s $300 million dollars per day, every day, for two decades. Or $50,000 for each of Afghanistan’s 40 million people. In baser terms, Uncle Sam has spent more keeping the Taliban at bay than the net worths of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and the 30 richest billionaires in America, combined.”
It continued, “And the costs are even greater in terms of lives lost. There have been 2,500 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan, and nearly 4,000 more U.S. civilian contractors killed. That pales in comparison to the estimated 69,000 Afghan military police, 47,000 civilians killed, plus 51,000 dead opposition fighters. The cost so far to care for 20,000 U.S. casualties has been $300 billion, with another half-trillion or so expected to come.”
For 20 years, the US military, the greatest military fighting force the world has ever seen and with some of the best military strategists ever, provided the Afghan military the first-class military training and top of the line military hardware and war machine costing over $85 billion. Yet, with all the training and the equipment, the Afghan military surrendered to the Taliban forces without putting up a fight, and never firing a bullet.
How many more lives will have to be lost before the American people say enough is enough? How many more American treasures will have to be poured into the bottomless pit of Afghanistan before the US government calls it quits? What is a good time for America to leave? When will the Afghan government and military be strong enough to stand for their country and defend their people?
Despite trillions of dollars poured into the country by the US government, Afghanistan remains dirt poor. Twenty years of lives and limbs of the men and women of the US military lost just to turn the Afghan military into an elite fighting force able to stand on their own and capable of withstanding any onslaught have all been in vain. At the sight of the Taliban, the Afghan soldiers dropped their weapons and fled.
Anatol Lieven reporting in the Politico wrote:
“Afghan society has been described to me as a “permanent conversation.” Alliances shift, and people, families and tribes make rational calculations based on the risk they face. America’s commanders and officials either completely failed to understand these aspects of Afghan reality or failed to report them honestly to U.S. administrations, Congress and the general public.”
The saying, “In politics, there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests,” is an apt description of Afghan society. The failure of the US government, its western allies, and the western news media to understand the perpetually shifting alliances and perennial deal making within Afghan society is very much similar to the failure of invading ancient empires who tried but failed to conquer Afghanistan. Among these rugged people, kinship and tribal connections are worth their weight in gold, for they often take precedence over formal political loyalties.
The 20 years the US spent pouring resources into Afghanistan failed because the American government used all that money to prop up a soulless and corrupt ruling class who did not have the allegiance of the Afghan people. The powerful elite enriched themselves at the expense of the ordinary people.
Using public funds, they built golden castles fit for kings while the rest of the country lived in squalor, riddled with sickness and diseases. Mansions known as “poppy palaces” rose from the rubble to house opium kingpins. The corruption was so prevalent and widespread that they stopped hiding their deeds.
According to the Washington Post, “Dark money sloshed all around. Afghanistan’s largest bank liquefied into a cesspool of fraud. Travelers lugged suitcases loaded with $1 million, or more, on flights leaving Kabul.”
The ruling Afghan elite were not only unscrupulous in the handling of the nation’s resources, but they were also sexual predators who sexually abused young boys with the promotion of a practice known as Bacha bazi. The powerful Afghan men who ran Afghanistan with the backing of the US government operated a state sanctioned pedophile ring.
To be continued tomorrow.
Ojumu, of the US National Institutes of Health, writes on the African Plume.
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