After Costly Afghanistan Misadventure, More Disaster Looms

By William J. Furney

After two decades in war-ravaged Afghanistan, the United States has had enough and, under orders from President Biden, packed up and left this week, surely hoping never to repeat what has turned out to be the country’s longest conflict and one that claimed the lives of 2,200 American troops, 38,000 civilians and cost the US around $1 trillion. All for what?

9/11 orchestrator Osama bin Laden ended up as fish food, after then-president Obama directed a strike on his compound in Pakistan in 2011 and unceremoniously dumped the Saudi terrorist’s body into the sea, so a land-based grave wouldn’t become a shrine to his followers; and the brutal Taliban is resurgent and posing security threats all over again — with no US agents now on the ground and able to monitor. And as his country of 38 million people implodes, President Ashraf Ghani has done little other than engage in the propaganda version of a selfie, by installing an enormous picture of himself at Kabul airport. 

The US’ misadventure in Afghanistan mirrors that of the disaster that was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that hawks in the administration of George W. Bush were certain was necessary to avenge the devastating airplane attacks on New York and Washington, even though the only evidence to back up such an attack amounted to the derided “dodgy dossier”. 

Now, as the Taliban make advances towards the former military stronghold of Kabul, according to intelligence accounts, there is a palpable sense of fear in the air — made all the worse by a resurgence of covid cases too. The long-suffering people of Afghanistan have had enough; they’ve given up on their basketcase country and want out. “There’s no hope for the future,” 23-year-old shopkeeper Zubair Ahmad told a stringer for The New York Times this week. “Afghans are leaving the country. I don’t know whether I am going to be safe 10 minutes from now.”

It’s a desperate situation that many analysts agree is only going to get much worse, with the security vacuum brought about by US troops’ departure from Afghanistan, and no one is surprised by the long-running incompetence and alleged corruption of successive governments. 

Some see it as slightly ironic that one of the architects of the twin George W-era wars bowed out this week, as in died. Donald Rumsfeld, who was defence secretary under presidents Bush and Ford, passed away on Tuesday aged 88, leaving behind invasion states more troubled than when he famously devised military strategies at his standing desk at the Pentagon. 

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns,” Rumsfeld equally famously said at a news briefing in 2002, of a lack of  proof linking Iraq with weapons of mass destruction that could potentially destroy the western world — another claim of the dodgy file. “That is to say,” he obfuscatingly continued, “there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Goodbye to all of that. 

Meanwhile, the primitive Taliban, who demand that women wear the imprisoning burka garb, are gaining control over an increasing number of districts in the perennially troubled South Asian country that previously had to endure the Russians, during the nine-year Soviet–Afghan War in much of the 1980s, according to the United Nations special envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons. 

Since May, the rag-tag militants — who were estimated to number around 60,000 back in 2016 and who mostly get their cash from extorting traders in areas they operate in — have taken over 50 of Afghanistan’s districts, she told the UN Security Council last month. 

“Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” Lyons predicted. 

And the Afghan government’s talks with the Taliban, to try and bring about peace in the impoverished country — among the poorest in the world and where almost half the population was living below the poverty line last year — are going nowhere. 

Discussions with the militants had reached a point where there was “very little progress” being made and the talks themselves were happening at a “very slow pace”, Afghan government official Abdullah Abdullah said in an interview with CNN this week. But Taliban official Mohammad Naeem said in a video posted online: “Our intention was to make some progress, but the opposite side was not interested in the peace talks.”

Troops from other countries involved in the Afghanistan mission, which was designed to train Afghan security forces in getting rid of the scourge of the Taliban, have already left the country, including those from Germany and Italy, and with just a few US troops left to protect the US diplomatic compound, Afghanistan must now fend for itself. Already, signs are of further trouble and a deepening implosion, also presenting challenges for the region and the entire world. 

  • Title photograph shows a US military helicopter being loaded onto a transport aircraft as the US military left its main military base in Afghanistan this week.