When taking office, US President Joe Biden put on pause for months his predecessor’s plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, a strategy that culminated in a panicked evacuation that looked worse than the debacle in Saigon in the 1970s.
The US “epic” in Afghanistan started back in 2001 with Operation Enduring Freedom right after the 9/11 attacks and the launch of the War on Terror. Back then, the administration of President George W. Bush probably did not know that this would become the US’ longest international conflict of the 21st century and even outrun the Vietnam campaign.
Barack Obama continued the tactic of his predecessor, with the number of US troops in the tumultuous country spiraling to 100,000 in 2010. After the 2011 elimination of Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda (terrorist group, banned in Russia), Obama announced the start of a reduction in the number of troops, but this decision failed to gain momentum. Donald Trump also ordered the withdrawal of thousands of troops from Afghanistan, and even tweeted that he wanted all troops to be withdrawn by Christmas 2020 – but this, too, failed to materialize. Joe Biden became the fourth president which had to deal with the conflict.
After twenty years of bloodshed, the deaths of over 2,300 US servicemen, deaths and injuries of hundreds of thousands of Afghan people, and military expenditures that are beyond huge – some $2 trillion altogether – Biden ultimately decided in mid-April to terminate the seemingly endless war in the Islamic republic. The US leader vowed to complete the withdrawal of troops by a date redolent with meaning for Americans – the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Before Biden’s announcement this April, the official number of US troops in Afghanistan reached 2,500, though reports claimed that the actual figure was at least 1,000 more. As for NATO, which is also withdrawing personnel, the official number of non-US servicemen stood at 7,000.
As the US troops began to leave the nation, the violence started to spike which ultimately resulted in the fall of Kabul. After overrunning major cities and provinces in the past weeks, the Taliban (a terrorist group, banned in Russia) entered Kabul on Sunday to negotiate the transfer of power with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who then stepped down and left the country. Ghani said his decision was dictated by the desire to prevent violence as the militants were ready to carry out an attack on the capital.
In his speech after the Sunday events in Kabul, Biden said he is saddened by the current situation in Afghanistan amid the Taliban takeover but he does not regret his decision to withdraw American forces from the country. He accused the political leaders of Afghanistan of having failed to negotiate for the future of their country following the Taliban solidifying its power in the country. The US troops in Afghanistan should not fight in a war in which the Afghans themselves are not willing to fight, he stressed.
NO LESSONS LEARNT
As the US mission in Afghanistan seemingly comes to end, questions arise which – if any lessons – the US administration learned from its campaigns. According to Coleen Rowley, Former FBI Special Agent and Time Whistleblower of the Year, the launch of the campaign in Afghanistan from the start was “stupid, immoral, illegal and horribly counter-productive”.
“I also (unfortunately) agree that Biden and his Administration has probably not learned any lesson from the debacle. We can hope for some kind of “Vietnam Syndrome” lull but one of the big motivations that Obama, Trump and Biden all had in trying to end the wars and military occupations in the Mid-east after 20 years, seems to have been to more effectively “pivot” US-NATO military resources onto war with “peer competitors” Russia-China.” Rowley who was also an analyst to FBI Director on Counter-Terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan, told Sputnik.
The key error of the US administration was made 20 years ago when the Bush administration made the decision not to rest content with eliminating al-Qaeda and chose instead to reconstruct Afghanistan, University of Pittsburgh Professor of International Affairs Michael Brenner told Sputnik.
“Behind the facade of nation-building, they sought to establish strategic dominance in Central Asia by implanting themselves there the way they would in Iraq,” he said.
That led to abuses and estranged the population which suffered casualties from the US military action.
“It was that combination of half-witted tactics that resurrected the Taliban. We did it to ourselves. Hence, the dismal outcome was inevitable from 2003 onward,” he explained.
Independent Institute Center on Peace & Liberty Director Ivan Eland also believes that the failure started early on when Bush changed the mission in Afghanistan from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency/nation-building.
“In short, the US somehow erroneously thought its effort to do so would be more successful than those of the British and Soviets,” he explained to Sputnik.
Asked whether Biden could have done to prevent it or even stave it off for another three or four years, Eland answered negatively.
“After Trump’s agreement to leave by May 2020, Biden would have tried to re-escalate to try to stanch Taliban gains. He was not about to invest in an already failed mission,” he stated.
On February 29 of 2020, the Trump team and the Taliban struck a long-awaited peace deal, agreeing on conditional American troop pullout by May 2021 in exchange for the movement’s guarantee that Afghanistan would not become a safe haven for terrorists.
Meanwhile, speaking to ABC this Thursday, Biden admitted he would still have tried to withdraw US troops out of Afghanistan even if his predecessor, Donald Trump, had not announced the pullout deal back in 2020.
REASONS NEVER MADE SENSE
The US prolonged campaign in Afghanistan raised many questions mainly after the defeat of Ben Laden and the US continued operations. The analysts wondered why they remained on the ground for a long time. Veteran Pentagon analyst Chuck Spinney believes that the reason why it continued for so long was money.
“A lot of the policy sheep were acquiring riches and status in America of our flawed adventure in Afghanistan, including those who opposed it!” he told Sputnik.
Meanwhile, historian and political commentator Dan Lazare believes that the US went into Afghanistan for “reasons that never made sense. ”
“The result: once the US pulled out, the hollow shell of an Afghan military collapsed before the first stiff breeze. Twenty years of the war on terror are ending with a dramatic Taliban victory. The “terrorists” have won,” he said.
The US mission in Afghanistan was a complete failure which was even worse the pullout of the US forces out of Vietnam, retired Canadian diplomat Patrick Armstrong, who served in Ottawa’s Embassy in Moscow, told Sputnik.
“A stunning and comprehensive defeat, worse than Vietnam. The “unipolar moment” ends in chaos and humiliation at Kabul airport: the hyperpower can’t even conduct a retreat,” he described the US operations after the Taliban took power in Kabul.
Meanwhile, Biden on Thursday stressed that he does not think the exit operation from Afghanistan could have been handled better. He also said that before he made a final decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, he met with all US allies, including NATO allies in Europe who agreed with his conclusion.
In recent days, the Kabul airport descended into chaos due to the intensity of flights evacuating diplomats and also as Afghans attempt to leave the country after the Taliban (terrorist group, banned in Russia) seized power. Earlier this week, Pentagon confirmed that the US forces killed two armed individuals at Kabul’s international airport in two separate security incidents as the stampede at the airport continued.
As the US was hastily withdrawing from Kabul, many analysts drew parallels to the infamous Fall of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital, during the Vietnam War in 1975. Back then, photos depicted people scrambling into a helicopter on a rooftop in Saigon, like the ones taken in Kabul now.
The whole phrase “the fall of Saigon” refers to the capture of Saigon by communist troops forces of the People’s Army of Vietnam. Like Kabul, the capture of the city was swifter than expected. The US abandoned its embassy and evacuated its citizens.
AFGHAN PEOPLE ARE THE ONES WHO SUFFER
Looking back at all US actions since 2001, one can say that Washington should never have invaded Afghanistan in the first place, Madelyn Hoffman, a longtime environmental and social justice activist, who was the Green Party candidate for the 2020 US Senate elections, told Sputnik.
“The U.S. has had multiple opportunities to acknowledge that and act upon it in the past nearly 20 years… The U.S. has had 20 years to prepare to exit — but seemed determined instead to stay in Afghanistan permanently, if necessary,” Hoffman, who is now running for the New Jersey governor, said.
In this war, it is the Afghan people who suffer most consequences, she said, recalling that the Afghan people wanted the US long out of their country.
“If this were about helping the Afghan people, the U.S. would have (even back in September 2001) pushed for talks among ALL the interested parties to address issues of concern about the state of affairs in Afghanistan and to avoid violence and war at all costs. Clearly, that wasn’t the original intention and now almost 20 years later, is STILL not the intention,” she added.
However, even in these circumstances, Washington will hardly take responsibility for the actions in Afghanistan.
“Remember that even as the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam in 1973 Richard Nixon dubbed it “Peace with Honor.” He never used the word “defeat,” nor did he apologize for all the death and destruction caused by the U.S. presence in Vietnam or the massive unauthorized bombing of Cambodia just before the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam,” Hoffman recalled.
So long years, the Afghans have been caught in the middle of a violent fight only for the sake of the protection of the economic interests of Washington, according to Hoffman.
“For the sake of the Afghan people, let’s hope that there will not be a repeat of the 1970s and 1980s or the 1990s or 2001- 2021 — but a real opportunity for the Afghan people to know peace for the first time in generations,” she concluded.