Afghanistan 2001-2021: “The Graveyard of Empires’ Defeats America
By Walid Sharara – Al-Akhbar Newspaper, Translated by Staff
20 years after the beginning of the global war on terrorism, which it started from Afghanistan, and paved the way into the "wider" Middle East to secure conditions for the "new American century," the United States is making the decision to pull out, which is actually equal to the admission of defeat. The declaration will not, in any case, discourage Washington policymakers from focusing on the priority of confrontation with international rivals, who are now breathing a sigh of relief for the near evacuation of the US forces from their positions in Afghanistan, the country that deserves the title "The Graveyard of Empires.”
The United States has finally found what it considers an "honorable way out" of its strategic predicament in Afghanistan: the priority of focusing on confrontation with the major international competitors. The conviction among its ruling elites and their deep state that the longest war in their country's history, lasting 20 years, turned into a catastrophic failure and a futile depletion of the human and material capabilities of the American empire, but no president before Joe Biden dared to decide to withdraw, which is in fact an equivalent to the admission of defeat. Afghanistan worthily deserves the title “The Graveyard of Empires.” Thanks to the stubbornness of its people…, it succeeded once again in breaking the will of a powerful state, which was once called the American "superpower". Previous history lessons confirmed that the victory over colonialism and occupation was a condition of endurance and fortitude, no matter how much sacrifices could be made.
The aggression against Afghanistan was launched after the operations of 11 September 2001, within the framework of what Washington declared as "a comprehensive war on ‘terrorism’" on a planet’s scale, and in this very direction, American failure lies. From the perspective of new and old governors of the Imperial Expansion Project, Afghanistan was only the first stop before reaching the "wider" Middle East to secure conditions for the "new American century."
The arrogance of power encouraged the owners of this project to believe that the conflict with the “Taliban” and “al-Qaeda” could be resolved quickly, and that the administration of the country's affairs would then be accompanied by a coalition of warlords, tribal leaders and drug dealers, called the "Organized Crime Coalition" by Sharif Allah Durrani in his book "America in Afghanistan," and then moving to another war scene, which is Iraq. Despite the great successes in the first months of the "Afghanistan Campaign," that works on the overthrow of the “Taliban” regime, and the destruction of the organizational and ideological core of “al-Qaeda”, the effects of the option of moving to Iraq, which appeared in the following years, have led to the direct and widespread American involvement in the counter-insurgency war in the country of Afghans, the long-term consequences of which were disastrous for the American invaders and their allies.
20 years of war in Afghanistan could be divided into 3 main phases. The first phase, is the "counter-terrorism" phase, which lasted from 2001 to 2006, and was marked by great American support for the forces of the “Northern Alliance”, which later turned into the regular army, and direct, but often local, participation in the military operations against “al-Qaeda” and the “Taliban.” At the time, there were 28,800 American soldiers. Together with their Afghan and international allies, they were able to overthrow the “Taliban” regime and eliminate the organizational and ideological core of “al-Qaeda” at a limited human cost to them, with 212 of their soldiers killed. The second phase lasted between 2006 and 2014, a period that witnessed a qualitative increase in the number of US and NATO forces, a transition to a "counter-insurgency" strategy, with what is meant a wide military deployment across the country and a direct contribution to field battles. In 2011, the number of US forces alone reached 100000, as well as 40000 United Nations' ISAF and NATO forces. During this period, US military casualties rose to 2045. The third phase, which occurred between 2015 and 2021, and followed the withdrawal of much of the American forces in 2015, witnessed a change in the role of those forces, which had become largely confined to training, advising and supporting Afghan forces in the field, along with the resulting decline in the American human casualties to 99 soldiers over the last 6 years.
Tim Willasey-Wilsey, who has worked in the South Asia section of the British Foreign Service for 27 years, says in an analysis posted on “The Cipher Brief," that “There are six motives for the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan: the first one is that it is meaningless to maintain and jeopardize the deployment of American forces in the absence of a comprehensive strategy that would allow for a clearly approved political solution in the end of the conflict; the second is that the Afghan government is stubbornly resistant to reform; the third is rampant corruption, which has grown mainly because of opium cultivation, has increased since 2001, and has seized vast amounts of international aid; the fourth is that China, Russia and Iran are not prepared to help the United States reach a negotiated solution, although several countries want to settle in Afghanistan; the fifth is that the “Taliban” has not changed, as proven by the assassinations campaign initiated after the Doha Agreement; and the sixth is that Pakistan, contrary to its claims, prefers the “Taliban” to seize power in Kabul." Wilsey does not support the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, but understands it. However, he does not try to explain the American utter failure that led Biden to take such a decision, as he was supportive of the invasion of this country and the "nation-building" process that followed.
From his perspective, Jonah Blanc, a South Asian expert who served as Biden's political adviser when he was Chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee and travelled with him repeatedly to Afghanistan, provides an explanation for the withdrawal in an article published in "The Atlantic," entitled "The Original Sin of the War in Afghanistan."
Blanc says that “In 2001, even the toughest hawks did not want to invade Afghanistan: They wanted to invade Iraq. Neoconservatives like Paul Wolfovitz and Douglas Faith had a vision of how to reformulate this country in the American way. Old conservatives like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld worked to dislodge Saddam Hussein, replace him with an obedient puppet, and deter any other enemy. Both camps viewed Afghanistan as an unwelcome distraction from the main task of invading Iraq, but they adopted the logic regarding it.”
As soon as the war broke out, American officials thought they are done with the “Taliban” and “al-Qaeda,” so they turned directly towards Iraq and forgot about Afghanistan. This meant entrusting the administration of a vast country to corrupt local agents, and allocating the largest amount of financial, military and intellectual resources to the upcoming battle of Iraq. The “Taliban” movement did not enjoy the support of large sections of the Afghan people, including large sections of the Pashtun, but the support of the American occupiers for the de facto leaders, and their policies of looting and abuse, allowed the Taliban to attract large and marginalized masses of ethnic Afghans and to step up its military action against the occupation and its associates…
This is the reality in the fields of Afghanistan since the beginning of Barack Obama's second but last era, and then Donald Trump who did not make a decision to withdraw so that he would not be held responsible for the defeat. Biden is trying to show that making such a decision is an arbitration of the logic of other emerging strategic priorities, but his justifications will not succeed in covering up the total defeat of the arrogant, but descending, empire.