A Brief History of the Latest War in Afghanistan
Let's face it, if not for the hand-woven wool rugs and foreign invasions, we would take little notice of Afghanistan. It is of little strategic importance to the United States. In addition to being called "The Graveyard of Empires," it is also considered the crossroads of Asia—giving it the same geopolitical importance to Asia as Indianapolis, Indiana is to the United States. Ever since the days of the "Silk Road" (should be plural), Afghanistan has been a route to somewhere else more than a destination.
The Soviet Union fought there for 10 years. Theirs was a nation-building exercise seeking to secure the friendly, Marxist government there from Muslim fundamentalist militias. There was some strategic importance to the Soviet Union as a buffer to western influence and a toehold in the spheres of Chinese and Indian influence. This attempt at nation-building ended as all such attempts are destined to end, catastrophic failure. The Soviets withdrew in 1989, leaving behind military equipment, Volga cabs, medical clinics, industrial enterprises, academic institutions, transportation infrastructures, and its soldiers' heads to be used in the Afghan version of polo (Buzkashi).
Not to be outdone by those commies, everyone knew the United States could bungle it even better. The original reason for interceding in Afghanistan came after the attacks on September 11, 2001. With intelligence services concluding that the attacks were an al Qaeda—I'd like to buy a u Pat-operation, the US wanted to interview its acknowledged leader Osama bin Laden. The Taliban government, led by Mohammad Omar, refused President George W. Bush's demand to "deliver to [the] United States authorities all the leaders of al-Qaeda who hide in your land," who they called guests in their country. Thus began the plans for leadership change in Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials were wisely concerned about becoming involved in a protracted occupation like the Russians had two decades earlier. The initial attempt at regime change involved a CIA team called Jawbreaker working with anti-Taliban leaders. Many former leaders of the mujahideen did not want to be part of a Taliban caliphate and formed their personal regions of influence within Afghanistan and northern neighboring countries—Pakistan was reliably pro-Taliban. US and British special forces joined with Jawbreaker to train, arm, and assist the regional "warlords" and their contingents. Within two months the Taliban left Kabul without a fight. Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, fell three weeks later. The primary mission was completed with US air support but without a large commitment of US troops. Mission accomplished, at least for the Afghans.
Then phase two began, finding Osama bin Laden and any remnants of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. This part may be justifiable considering holding al Qaeda leaders accountable as part of the President's original goal. Bin Laden was not alone and had several experienced guerilla fighters protecting him and his lieutenants. More troops and equipment were brought in to assist with the search and deal with al Qaeda and the Taliban fighters. There was no obvious mission creep at this time. We wanted bin Laden and we had reason to believe he might still be in-country in one of the many cave systems in the mountains along the southern and eastern borders.
Omar and his top deputies settled in and around the city of Quetta, Pakistan near the northeast border. Old One Eye directed what was now an insurgency from there. On a historical note, there were once two Pakistans: East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)—which was more aligned with the major religions of India—and West Pakistan (current Pakistan)—of which Muslims were the controlling majority. They both came as a result of the British East India Company and the British Raj abandoning rule of the Indian subcontinent. The new borders were drawn by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer, with no knowledge of the region, who was given five days to redraw all the borders of South Asia. The name itself, Pakistan, is actually an acronym for Punjab, Afghan Border States, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan. I realize I have now violated both the "Brief" and "Afghanistan" portions of the title of this article/essay/narrative.
Bush recruited other nations to assist in what had become nation-building. Unrelated to bin Laden, Operation Anaconda, which involved US, Afghan, special operations forces from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, and Norway against about 800 al Qaeda and Taliban militants. Combined with Bush's "Marshall Plan" announced at the Virginia Military Institute, mission creep and nation-building were now components of official policy. It was believed that bin Laden was trapped in his mountain stronghold, Tora Bora, but was smuggled into Pakistan with the help of Afghan and Pakistani forces that were supposed to be our allies. The battle of Tora Bora became a campaign issue in 2004 when John Kerry questioned why Afghan forces were allowed to lead the attack on Tora Bora instead of US troops. Bush was elected for a second term with a minority of the popular vote and mission creep continued.
To further impede the mission's success, G. W. Bush and his friends decided to open another front in Iraq. I have to admit, I was sucked in by the faulty intelligence and could not understand how all of our Afghanistan allies, except Britain, opted out. Whether or not he remembered the major reason that the Soviet Union was unsuccessful in Afghanistan, he decided to divert funds, equipment, and military personnel to a new war. This wasn't the same feel-good, provoked by an invasion conflict his father engaged in. We were largely on our own and largely unappreciated this time. Although Donald Rumsfeld announced an end to "major combat" in Afghanistan on the same day as Bush's "Mission Accomplished" photo-op, both wars would continue for several years. At this time, there were 8,000 troops in Afghanistan.
The mission now included keeping the Taliban out of power whether al Qaeda was there or not. Both troops and equipment were added to bolster the cause. Does this seem like a familiar pattern? Do you remember how the entire Middle East was going to be transformed by invading Iraq and triggering regime change? Why we always choose nations that have been historically tribal and created by foreign empires, to unite the people democratically remains a mystery to me.
Mission creep had made it so that "Mission Accomplished" did not apply to either war. Mistakenly believing that with the election of a president and formation of a parliament, the Taliban and al Qaeda were contained, and democracy was assured, focus shifted to the war in Iraq. Commanders in the field knew different. The Taliban were well funded, by the opium poppy trade and wealthy middle eastern benefactors and were building up their army.
Sure, Bush started the whole thing, but the citizens of the US and allied nations were largely on board due to the direct attack on 9/11. Also, he was only responsible for the first seven and a half years of the war. It took Barrack Obama to continue it from there and I must hold him at least equally accountable.
Of the four Presidents who were and are Commanders-in-Chief during the Afghanistan conflict, I believe President Barrack Obama was the most intelligent and should have known better. I know, as a senator, he voted against the invasion of Iraq and said that Afghanistan was the war where all of our efforts should be directed. As part of a political campaign, that was the correct assessment. Problems arose when he drank the "let's build democratic nations" Kool-Aid. The Taliban were operating a guerilla insurgency. Obama began a counter-insurgency by adding, in February 2009, 17,000 US troops in addition to the 36,000 US troops and 32,000 NATO troops already. It is important to note here that the original mission, removing the Taliban, was accomplished with special forces and regional warlords. This vast increase in military presence can only be attributed to our illogical desire to rebuild countries with few or no similarities to us in our own image. In December of the same year, he announced the addition of 30,000 soldiers to take place the following summer. The mission was now out of control. With the killing of Osama bin Laden and the exile of other al Qaeda leaders, the original mission was complete. The steady withdrawal of troops should have begun in the autumn of 2009. I repeat, Obama should have known better. Possibly realizing his mistake, Obama began troop withdrawal in 2011.
In 2016 the unthinkable happened. A malignant narcissus with no foreign policy experience and zero experience in governing was elected President of the United States. The "Trump Doctrine"—an oxymoron since there was never enough reasoning or organization to be considered a doctrine—was an incoherent mixture of brain farts, ravings, and heeding the wishes of his foreign handlers. He took little note of Afghanistan and probably could not find it on a map. Reversing his earlier statements concerning an immediate exit, Trump stated US soldiers must "fight to win." As much as possible, he avoided the Afghanistan situation after that.
In 2018, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (the presumed leader of a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan) was released from a Pakistani prison after pressure from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Whether he suspected he might lose in November and wanted to set a trap for his successor or just in keeping with his "to hell with the consequences, I can do anything" pathologic personality, Trump began negotiating with the Taliban without any Afghan government presence. In exchange for not attacking US troops and some promises that the Taliban probably had no intention of honoring, Trump agreed to withdraw all US troops by May 1, 2021, and release 5,000 Taliban prisoners from Afghan prisons—something that was under the purview of the Afghan government and not the US.
Whether he and his supporters ever acknowledge it or not, Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden. Amid threats and after an unsuccessful insurrection, President Joseph R. Biden took office on January 21, 2021. The deadline Trump negotiated was only 100 days away and without the normal head start an administration is traditionally given. Biden decides that the May 1 deadline cannot be met. At a rally in June, Trump brags that Biden is powerless to stop the process he started and acknowledges that the Afghan government will fall once the US leaves. Biden initially announced a 9/11 deadline for complete withdrawal, but late changed it to August 31. The Taliban took Kabul on August 15, much quicker than the President anticipated, but he kept to the August 31 deadline.
The withdrawal was messy, with terrorist attacks and many left behind, but the nearly 20-year war was over. President Biden immediately came under attack, mostly from Republicans and the right-wing media sources that are their mouthpieces. The Republican party unofficially declared moral bankruptcy many years ago, but it seems they have added memory loss to their arsenal of evil. They have conveniently forgotten Trump's negotiations in their criticisms much like selective dementia has caused their inability to recall the events of January 6, 2021.