Failure in Afghanistan

November 23, 2020

On February 29, 2020, “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America” was signed in Doha. Throughout the text, one party is referred to as “the United States” and the other party as “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban”. Because Washington “only recognizes” the Kabul government.

On Saturday, a State Department statement said, “Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo met today with Taliban Political Deputy and Head of the Political Office Mullah Beradar and members of the Taliban negotiating team in Doha, Qatar.” 

So, for the sake of brevity and clarity I would also refer to them as the US and the Taliban.

Under the Agreement:

  • The US committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the US, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within fourteen (14) months following announcement of this agreement.
  • The Taliban committed not to allow any of its members, other individuals, or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the US and its allies. The Taliban also agreed to send a clear message that those who pose a threat to the security of the US and its allies have no place in Afghanistan and will instruct its members not to cooperate with groups or individuals threatening the security of the US and its allies.

On August 8, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that he would execute a reduction to below 5,000 troops by the end of November.

The “road to peace” thus paved, negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban began on September 12. Emma Graham-Harrison of the Guardian drew attention to the “yawning gulf between the Taliban’s vision of an austerely Islamic state and the government’s commitment to the constitution that guarantees democracy and women’s rights, even if its implementation is mixed.”

On October 6, President Trump announced on Twitter, “We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!”

On October 30, SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) presented its 49th quarterly report to the Congress.[i] SIGAR was created by the Congress in 2008 to provide independent and objective oversight on Afghanistan reconstruction projects and activities.

According to the report, US officials have recently indicated that the Taliban is not meeting its obligations regarding counterterrorism guarantees and reduced Taliban violence. American officials have consistently said U.S. troop reductions in Afghanistan are conditions-based on whether the Taliban meet their commitments under the US-Taliban deal.

That the Taliban would join hands with Kabul and the US to confront al-Qaeda and the Islamic State is mind-boggling to start with. Because al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Taliban, despite their competition for power, share the same ideology. It appears that Middle East’s ongoing fratricide and availability of proxies gave Washington the hope that the Taliban might join hands with the US, at least on paper, against its rivals in the country. Because the Trump White House wishes to exit Afghanistan or come close to an exit under some sort of deal and then say “après moi le deluge”.

Regardless of continuing violence, troop reductions have continued. On August 8, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced in an interview that he would execute a reduction to below 5,000 troops by the end of November.

On November 2, gunmen stormed Kabul University, killing at least 22 people and wounding many more. The Islamic State claimed responsibility.

On November 18, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller announced the drawdown of troops to 2,500 in Afghanistan and 2,500 in Iraq by January 15, 2021. There are currently around 4,500 U.S. service members in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq.  Mr. Miller said the move was made with the full concurrence of military officials in the US Central Command area and at the Pentagon.

Three days later, as Secretary Pompeo was getting ready to meet negotiators from the Afghan government and the Taliban separately in Doha, rockets hit residential areas in Kabul killing eight civilians and wounding more than thirty.

In April 2016, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump had said “I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary, and I mean absolutely necessary, and will only do so if we have a plan for victory with a capital V.”

President Trump did not start the war in Afghanistan. Domestic political calculations have played a role in his decision on withdrawals. Mr. Miller’s assurances regarding consensus within the Trump administration on withdrawal are questionable. And some Congressional leaders across the aisle have reacted to the withdrawals and their timing. Yet, none of this would change the fact that the two decade-long war in Afghanistan has been a failure with a capital F, not only for the US but also its allies, Coalition partners and Afghan leaders.

The principal challenge in Afghanistan has always been Afghan groups forging a united front not only to fight al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, tribalism, warlordism and corruption but also to achieve better governance. The country has remained divided on ethnic, sectarian, and regional lines. While the Afghans have demonstrated an exceptional capacity for resistance to foreign interference, they have failed time and again to show the ability to agree on common denominators. In brief, the obstacles preventing progress in Afghanistan have hardly changed since the 2001 Bonn Conference.

In April 2013, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond had told BBC Radio 4 that no one can predict what will happen to Afghanistan after British, US and other NATO troops end their frontline role there at the end of 2014. He had stressed that only the Afghan people can find a lasting solution to the country’s violence, corruption, and lawlessness. He had said that Afghanistan was an incredibly complex society; a multi-ethnic society that was very fragmented before the US-led intervention started and that the ability to influence outcomes from the outside was very limited. Finally, he had added  “the long-run solution to security has to be an Afghan solution; it cannot be imposed from outside”. History had shown the futility of such attempts.[ii]

Last week, Australia’s Defense Force Chief General Campbell released a redacted 500-page military report into war crimes in Afghanistan. The report has found evidence that elite Australian troops unlawfully killed 39 Afghan prisoners, farmers, and civilians between 2005 and 2016. General Campbell also issued an apology to the people of Afghanistan.  

According to the report, there is credible information that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the soldier’s first kill, in a practice that was known as ‘blooding’. This would happen after the target compound had been secured, and local nationals had been secured as ‘persons under control’. Typically, the patrol commander would take a person under control and the junior member, who would then be directed to kill the person under control. ‘Throwdowns’ would be placed with the body, and a ‘cover story’ was created for the purposes of operational reporting and to deflect scrutiny. This was reinforced with a code of silence.[iii]

An outrage but who cares… After all, this is the broad Middle East where peoples and leaders have still not grasped and are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future that failure to put one’s house in order comes at a cost.

—————————————————————————————-  


[i] https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2020-10-30qr.pdf

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/10/afghanistan-future-uncertain-hammond

[iii] https://afghanistaninquiry.defence.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/IGADF-Afghanistan-Inquiry-Public-Release-Version.pdf  p.29

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