The US Biden administration seems to be following through on its promise, for now, to end the longest war in US history. But is the withdrawal of troops going to mean the end of US presence inside Afghanistan, or is there more than meets the eye going on here?
According to the former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who rose to power following the US overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, says that the country is in complete ruin and the war reigning through successive US administrations has proven a failure.
Elaborating to The Times, Karzai said the following:
“Look at the scene. We are in shambles. The country is in conflict. There is immense suffering for the Afghan people. How did the American-Nato exercise in Afghanistan lead to this? Those who came here 20 years ago in the name of fighting extremism and terrorism not only failed to end it but, under their watch, extremism in Afghanistan has flourished. That is what I call a failure.”
In December 2001, Time Magazine released an issue on which the front page read “The Last Days Of The Taliban”, but after 20 years of war in the country NATO forces, led by the United States, have not achieved a decisive defeat against them. Instead, the illicit drug trade has grown with NATO’s presence, the Taliban has captured more territory than ever before and have access to most of the roads throughout the country.
The Taliban came about as a result of US, UK and Saudi intelligence backing Mujahideen forces during their fight against the army of the Soviet Union, which occurred in the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s. Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which the US used as its basis for invading and occupying the country, also came out of the same project of financing radicals in the Mujahideen as well.
When it came to US government involvement in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war, the US left the country for dead after it had achieved its strategic goal and did nothing to remedy the situation which had arisen in the country. Operating like rogue gangsters, after taking control of different areas of the country, much of the Mujahideen groups engaged in all out warfare with each other. This is not to mention that the war, which the US, UK and Saudi Arabia had partaken in, created millions of refugees which they did not take care of. In fact, the Taliban largely rose out of Pakistan with Saudi Arabia’s financing, something that the CIA was aware of.
The situation was so bad that, when the Taliban eventually came to take Afghanistan, much of the country did not show any sign of resistance. It is only later when harsh Wahabbist restrictions, accompanied by ultra-conservative cultural norms, were implemented by force in the country that people began to come into such opposition. All this time, however, the US did not even pretend to care for the people of Afghanistan.
The longest war in US history has cost the lives of over 47,600 civilians, according to conservative estimates, with many others placing the death toll even higher. With a constant Taliban advance, forcing Afghan security forces to retreat from several areas of the country, the death and destruction is also far from over. Yet the US Biden Administration is treating this withdrawal as a type of moral victory, mentioning all the deaths of US and NATO invading forces above the Afghan lives lost.
So What Is Next?
Afghanistan is a country which possesses trillions in rare earth minerals, something that both the United States and China are bidding to get their hands on. The biggest difficulty with Afghanistan however, is extracting and transporting those minerals safely and efficiently. Currently, the security situation in the country is far from stable. On top of this, the nation’s transportation infrastructure is just not there for operations of such magnitude.
The first step for any country seeking to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, is to stabilize the domestic security situation. As the Taliban have been allowed to flourish and crushing them at this point would prove too costly for the United States, it may be that the US seeks to allow a Taliban takeover – to an extent – in order to facilitate future business ambitions, or at least this is what’s being speculated.
The former Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban, promising to have already withdrawn from Afghanistan by this point. Biden extended the earlier deadline set by Trump to September 11 and looks to have withdrawn much of his forces quicker than expected, vacating the key Bagram Airbase.
The US will still be keeping 640 US troops on Afghanistan’s soil, for the stated purpose of defending the US embassy and US assets in the country. The US will also still keep its intelligence network there, and the question of what the American government’s strategy with private contractors will be is still a shaky one, especially with as many as 12,000 contractors operating within the country prior to Biden’s withdrawal announcement.
Much is now down to speculation as to how the US will approach the issue of Afghanistan in the future and nothing will be fully known until it is all signed on paper, likely to come as a result of a US, Turkish effort to set terms and conditions with the Taliban and Afghan government.
It is also likely that the US could simply return to Afghanistan under any pretext it chooses, if things don’t seem to be going their way, as was the case in Iraq during the Obama administration.
It is hard to believe that the intentions of the US government are good, as it has not achieved the ostensible goal of Afghanistan stability in almost 20 years. They also allowed the re-growth of the Taliban, the opium trade to continue, and many other horrific illegal activities carried out by Western forces – as the list is innumerable.
If anything, the US government has clearly demonstrated that it has learned nothing from the faults of its own history in the country, and it may be manufacturing an even worse future for the people of Afghanistan who are now fleeing the country in droves and will represent the world’s second worst refugee crisis following Syria.