International Affairs

America’s Choices and an Unstable Afghanistan

American military interventions globally have been called to question, following the footprints of catastrophic genocides that countries have passed through at America’s exit, due to the emergence of armed groups that put the incumbent regimes on their tenterhooks, with a view to toppling them.

This assertion may have been proved right as President Joe Biden recently addressed Americans on the development in Afghanistan and what America’s interests are in that region.

Biden’s statement read in part: “We went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals: get those who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, and make sure Al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again. We did that. We severely degraded Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. We never gave up the hunt for Osama bin Laden and we got him.

“I’ve argued for many years that our mission should be narrowly focused on counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency or nation-building. That’s why I opposed the surge when it was proposed in 2009 when I was Vice President. And that’s why as President I’m adamant we focus on the threats we face today, in 2021, not yesterday’s threats.

“Today, a terrorist threat has metastasized well beyond Afghanistan. Al Shabab in Somalia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Nusra in Syria, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia. These threats warrant our attention and our resources. We conduct effective counterterrorism missions against terrorist groups in multiple countries where we don’t have permanent military presence. If necessary, we’ll do the same in Afghanistan. We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the direct threats to the United States in the region, and act quickly and decisively if needed.”

He asserted that Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country, the Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight, adding that the developments of the past weeks reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.

He lamented that American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.

According to him, “And our true strategic competitors, China and Russia, would love nothing more than the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely.”

The President explained that he had urged the government of Afghanistan to engage in diplomacy, to seek a political settlement with the Taliban, but his advice was flatly refused as Mr. Ghani insisted the Afghan forces would fight, but obviously he was wrong.

Unfortunately,President Ashraf Ghani has fled Afghanistan, thereby effectively ceding power to the Taliban that was toppled by the United States, as they reached the capital, Kabul, to seal a nationwide military victory.

There is no indication where Ghani was going at the time, but leading Afghan media group, Tolo News, suggested he was heading to Tajikistan. Ghani’s departure from office was one of the key demands of the Taliban in months of peace talks with the government, but he had stubbornly clung to power.

The Taliban said they wanted a “peaceful transfer” within the next few days; two decades after US-led forces toppled it in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Currently, the United States has been moving its citizens out of the country, with the help of thousands of troops deployed to the capital’s airport to assist with the evacuation.

President Joe Biden had announced in May that the final withdrawal of the US military presence in Afghanistan would be completed by September 11. George Bush, however, warned that it will have serious consequences for the region and the world.

Some analysts opined that the Islamic State, al-Qaeda-linked groups, Boko Haram, and other extremist movements are protagonists in today’s deadliest crises, complicating all efforts to end them.

They asserted that they have exploited wars, state collapse, and geopolitical upheavals in the Middle East, gained new footholds in Africa, and continue to pose an evolving threat elsewhere. Reversing their gains, therefore, requires avoiding the mistakes that enabled their rise.

By and large, the IS, al-Shabaab, extremist groups, and local al-Qaeda leaders have spread to Mali, Algeria, Libya, and Somalia. Boko Haram’s joining of IS in March 2015 still plagues the Lake Chad Basin today.

On June 22, the former President of America, Barrack Obama, announced an accelerated timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, saying that the United States had largely achieved its goals by disrupting al-Qaeda’s operations and killing many of its leaders.

French former President, Nicolas Sarkozy, also announced that France would also begin to withdraw its 4,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.

In September, efforts to end the long-running conflict suffered a setback when Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan President and a key figure in reconciliation negotiations, was assassinated by a suicide bomber.

A series of incidents in early 2012 heightened tensions between the U.S. and the Afghan government and provoked public outrage. In mid-January, a video showing U.S. Marines urinating on dead Afghans circulated in the media, leading to riots and protests by Afghans.

The Taliban suspended participation in talks with the United States and the Afghan government following the alleged killings of 17 Afghans, mostly women and children, by a U.S. soldier

Later that year, NATO’s efforts to train and equip the Afghan army and police were hampered as these turned their weapons on NATO soldiers, leading to the suspension of the training of certain units.

Meanwhile, in early 2012, U.S. and Afghan negotiators reached agreements regarding two issues that had been sources of friction between the Obama and Karzai administrations concerning detainees and night raids, which they said violated Afghan sovereignty.

In late September 2014, Ashraf Ghani was finally inaugurated as President and immediately signed the Bilateral Security Agreement, which authorised an international force of approximately 13,000 to remain in the country. The U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in Afghanistan on December 28, 2014.

Between 2010 and 2012, the US had more than 100,000 soldiers in the country and the cost of the war grew to almost $100 billion a year, according to US government figures.

According to the US Department of Defense, the total military expenditure in Afghanistan (from October 2001 until September 2019) had reached $778 billion.

In addition, the US State Department – along with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other government agencies – spent $44 billion on reconstruction projects. That brings the total cost – based on official data – to $822 billion between 2001 and 2019, but this did not include the spending in Pakistan, which the US uses as a base for Afghan-related operations.

According to a Brown University study in 2019, which has looked at war spending in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US had spent around $978 billion (their estimate also included money allocated for the 2020 fiscal year).

The UK and Germany – who had the largest numbers of troops in Afghanistan after the US – spent an estimated $30 billion and $19 billion respectively, over the course of the war.

Despite pulling out nearly all their troops, the US and NATO have promised a total of $4 billion a year until 2024, to fund Afghanistan’s own forces.

So far this year, NATO has sent $72 million worth of supplies and equipment to Afghanistan.

Since the war against the Taliban began in 2001, there have been more than 3,500 coalition deaths, of which more than 2,300 have been US soldiers. More than 450 UK troops have died and 20,660 US soldiers have been injured in action.

Brown University’s research in 2019 estimated the loss of life amongst the national military and police in Afghanistan to be more than 64,100 since October 2001, and nearly 111,000 civilians have been killed or injured.

Some foreign affairs commentators argued that now that the Afghan government has been toppled by the Taliban, unless Western states make an open-ended commitment of troops at far higher levels than seem possible, the new regime of the Taliban is almost irreversible.

There appears to be an American policy designed to promote pure American interest and perpetuate instability in particular regions of the world. It was the case with America’s intervention in Iraq, Libya and Syria. While America could not remain in Afghanistan forever, the manner of the Biden administration’s withdrawal of the US troops in Afghanistan has only fueled some new crisis that has brought shame to America and its allies in the West, and victory to the Taliban, but quite some uncertainties to the people of Afghanistan.



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