The fall of the Afghan puppet government of Ashraf Ghani was inevitable. US military and government officials knew for years the extent of the corruption inside the Afghan government, military, and security forces. It was just a matter of time.
As Taliban insurgents surgically carved their way through Afghanistan, toppling one provincial capital after another, the US mainstream media from the left and the right slammed President Joe Biden’s response as a “failure of intelligence.” In fact, the CIA raised the possibility of a swift Taliban takeover following the collapse of the Afghan government, but one thing above all else is true – Biden was 100% correct: the troops needed to be withdrawn.
Of course, troops never should have been sent to Afghanistan in the first place. This was true in 1839 when the British government sent troops into Kabul, retreating in defeat in 1842. Anglo-Afghan wars in 1879 and 1919 also ended in defeat. The Soviet Union’s invasion into Afghanistan in 1979 fared no better, ending in withdrawal 10 years later. And now, after 20 years, the longest war in US history is over, with the Taliban back in control of the country.
Let’s be clear. Unlike wars that were fought against western imperialism in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s in places like Algeria, Kenya, Vietnam, and South Africa, the Taliban will not be taking over as liberators. Taliban rule in the past proved to be a brutal patriarchal theocracy.
Colonialism, imperialism, and outside occupation thwart the development of nation states, igniting nationalist resistance and making organic development impossible. The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union) learned this as well, despite educating 200,000 Afghan engineers, military officers, and administrators; building hydroelectric dams, tunnels, roads, and bridges; and brutally cracking down on the narcotics trade, curbing the emergence of a corrupt class of police and officials.
The Taliban is a creature whose roots can be traced back to US CIA and Pakistani intelligence, created to fight the Soviet occupation of the 1980s. And with the modern weapons of war like rocket-propelled launchers, assault helicopters, and various assault rifles switching from one oppressor’s hands to another, any true liberation of the Afghan people promises to be a protracted struggle.
Soviet Occupation, cold war tactics
The roots of the failed US-Afghan war do not start with the US invasion in 2001. Go back to the poorly conceptualized coup in 1978 by the Afghanistan People’s Democratic Party (PDPA). While the PDPA was a Marxist-Leninist party with many progressive ideas, it did not come to power through a mass revolutionary uprising. It suffered, like many of the 20th-century Marxist parties, from bitter factional disputes. And it had little support in the countryside, which was dominated by patriarchal warlords.
In December 1979, the factional disputes within the PDPA were the pretext for the Soviet Union’s use of The Brezhnev Doctrine to invade Afghanistan to install a leader sympathetic to Moscow. The Brezhnev Doctrine gave “license” to interfere in the internal politics of any socialist country. The invasion started a war that lasted almost ten years. The military opposition to the Soviets by the various armed rebel groups in the countryside was known collectively as the Afghan mujahideen. Both the US and Pakistan helped arm these rebel groups. After a bloody 10-year war, Moscow retreated in defeat.
The heavily armed mujahideen were not united, however, and a civil war broke out. Eventually one faction of the mujahideen, the Taliban, took over. With the Soviet Union gone from Afghanistan in 1989, the US largely let the Taliban rule with little interference. In contrast to its later justifications for occupying Afghanistan, the US at that time had little concern with how the Taliban oppressed the people. Instead, US foreign policy shifted to Iraq, and control of the vast oil fields of the Middle East.
Like every regime in Afghanistan, the Taliban never had total control of the country. Though never closely aligned with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban allowed it to operate within its borders. We all know what happened then. Al-Qaeda, angered by attacks on the Muslim people during the first Iraq War, used its operations in Afghanistan to plot assaults on western targets culminating in the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington, DC.
9-11 and US revenge
Republicans and Democrats alike wanted blood. They demanded that the Taliban government hand over Osama bin Laden. It is unclear whether that ever could have happened. Afghanistan is far from a coherent country. Al-Qaeda bases operated outside of the control of the Taliban. At one point the Taliban indicated a willingness to hand over bin Laden (if they could find him) to the International Criminal Court rather than to the US. This did not sit well with US war hawks and on October 7, 2001, the US initiated its so-called War on Terror.
With the world’s largest military bombing Afghanistan, the Taliban had little chance. The major cities were taken. The Taliban retreated to the rural areas. What followed was 20 years of war, with all the collateral damage a massive war machine can inflict. The history of Afghan resistance to outsiders, added to the country’s tribal and regional complexities, made Afghanistan a difficult place for the US, or any occupying force, to secure. Governing from the cities outward has always proved to be impossible. As the US soon discovered, having forgotten the lesson in Vietnam, massive bombing attacks are not the way to win over the hearts and minds of people.
In 2003, despite a worldwide protest of millions, the Bush administration invaded Iraq on bogus claims that Saddam Hussein had funded Al-Qaeda and was building weapons of mass destruction. Troops were removed from Afghanistan and moved into Iraq. And when that happened, the Taliban was quick to secure their outposts in the countryside.
Human costs of US aggression
Throughout the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, the people of Afghanistan have suffered. In 2011, Osama bin Laden was ultimately executed, notably in Pakistan and not Afghanistan. This came at a cost. Over the 20-year war it is estimated that 47,245 Afghan civilians, 66,000 Afghan military and police, 51,191 Taliban and opposition fighters, 2,448 US military, 3,846 military contractors and mercenaries, 1,144 NATO service members, 444 aid workers, and 72 journalists lost their lives. Many thousands more were maimed.
Billions of dollars a month flowed for twenty years into Afghanistan. This wealth was controlled first by Hamid Karzai who was installed as Afghan president in 2002. Later, in 2014, Ashraf Ghani was elected president. Both Karzai and Ghani were trained by the CIA during the Soviet-Afghan wars. Both were puppets of US imperialism. Both became rich from the money that was pumped into Afghanistan.
As the Taliban entered Kabul in August, Ghani hightailed it out of the country. According to Russian diplomats quoted in Reuters, “Four cars were full of money, they tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter, but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac.”
So little of the billions each month went into making the lives of the Afghan citizenry any better. It was this corruption that created such a morale problem among the Afghan military and police, who often went months without getting paid. It was no wonder that, when it became obvious the end was near, they laid down their arms rather than risk losing their lives in the service of a corrupt government.
All invading armies recruit a section of the citizenry to help run the country. In the chaos filling the streets of Kabul, thousands of these citizens rushed to escape Afghanistan ahead of the Taliban takeover. It is hard for us to know which of these are the civil servants, human service professionals, and grassroots activists who helped start schools and health services for women and girls, and which were simply corrupt political bureaucrats who lined their own pockets. However, some US professional associations are advocating for the protection of colleagues targeted by the Taliban. As social justice fighters in the US, we must press our government to transport and take in Afghan refugees and oppose the MAGA crowd yelling to keep out “those Muslims.”
One US President started this war and three others inherited it. Biden opted to withdraw and end this US war of aggression, and it is strategically right for us on the left to support this choice. The right wing has no basis to attack Biden because it was the Trump administration’s major giveaways to the Taliban that started this ball rolling. In fact, the 5,000 Taliban prisoners who Trump released became part of the leadership of the Taliban final offensive.
The attack on the troop withdrawal by some in the liberal establishment is little more than magical thinking, offering nothing that can be implemented as a viable alternative. Concern about the plight of women and girls under the Taliban has been used as a justification, by white liberal feminists as well as right-wingers, for the US to continue its occupation of Afghanistan. But no Afghan or Afghan American women’s group supports this.
The Afghan people may be in for a reign of terror. The corrupt Ghani regime is being replaced by the Taliban and its patriarchal, theocratic vision of the world. Expect that progressive forces, already muzzled by US puppets for twenty years, will again be repressed and brutalized if they stand up for justice. To the extent that organizations like the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) can resist, whether openly or underground, the US left should find ways to support them as well as other indigenous progressive organizations that may rise up. That is how we need to show our solidarity. That is how we build international resistance to capitalism and capitalist war.