by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 9, Muharram, 1436)
Another batch of ‘Alexander the Great wannabes’ have slunk out of Afghanistan having been taught a lesson by the intrepid Afghans. History is repeating itself in the Hindu Kush Mountains.
The Brits became the latest Western warriors to slink out of Afghanistan. The Union Jack was lowered for the last time at Camp Bastion and Leatherneck in the troubled Helmand province of Afghanistan on October 26. A terse statement that could not hide the Britons’ defeat said the timing of the withdrawal was “not announced for security reasons.”
Indeed. The Taliban have instilled such fear in them that they dare not announce their withdrawal plans in advance.
Had the Brits not come to help their American allies banish the Taliban from power and to create a Western-style democracy complete with elections, a parliament, police force and a Western-trained Afghan army? Instead, after 13 years of war, what they are leaving behind is a country in shambles; the Taliban are more powerful and better organized and the Western do-gooders having had enough of the fighting are getting the hell out. The Afghans have once again proved that their country is the graveyard of empires.
The October 26 ceremony at Camp Bastion saw British troops hand over command to the Afghan army. How long can it hold out given the massive attrition rate among Afghan troops? British withdrawal follows similar withdrawal by other Western powers: the Dutch, Germans, New Zealanders, Australians and, of course the Canadians. General Rick Hillier, a former Chief of Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces had, in a fit of racist cant, dismissed the Taliban as “scumbags.” He had also boasted that the Canadian military is trained to kill and this is what it would do in Afghanistan. The scumbags have prevailed while the brave Western warriors are slinking out, one by one.
The Americans plan to draw down their forces to around 10,000 by the end of the year. Under a security agreement signed by the newly installed President Ashraf Ghani, the US would maintain a contingent of 10,000 troops ostensibly for the security of US embassy personnel as well as “train” the Afghan army. How much training do the Afghans need and who is training the Taliban that seem to be doing quite well without any Western training or arms?
American forces would essentially “guard” Afghanistan’s mineral riches from falling into the hands of rival powers China and Russia. Afghan mineral resources are estimated at some $4 trillion. This is a huge sum of money and Afghanistan can be a very rich country if the foreigners would leave it alone to develop at its own pace.
Afghanistan’s newly installed government does not have one, but two heads. It is like a two-headed donkey; one head on its front legs and the other on its hind legs. This is the creation of the Americans, more precisely US Secretary of State John Kerry. The government was installed in September after months of wrangling. One wonders why Abdullah Abdullah, the Northern Alliance warlord, was so keen to have a seat at the governing table given the precarious situation in the country.
The new president Ashraf Ghani is a former World Bank executive who will serve his Western masters well. In a sense, Ghani represents the plight of Afghanistan accurately. He has had massive stomach surgery to remove cancerous tumor from his body. Following his operation that he miraculously survived, he cannot eat a full meal. He must chew little bit at a time. Afghanistan also cannot digest massive doses of aid. Most of it is consumed by corruption anyway.
The West, primarily the US spent more than $1 trillion in waging war on Afghanistan since October 2001. The 13-year war has caused massive destruction in Afghanistan, a country that was already devastated by 10 years of Soviet occupation followed by fighting between warlords. Had the Americans and their allies disbursed the $1 trillion among Afghans, each one would have received $40,000. They would have been eternally grateful to the Americans and the West. Such a huge amount can buy a lot of naans!
The Western warriors — trying to be modern day Alexanders the Great — have had enough, at least in Afghanistan. Their peoples back home do not want to pay the price in blood and treasure anymore. They want out but the Western warlords are not done fighting yet, especially when it is the children of the poor that must pay the price in life and limb. The Washington warlords and their allies have embarked on other equally ill-conceived adventures in places like Iraq and Syria. They are addicted to perpetual war and refuse to learn from their mistakes.
The scramble to make peace with the Taliban has started in earnest. With most foreign troops out of the country, the Kabul government cannot hold out for too long. The Americans are pressing Pakistan and its Arabian allies to convince the Taliban to make a deal. Even Turkey has been pressed into service using its linguistic and ethnic links with the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. He is the vice president of Afghanistan (no kidding!). Last month Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan made his first ever trip to Afghanistan. The US has also sent word to the Chinese to help in Afghanistan in return for access to some of its riches.
In their hurry to abandon Camp Bastion, the British and Americans left a lot of military hardware. The US military alone left behind about $230 million worth of property and equipment. Will the Afghan army be able to use any of this equipment or it will fall into the hands of the Taliban?
In the 13-year war, the Americans and their allies caused massive Afghan casualties. Nothing was safe from their murderous raids: wedding parties, Afghan boys and girls collecting wood in the mountains or merely tending to their goats. Despite such barbarism, the Afghans’ spirit of resistance was not broken.
The Taliban were also able to inflict losses on the Americans and their allies. At least 2,210 American and 453 British soldiers were killed. The number of injured American and other troops is huge. Even more serious is the mental damage to most soldiers that have returned as broken men to their countries. Some have committed suicide; others have murdered their partners and children. Their respective governments have largely abandoned these broken men and women.
Before leaving Camp Bastion, Colonel Doug Patterson, a US marine brigade commander in charge of logistics said, “We gave them the maps to the place. We gave them the keys.” The colonial mindset was still operating. The country belongs to the Afghans; the Americans and Britons were and are aliens in Afghanistan yet the colonel had the gall to say that they gave the Afghans everything.
The Taliban have won the war but it is still uncertain whether they will be able to win the peace as well. Afghanistan has a sad history of perpetual warfare.
As his parting comments, General John Campbell, head of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged that Helmand “has been a very, very tough area” over the last several months. It is going to get even tougher as General Sher Mohammad Karimi, chief of staff of the Afghan army, acknowledges. He said the Taliban “will keep us busy for a while.” It could be for a very long while before the Afghan army disintegrates and joins the Taliban.
The Taliban have won the war but it is still uncertain whether they will be able to win the peace as well. Afghanistan has a sad history of perpetual warfare. It is said that the Afghans love to fight; if there are foreign invaders in their country they fight them and when the foreigners leave, they fight among themselves. The idea is to fight! Will they ever learn to make peace?