An Afghan woman wearing a burka in Kabul.
The West's failure in Afghanistan

Authors of 'War on Terror' in denial to the bitter end

How could the Afghan government and its institutions collapse so quickly? That things were going wrong in Afghanistan had been obvious for a long time, yet the West preferred to look the other way, writes Emran Feroz

"It will probably be like last time. When they took Kabul overnight," Kabul resident Ahmad Jawed, 30, told me last Saturday (14.08.). When the militant Islamist Taliban first captured the Afghan capital 25 years ago, Jawed was a young child. But he remembers that morning well. Suddenly the Taliban fighters were there, while the members of the mujahideen government, who had been in-fighting for years, had fled. Now, almost twenty years after NATO first occupied the country, this scenario seemed likely to repeat itself, Jawed predicted: "The last few days have made it clear that they will be here soon."

Shortly thereafter, his fears were confirmed. After the Taliban had seized all major provincial capitals in a matter of days, they marched into Kabul on Sunday. Many members of the army and police abandoned their posts even before the insurgents entered the city. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for his part hastily fled the country with his entourage. His behaviour was like that of a neo-colonial governor – and that's just how he has been described in recent years, not only by the Taliban but by many Afghans who did not benefit from his corrupt state apparatus.

According to some reports, Ghani's men took bags of cash with them. Incidentally, it was Ghani who said a few years ago that he had no sympathy for Afghan refugees. They would only end up as dishwashers in the West. After Ghani's flight, the Taliban captured the presidential palace and posed for pictures in front of his desk.

Taliban fighters in Kunduz (photo: Abdzllah Sahil/AP/picture-alliance)
Taliban fighters in Kunduz. "Nearly all districts of those provincial capitals that fell prior to Kabul had in fact been controlled by the Taliban for years," writes Feroz. "That extremists were able to gain an early foothold in these rural regions is also due in part to the massive corruption in the capital and the numerous military operations carried out by NATO and its Afghan allies. Drone attacks and brutal nightly raids regularly caused numerous civilian casualties in Afghan villages. Many survivors shifted their support to the Taliban as result"

One of the commanders said shortly afterwards during a "press conference" for the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera that he had been detained and tortured by the Americans for eight years in Guantanamo. A coincidence? Probably not. Instead, it was evident once more that the American "War on Terror" had radicalised scores of people in Afghanistan – and that many of them have not forgotten to this day.

Only white U.S citizens allowed to board?

Events continued to unfold at a swift pace. Crowds flocked to Kabul airport, where American troops were busy evacuating their citizens. The chaos at the airport did not abate the next day. People tried to cling to the U.S. plane as it took off and died in their last-ditch attempt to escape. Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers fired into the Afghan crowd. "A relative of mine was killed. He was a doctor," recounted Sangar Paykhar, a Dutch-Afghan journalist and podcaster, after the incident. The Afghan-American author and activist Nadia Hashemi claimed that Afghan-Americans were in some cases denied entry onto the plane. The reason: they were not white Americans.

The latest scenes in Kabul have underscored more plainly than ever that the Western mission in Afghanistan has failed. During his speech yesterday, U.S. President Joe Biden, in the midst of withdrawing his military forces, did not spare a single word for all the Afghans who have been killed by the American "War on Terror" over the past two decades. Instead, his words were once again marked by a denial of reality and by ignorance. The true winners of the war are not in the White House but in Kabul.

The Taliban have never been as strong as they are now. In the last few days and weeks alone, they have captured numerous pieces of high-tech American war equipment. Apart from Panjshir province north of Kabul, which has always been a stronghold of Taliban resistance, the extremists now once again control almost all of Afghanistan. And they have regained political clout on the international stage as well, something they have worked hard on in recent years.

 

Kabul airport (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
As the Taliban seized power, masses of people flocked to Kabul airport to leave the country as quickly as possible. But most were stuck here, as seen in the picture. Afghan-American author and activist Nadia Hashemi claims that U.S. Afghans were partly denied entry to a plane because they were not white Americans. "The latest scenes in Kabul have underscored more plainly than ever that the Western mission in Afghanistan has failed," writes Feroz. During his speech on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden, in the midst of withdrawing his military forces, did not spare a single word for all the Afghans killed by the American "War on Terror" over the past two decades

Numerous analyses and forecasts concerning a Taliban takeover have had to be corrected several times in recent days. The U.S. intelligence agency CIA was still assuming on Saturday that it would take thirty to ninety days to overpower Kabul. In the end, it all happened in twenty-four hours. Even prominent U.S. analysts in Washington were at a loss for words in the face of recent events.

Bill Roggio of the right-wing conservative U.S. think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies called the Taliban's successful advance one of the "greatest intelligence failures in decades". Roggio described the Taliban's sophisticated war strategy as "brilliant". The extremists initially focused on the north of the country before taking additional cities nationwide.

How was it possible?

There are several reasons why all this was possible. Much of what was going on in the country was suppressed and ignored for years – not only because people in the West wanted to save face but also because they still didn't know Afghanistan, even after all these years. Nearly all districts of those provincial capitals that fell prior to Kabul had in fact been controlled by the Taliban for years. The Taliban had put down roots there, operating and ruling in the shadows. That extremists were able to gain an early foothold in these rural regions is also due in part to the massive corruption in the capital and the numerous military operations carried out by NATO and its Afghan allies.

Drone attacks and brutal nightly raids regularly caused numerous civilian casualties in Afghan villages. Many survivors shifted their support to the Taliban as result. This was de facto also the case at the gates of Kabul. Long before the recent events, a twenty- to thirty-minute drive was enough to take you into Taliban territory.

But those in charge did not want to face up to realities like these. Instead, they were busy patting themselves on the back for a job well done. People spoke of their own oh-so-commendable values and focused on the supposed achievements made in Afghanistan since 2001. There was much talk of democracy, although not a single democratic transfer of power has taken place in Afghanistan in the last twenty years.

This certainly had nothing to do with those Afghans who risked their lives to go to the polls but can primarily be attributed to the corrupt elites that the U.S. brought to power in Kabul. Men like Hamid Karzai and President Ashraf Ghani, who could not flee quickly enough, exploited the new system to their own ends and stayed in power through electoral fraud.

Other important figures in Afghan behaved similarly, including numerous well-known warlords and drug barons who became the West's closest allies in the Hindu Kush. They were able to line their pockets with the generous foreign aid and transfer billions of dollars abroad.

At the same time, they were also among the biggest war profiteers – thanks, for example, to private security companies they themselves created to fake attacks on NATO troops. In retrospect, it is evident that lucrative contracts were signed based on the alleged terrorist threat.

It has been clear at least since the end of 2019 that leaders in Washington and elsewhere knew all about these aberrations. Ever since the "Washington Post" published the "Afghanistan Papers", in which about 400 high-ranking U.S. officials more or less admitted to their failures in Afghanistan. The details had been kept under wraps for years.

 

 

But nobody wants to talk about that today either. Instead, it is easy to get the impression that the Taliban have come out of nowhere to take Afghanistan and the West by storm. Everyone claims to have acted according to the best of their knowledge and with a clear conscience. So unfortunate, then, how things turned out.

After twenty years of a misguided intervention that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and turned millions of them into refugees, driving them into poverty, the West has not only lost interest in Afghanistan, but feels no need to take responsibility for its plight.

"These people are just like that. It's not our fault," is the tenor of this cultural relativism. It is echoing particularly loudly these days.

Emran Feroz

© Qantara.de 2021

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

 

You may also like:

Has Germany failed in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan: Is peace with the Taliban possible?

Must young Afghans be willing to die for an education?

The West and the Islamic world – mutually radicalised?

Afghanistan: Where the warlords still hold sway

 

More on this topic