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We will never defeat the Taliban While the West fights an enemy that doesn't exist, Afghanistan is poised to fall to pieces

Another day of life in the graveyard of Empires. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada via Getty Images

Another day of life in the graveyard of Empires. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada via Getty Images


March 2, 2021   6 mins

The pair of towering Buddha statues in Bamiyan watched over Afghanistan’s Silk Road for fifteen centuries — until the Taliban came along and obliterated them using anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank mines and dynamite. When a video was released showing their destruction exactly 20 years ago, the West responded with unbridled horror. The Taliban Government, however, was resolute: idolatry had no place in their Afghanistan.

The statues’ demolition certainly lived up to the depiction of the Taliban in international media: they were a group of religious fundamentalists who beat women, banned music and measured the lengths of men’s beards to make sure they tallied with the religiously mandated length. This was the government of the day: coherent and imposing its will on the people of Afghanistan, whether they liked it or not.

But who are the Taliban now? Surely this is an important question, particularly if you are trying to work out what to do about Afghanistan; that country for which there were such high hopes after the supposed defeat of the Taliban in 2001, but which is currently disintegrating before our eyes. Yet those responsible for Afghanistan’s future don’t seem to be asking these questions. Which is, of course, one of the reasons that Afghanistan is collapsing. Nobody bothered to find out what the place was like.

Now, after nearly 20 years of hunting terrorists (Al Qaeda), conducting a counterinsurgency (against the Taliban), fighting a drugs war and developing the country, all foreign troops — including 2,500 Americans — are due to leave Afghanistan by the start of May.

This follows the signing of a peace accord between the US and the Taliban in February 2020. The agreement, which astonishingly was negotiated without the participation of the Afghan government, had few stipulations. The US would reduce its troop numbers and would release several thousand prisoners. The Taliban, meanwhile, would agree to peace talks with the Afghan government, and would prevent anyone using Afghan soil to threaten the United States and its allies.

In reality, this was not a peace agreement, but a fairly obvious smoke screen for a US withdrawal (much like, it has to be said, the Russian withdrawal 30 years earlier). The US had failed to achieve its goals and was leaving.

Since the signing of the accord, the US has broadly followed its side of the bargain, reducing troop numbers and releasing prisoners. The Taliban, however, have not — instead upping its attacks on the Afghan government, while stonewalling any attempts at negotiation.

And so reports from Afghanistan indicate that several provincial centres, including Kandahar, arguably the most important city in Afghanistan after Kabul, are in danger of falling from Afghan government control. Newly elected President Biden is said to be reconsidering whether it is safe for the US to be leaving Afghanistan at all.

All of which sounds like very sensible analysis, and reflects the sort of article you might read in the New York Times. But it is based on a massive assumption: that the Taliban are a coherent organisation with a defined membership, an organisational structure, a guiding framework of ideas and a leadership able to exert control over its fighters.

In turn, these assumptions support the so-called insurgency narrative: that the Afghan government and its international partners have been fighting an insurgency called the Taliban who grow drugs, throw acid in girls’ faces and are generally evil. In this telling, the Afghan government and its international friends are, by definition, good. It is a binary depiction of the war: good versus evil, black versus white, us versus them.

But what if this dynamic wasn’t actually what was generating most of the violence? For most of the violence in Afghanistan today is driven by hyper-local issues, such as land disputes, access to agricultural water, fights over drugs, generational feuds and abuses of administrative power. Indeed, when the Afghan communist party, heavily supported by the USSR, took power in a coup 43 years ago and precipitated a civil war which has been raging ever since, it unleashed a series of pent-up tensions in the country between conservatives and progressives, the educated and non-educated and, most importantly, between various local interest groups — mostly based on kinship — desperate to control their territories.

This same multifocal civil war continues today, with most of those people fighting the Government doing so for personal or local reasons. Perhaps they have had their land stolen by a warlord. Perhaps they are the victim of predatory behaviour from a local official and need to fight back to maintain their honour. Perhaps they are trying to sell their drugs, or protect their village, or enact a feud. The reasons are endless, but all of them are exacerbated by the fact that Afghanistan has nothing resembling a central government that adjudicates disputes and sets rules that apply to everyone. In fact, the Afghan government is as riven by local factional motivations as the Taliban.

What those on both sides do share, though, is a willingness to accept weapons from anyone — including, but not limited to, the Americans, the Russians, Pakistan and the Taliban — in order to pursue their own personal aims. Importantly, because of the strength of local issues in driving the conflict, the degree to which all these sponsors are able to control the on-the-ground actors is highly questionable.

So, what does this look like in a district in, for example, Kandahar Province? Imagine two villages, A and B. Running between these villages is a water course that both need for their agriculture. Because there hasn’t been a functioning government in Afghanistan for two-thirds of a lifetime — life expectancy is 65 — there is no functioning water management, and these villages are locked in a zero-sum battle over access to water (layered, no doubt, with multiple personal feuds).

Luckily, someone in village A has a relative in the provincial police and manages to have the village militia enrolled in it; they now have access to weapons and the confidence to label village B as “Taliban sympathisers” or some such slur. Village B, in response, decides to send an elder who fought in the mujahideen to the Taliban leadership in Quetta. When the elder says that village A are “westerners”, he is given enough weapons for village B to create their own militia.

Of course, whether village B accepts weapons from the Taliban before or after they are labelled “Taliban sympathisers” is a moot point — the key thing is that everyone is manipulating everyone else in order to access resources that will bolster their cause. That partly explains why commanders and militias change sides all the time, and most actors very sensibly maintain feet in both the government and Taliban camps.

In 2011, I remember meeting a local Taliban commander who had been welcomed into the Afghan government and supplied with motorbikes and weapons to form his own (government-aligned) village defence militia. He had switched back less than a month later: in Afghanistan, survival always trumps ideology. Even the Afghan government sometimes deploys the Taliban and ISIS as spectres to ensure funds and commitments from international partners, such as the US.

Yet this mythologised Taliban died in 2001, when Pakistani funding all but dried up. So to describe the country’s civil war without reference to its vast array of tribal alliances, as a recent New York Times article does, is to miss the fundamental point. Likewise, while it may be hard to describe exactly what the Taliban are, it is not difficult to describe what they are not; they are not, as this BBC article helpfully describes, a coherent organisation. But it is upon this assumption of Taliban coherence that the plans of the Afghan government, the US and all the other involved countries rest.

And that could have serious repercussions. For assuming that the US continues on their withdrawal (and other countries follow them, because they can’t exist without the massive US logistical footprint in the country), the country is going to fragment, much like it did in the 1990s when the Russians withdrew.

In a mirror of today, it was assumed then that the mujahideen, who fought the Russians throughout the 1980s, would take over the government. But they were utterly divided, more interested in pursuing personal interests, so they ended up fighting each other. History is meant to rhyme, and not repeat, but in Afghanistan, the latter seems highly plausible.

When I speak to friends in Kabul, they are terrified, and trying to get themselves and as many relatives as possible out of the country. Afghanistan, they say, is about to collapse into tens or hundreds of fiefdoms. Those over 35 or so have memories of the different factions fighting over Kabul in the early nineties — the rocket attacks, the rapes and the brutal pogroms inflicted on the neighbourhoods of opposing ethnicities. Afghanistan’s current leadership, whether government or Taliban, won’t be able to be control it any more than anyone else.

And so we come to the recurring question of the last 20 years: what should the US President do about Afghanistan? Well, President Biden, there are a number of practical decisions to take. If you want to stop Afghanistan splintering into random fiefdoms, you should keep a minimal number of troops in the country and spend enough money necessary to keep the national ring road open (there is only one main road in Afghanistan), and the provincial centres in government hands. Accept that you are there for the long haul, like in Germany or South Korea, and see it as part of your policy towards China, a neighbour with acute interests in Afghanistan and the surrounding countries.

But as you reconsider America’s policy towards Afghanistan, you would do well to remember that, above all else, you will not be able to beat the Taliban, because what you understand as the Taliban simply do not exist.


Mike Martin is a former British army officer and War Studies Visiting Fellow at King’s College London. His latest book is Why We Fight.

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Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

And so we come to the recurring question of the last 20 years: what should the US President do about Afghanistan? 
There is nothing that can be done short of a long, nasty, and expensive ground war that no one outside of the DC crowd and its defense contractors want. This is not so much a country as it is a series of warlords contained inside a common border.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Not really, the Afghani are always feircely Nationalist. The only thing ever to stop them fighting amongst themselves is all will team up to fight any invader. They hold great pride in the way no one can ever subjugate them.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 years ago

This is just another reason why we need more History graduates among the political classes than PPE Grads. Historians would be rather more wary of any engagement in that corner of the world.
From Alexander onwards, invading Afghanistan has ended badly for the invaders. (And badly for Afghans too)
In the days of “The Great Game” there were a small handful of British and Russian political officers who took the trouble of understanding the dynamics within Afghan tribal politics, thus learning who was who and what was what, and if given the time and the space they could perhaps have reached some settled outcome – but even at the time such men were scorned for having “gone native” by most of their military counterparts, and were thus largely ignored.
Time and again, larger, better equipped, armies have taken on the Afghans and assumed victory would be a formality. Only to leave years later, having inflicted misery on the Afghans yet having largely failed in their objectives.
I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

I basically agree with you – but your own history is a bit wrong. For example the invasion of Alexander was not a failure – it led to the Greek Kingdom of Bactria, which lasted a long time (nothing, anywhere, lasts for ever). Afghanistan has had periods of stability – both under domestic and under foreign rule, over the centuries. As well as period of chaos.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Marks

Because the Greeks married into the ruling families and sort of went native like the Normans did. GB, USSR, UK have not done this.

And the OP, how about the three Afghan wars fought by the British Raj? I do not think you really know how the Great Game worked, it was about keeping Russia out of Warm Water Ports and out of India – see that tiny spur of Afghanistan running up a vally to touch China? That was artificially given to Afghanistan to stop Russia and GB from having a border when Afghanistan was under British influence.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Agree. In any country, people need to be prepared to think beyond, family, clan or valley; this does not occur in many troubled parts of the World. Afghanistan was quiet when it was run by a Pushtun Monarchy. As the Pushtuns are the largest tribe well they ever be happy in Afghanistan if they do not provide a King?
Should the borders of Central Asia/Western Asia be redrawn to reflect race and religion not post 1850 politics? The best legal agreement is when both sides are happy.
Two aspects which no longer occur.

  1. Central Asians are no longer enslaving Christian Slavs which was the reason for Russia to move south.
  2. Central Asians are no longer raiding down to Delhi.

Therefore what would be the danger of a Pushtun Homeland, covering Afghanistan and Pakistan be to the surrounding area ?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

First, no one is redrawing any borders. You touch on the Pashtun, they are all about honor, that is more important than life to them, this needs to be understood as Westerners have no code of honour anymore we cannot understand them. Try reading about Pashtuwali, the code of the Pashtun, although WIKI will give its biased account of it.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I know about their code of honour. I also know many Pushtun feel to be second class citizens in Pakistan, hence my comments.

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago

Afghanistan was not always a dreadful place – as recently as the 1960s, under the monarchy, it was fairly stable and having some progress. But I doubt any return to that state of affairs is likely – so it is indeed time to leave.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Marks

After the King set up a Constitutional Monarchy mid 60s the Kings cousin (PM) was bought by the commie Russians and took over from the King, later exiling him in 1973. They could not hold and so Russia invaded to keep their puppet going in 79, a year which shook the world with these events, Iran, and elsewhere. Afganistan was a lovely place back then in many ways, but under the King and his skill as a strong man who also let the local leaders rule themselves in a way like the USA states self govern wile the Fed has the National powers over their self governing local jurisdictions. I do not think this will ever return.

Stan Konwiser
Stan Konwiser
3 years ago

Excellent analysis. This is another example of the West foreign service ‘Experts’ view of the world from their own perspective. They are repeatedly shocked and dismayed that those they are negotiating and making deals with do not think like a Westerner. The Iranian Mullahs, the Afghan warlords, the Chinese CCP, the North Korean dictators; all take advantage of the West’s willingness to believe that a deal is a deal.

The Jerusalem Accords were a first step that appealed to the actual interests of the players. Unfortunately, those actors have been pushed off the stage. John Kerry, who said such agreements were impossible, is back in the driver’s seat.

When will we ever learn?

Tony Felix
Tony Felix
3 years ago
Reply to  Stan Konwiser

I don’t think the west thinks a deal is a deal either and Kissinger’s duplicity over the Vietnam peace accords not to mention the many other broken US and other western power treaties bear witness.

Stan Konwiser
SK
Stan Konwiser
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Felix

Your point is a good one. What I might not have made clear was that the West does not attempt to see things from the other’s perspective: The Iranian Mullas are driven by religious ideology, they are not going to change their clearly stated goals through negotiation.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Stan Konwiser

Read the The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk and one will realise that today’s “Experts ” expertise. To have an appreciation of reality one needs to speak the languages; work with the people for decades and have experience passed down by one’s superiors over generations. A doctorate in International Relations does not supply the experience.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Try reading the excellent Christine Lamb’s books on Afghanistan – they are the best you can get to begin to understand the situation. Her story of riding through Kabul on the back of a motorcycle driven by a Mujahideen was wild, but I rode through the streets of Kabul on a motercycle driven by a Dominican Priest once, and very fast and wildly driven too. Good times….

Earl King
Earl King
3 years ago

Much like the old axiom “never get in to a land war with China”, Afghanistan has defeated other empires…Russian, British and now American. We never did the things necessary to subjugate it. Burning all the opium crops for example. I am sure there was a logical reason we didn’t. It however left the warlords with income. Income to continue their Tribal warfare. Someone will fill the vacuum, mostly likely China.

Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
3 years ago
Reply to  Earl King

I’m not sure what that old axiom could mean or whether it even exists. China has been successfully invaded many times in its long history, most notably by the Mongols and the Manchus. However since the prestige of Chinese civilisation in east Asia is so high, the invading peoples have always been absorbed to a large degree, if not totally.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Well, yes, but we have know for the best part of 20 years that the Taliban cannot be defeated, nor Afghanistan turned into something resembling a functioning state. Let the Chinese try if they want to.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I have the feeling that they would not let a trivial consideration such as human rights slow them down and so they could well succeed in a relatively short timeframe

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

The Chinese can barely control Chinese Turkestan although they took in back in the 1930s and have never been constrained by human rights. Afghanistan would be their Waterloo, at least in how subduing it would show the world their real ways.

Rafael Aguilo
Rafael Aguilo
3 years ago

“The statues’ demolition certainly lived up to the depiction of the Taliban in international media: they were a group of religious fundamentalists who beat women, banned music and measured the lengths of men’s beards to make sure they tallied with the religiously mandated length. This was the government of the day: coherent and imposing its will on the people of Afghanistan, whether they liked it or not.”
It’s beyond comprehension why would ANYONE even entertain the idea that they have changed their mindset. RELIGION is, and will always be a fundamental part of the calculation, no ands, ifs, or buts. There’s a 10 year time limit on “peace” treaties with infidels. Read about the treaty of Hudaibiya.
On the local front; the writers of the Afghanistan Constitution tied their country’s hands behind its back from the get go:
“CHAPTER ONE: STATE
Article One
Afghanistan shall be an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.
Article Two
The sacred religion of Islam is the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Followers of other faiths shall be free within the bounds of law in the exercise and performance of their religious rituals.
Article Three
No law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan.
People are trying to kind of have it both ways. The Taliban follows Sharia 100%, their opponents don’t; otherwise they would behave exactly the same way as the Taliban. Those fighting the Taliban want freedoms that a literal practice of Sharia would NEVER accept, making themselves into “enemies of Islam” in the Taliban eyes.
The West has learned, the HARD way, to accept separation of Church and State. That will NEVER happen there, as per their Constitution. See the main contradiction? ANYONE thinking the Taliban will see the light, and just melt away is delusional.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Rafael Aguilo

Well… Sharia is not all it is. The Taliban were created in the 1970s by Saudi really. After Russia invaded USA and KSA agreed to spend dollar for dollar to get Russia out, ISI managing USA military $, KSA doing their own thing.

What KSA did was open lots of Madrassas in the Western Frontier, free to Afghani boys. They were Deobandi, but with the strong Whabbi Salifist influence. An Islamic believes if a son can memorize the Koran (become Hafiz) his parents go to heaven, and that one son becoming a religious scholar is great indeed, and memorizing the whole Koran in original Arabic (which Afghani do not understand) was the main purpose of these Madrassas, and brutal they ware, and taught the philosophy of fanaticism… BUT, and this bit is vital, were also based on Pashtunwali, the code of the Pashtun, one of Pure Honour, one which says if a man strikes you you must kill him. One which says a man’s honour is based on his family, thus the amazing restraints on the women, that an insult to family must be repayed by death, that first is Islam, then Family, then Tribe and insult to any must be answered with death.

Fighting with people who place honour above life is almost impossible unless you exterminate them.

Talib is the word for Student, and Taliban are the students from these schools, hard as nails, local, and fanatical. They are not foreign though, but are the same people who have held these lands for millennium, just armed and honed by KSA extremism. They have no interest in exporting their ways, they are Pashtun and that is what they care about.

The only way to defeat them is for the culture to evolve past them, and that is not easy, they are Afghani to the core, although very old fashioned.

Rafael Aguilo
Rafael Aguilo
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“Fighting with people who place honour above life is almost impossible unless you exterminate them.” – This, when you cement religion into the mix, becomes the perfect storm, especially if that person believes in the rewards of a “paradise” for fighting and dying in battle in the name of his religion; such as the promise of having access to 72 virgins would have in the mind of a religiously imposed sex deprived male fighter.
The fact that the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan happened in the 7th Century can’t be ignored. The religion is not a “Johnny come lately” occurrence. Multiple generations of Afghans have been religiously indoctrinated into the belief that the concept of separation of Church and State is, fundamentally, a mortal enemy of Islam. No two ways about it. The Madrassas cemented that thought even deeper.

Charles Knapp
Charles Knapp
3 years ago

Interesting and thought provoking analysis. In the US, the mental template is the Vietnam War which we exited by negotiating our “peace with honor” without any real input from our South Vietnam ally. After our withdrawal, the North violated the agreement and unified the country. As far as our media is concerned, that will be the likely result of our Afghanistan adventure.

Martin provides an important corrective by reminding us of some important historical background – and, as in Vietnam, it’s history didn’t seem a relevant concern. And that places things in a very different light.

If China is so interested in Afghanistan, I wonder how that would manifest itself if/when the US withdraws. And what would both India and Pakistan make of any Chinese intervention, whether it be military or economic.

Tony Felix
Tony Felix
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Knapp

I don’t think there was any peace with honour in America’s withdrawal from Vietnam nor did Kissinger and Nixon really care. They just wanted out and deceived the American people. The north had no intention of complying and the results are clear to see. Afghanistan feels so similar to this apart from there being no coherent body to take over the country. The US does need to get out and stop intervening in other peoples business. It seems to only make things worse.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Felix

Actually the USA had won the Vietnam war in as far as the spread of Communism from China was ended as a domino chain, and so it was time to leave – and rightly so as Communism did not move on to the rest of the region which it would have if USA had not shown it was not going to put up with more. It was – OK have Vietnam like you got N Korea, but NO MORE.

Nixon told Congress to give him power to win in Vietnam (which would be very costly in military lives, civilian lives, and money, too much for voters to tolerate) or he was out. Congress said it would only keep the war going as the stalemate, so Nixon said get out. And he did, but he know China was stopped.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

There was an alternative. The fall of Singapore destroyed western military credibility in Asia. Vichy French support of Japan further damaged credibility. It took the British one to two years to learn to fight in the jungle. The OSS working in Vietnam told everyone the Vietnamese would not accept the return of the French. Mounbatten told du Clerc to return to Vietnam with humility, his advice was ignored. The Vietnamese were primarily nationalistic and secondarily communist. British jungle fighters were brought in 1946, defeated the Vietminh ,killed about 2500 Vietminh for a loss of 40 and were called back for other duties. The French soldiers who replaced them had no jungle fighting experience. One can only train for jungle fighting by training in it, hence it is is part of British infantry training ( trained by men from Borneo ) since Burma and the Chindits.
France could have negotiated a withdrawal and leaving a Jugoslavia type country; nationalist first, communist secondary and antipathetic to China. The Chinese have treated the Vietnamese as inferior for hundreds of years; there is no love lost between these peoples.

Charles Knapp
Charles Knapp
3 years ago
Reply to  Tony Felix

Apparently you missed the significance of my scare quotes around “peace with honor”. How can it at all be honorable to leave your supposed ally high and try.

People have forgotten the extent of the domestic politicking involved. Nixon put the onus on Congress to fund any US military retaliation for North Vietnamese violations and when funds were not forthcoming, he blamed Congress.

You and I are actually in agreement.

Phil Bolton
Phil Bolton
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Knapp

Your comment about China was exactly what I was wondering. I would like to have had further information or theories about what China might want and do there, and bearing in mind that the two primary global countries of the past 50 years have both admitted defeat there, how would they achieve those aims and succeed where USA and Russia have failed?

Gary Greenbaum
Gary Greenbaum
3 years ago

Keeping the provincial centers in government hands isn’t really leaving. Keeping the road open isn’t really leaving. Viewing Afghanistan as a base for the containment of China isn’t really leaving. Not leaving involves fighting people who want us out, and we have not been successful in stopping them in twenty years.
It’s time to leave. Protect our embassy, threaten to drone the bejesus out of anyone who threatens us militarily, and leave.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago

The pair of towering Buddha statues in Bamiyan watched over Afghanistan’s Silk Road for fifteen centuries — until the Taliban came along and obliterated them using anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank mines and dynamite.
So the Taliban were Woke a head of time

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

No one ever mentions the other thing of blowing up the Great Buddas, which is the lands there (Bamian) are Hazra, a very distinct people, Mongol in face, and ancient remains of those hordes. They are Shia where Pashtun are Sunni, and some issues have always been between them, basically the Hazra being underclass and forming the traditional servant class outside their lands. After ‘Liberation’ from the Russians the Hazra tried for independence and they always did love their Buddhas as a sign of their lands antiquity, and also as a source of income as they are a wonder of the world – and the Talib may have blown them up to punish the Hazra, or so I have heard.

(Islam does have the policy of ‘Defacing’ idols, which leterally means smashing its nose off, which renders it impotent. You see this throughout the ME) but does not require totally destroying them.)

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
3 years ago

Thanks for this piece.
I keep thinking that Afghanistan has never constituted itself as a productive place since the fall of the last Mongol Khanates in the 1330’s. Under the Khans, people could traverse one end to the other in something approaching security. Perhaps, crudely, that is not a bad way to think of it.
My own view: It’s long past time to leave. An alternative to occupying every place in the world is relationship management: t*t-for-tat. That is, reserve military activity for punitive actions alone with the aim of deterring hostilities in the first place. That may sound harsh, but what alternatives are there, honestly, other than indefinite occupation? And, further, if no external had started mucking around in Afghanistan in the late 70’s, then perhaps Afghanistan might have achieved some degree of consolidation by now.

Last edited 3 years ago by Chauncey Gardiner
Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago

Afghanistan isn’t actually of much (if any) strategic importance to the US (or the UK for that matter). Why should the west continue to pay blood and treasure to defend China’s investments in Afghanistan, if the Chinese want to fight for them let them do it. It’s no concern of ours. Let the Afghans live in their miserable, violent, backward failed state if they want to.

Stephen Kennedy
Stephen Kennedy
3 years ago

’If you want to stop Afghanistan splintering into random fiefdoms’. Well, there may be reasons, but I did not read any in the article. If it is to prevent another 9/11, I don’t see the utility, we would need to be occupying the entire World, for example a lot of 9/11 planning supposedly happened in Germany. If everyone left, they could fight it out among themselves. Typically, one group becomes the strongest and unifies the country … might take centuries. There doesn’t seem to be any great interest for the US there.

Bruno Magnien
Bruno Magnien
3 years ago

The answer to the title is no…… America stepped into a historical war they understand little about, like many other conflicts…. Unfortunately the best thing America and the West can do is to draw back and let them get on with it!!

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago

Thanks Mike.

eugene power
eugene power
3 years ago

Sounds like Capn Mercers experience in Ghan

Ars Hendrik
Ars Hendrik
3 years ago

It’s a complete capitualtion by the USA (and every other Western interest) abandoning the country to the same Taliban it was ‘won’ from. I heard a woman on Radio 4 today talking about female empowerment and the rights of women in the country – the same country that is about to be handed back to the beheaders and stoners.
You are right, the Taliban does not exist, not as an independent army or group. It lives in the villages and towns of the country, always there and always waiting; prosecuting a version of Islam that has countless adherents.
The idea that Taliban-lite, with its promises of equality and cooperation with the Afghan government, will be true to its word are zero. No one, not even the Taliban, believes this.
In our shame we’ll walk away and throw the country back to the wolves. Realistically, we were never going to make a difference anyway.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Ars Hendrik

It was won from the Mujahideen really, who won it from the Russians.

But an odd land, especially with the women. The saying ‘She was such a good woman she did not even own a Burqa’ does not mean what you might think. An Afghani woman must wear a Bruqua to go outside, or if non-family is inside. It covers the top of the head to the feet, arms and all, the face is a heavy mesh you can not see through, but she can see through it. See- what it means is she NEVER went outside. From girhood till married was inside her parents house, married she traveled in a tent to her in-laws house, and never went outside that till removed in a burial shroud. This would be the ideal, ideal as it meant there could NEVER be a suspicion she damaged the family honour. But for all that one cannot help admiring the people, and they are the most photogenic lands and people in the world, and one never forgets Afghanistan.

Ars Hendrik
Ars Hendrik
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Thanks for your reply Sanford.
I wonder, was there ever a time a woman there could go out without her head/arms/legs covered – safely of course. If so, when would that have been?

Pierre Mauboussin
Pierre Mauboussin
3 years ago

There are two phases to US military involvement in Afghanistan. The first phase was post-2001, with the limited goal of removing the Taliban from power and removing Afghanistan as a base of operations for al Qaeda. On the one hand, the objectives here were limited, and on the other the US was prepared to use whatever means were necessary (including B52 raids) to achieve them. US Special Forces provided a welcome amount of arbitration among competing factions, but otherwise did not intervene. Most importantly, there was no attempt to create a strong central government. The second phase started when the delusional Bush administration decided to get NATO involved and move on to ‘nation building,’ forgetting that it was the Communists’ attempt to create a strong, ‘progressive,’ central government that produced the Islamic insurgency to begin with. All that the Afghan factions want is a light central government that can provide impartial mediation and a modicum of payoffs to help local leaders cement their position, which is what the US provided in the first phase. To restore that modicum of stability, we would have to weaken the Afghan central state (correctly seen only as another corrupt and brutal faction) and go back to impartial mediation and support of local leaders against the central government. If the US withdraws, ‘stability’ of a sort will be restored by some faction or the Chinese, who will have no qualms about using whatever level of brutality is needed to to achieve it.

Last edited 3 years ago by Pierre Mauboussin
Jennifer Britton
Jennifer Britton
3 years ago

President Biden has no good choice on US involvement in Afghanistan. If the US pulls out, it will save US lives, money, and political aggravation, good things.

However, it will be abandoning Afghan women who were counting on the US to help them get out from under the misogynistic cruelty of the Taliban.

Afghanistan is not so much a country as a collective of warring tribes who come together only when a non- Afghan entity trues to make the country more cohesive and committed to a humane and legitimate government. But for that kind of government to come into existence, tribal loyalties have to take a backseat to Afghan loyalty.

The financially best thing that Biden can do is to pull out our troops and secure the US from malefactors such as Bin Laden. The ethical action, however, has to offer refuge to those Afghan women who went out on a limb for the US in the fight against the Taliban.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
3 years ago

Why should we bother further with these people? It’s time to let the military-industrial-media complex and its hangers-on wither on the vine.

philipjhatton
philipjhatton
3 years ago

The one initiative that worked in Marjah was the very simple expedient of buying off the militias. Virtually overnight the daily volume of TIC’s declined by 80%. Clearly there was something going on out there that we could not address. One warlord claimed to have driven the Taliban out of central Marjah. When asked how many this had affected, he replied “2”. Someone had kidnapped his nephew

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
3 years ago

I’ve never understood why the West stayed a minute longer, once Al quaeda was routed. If the Afghans want to live in a middle ages theocracy.that’s their business, and not a single British or american live should have been wasted trying to civilise them