The sudden collapse of the US client regime in Kabul on Sunday, August 15, is a historic military debacle for the US. The Taliban, against whom the US waged two decades of bloody and expensive warfare, are triumphant and firmly in control of Afghanistan. The victory of the Taliban is complete now but challenges remain. The speed of the Taliban victory caught the world by surprise, but the result should not have come unexpected.
As Sunday (August 15) progressed, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his national security adviser fled the country. The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Russian embassy spokesperson in Kabul, Nikita Ishechenko as saying that "the collapse of the regime ……is most eloquently characterised by how Ghani escaped from Afghanistan: four cars were filled with money, they tried to shove another part of the money into a helicopter, but not everything fitted. Some of the money was left lying on the tarmac". With all those stolen money Ghani is now in the United Arab Emirates.
The war in Afghanistan was initiated by the United States (US) with the support of its foreign legion NATO in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Right after the attack, the national hysteria in the US was at a peak and thirst for blood palpable in the street. A plethora of images and comments churned out by the corporate media further added to the public outrage. The bloodthirsty patriotism was on open display.
88 per cent of Americans supported Bush's war after the US started bombing Kabul. All 98 senators present including Bernie Sanders voted to bomb Afghanistan and in the House of Representatives the vote was 420 to 1.
President George W. Bush responded to the public outrage by declaring a "crusade". A country immersed in militarism and exceptionalism, now this provided a perfect opportunity to show its military might once again. The US does not flinch from committing mass murder on people it considers its enemies. The destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen, Somalia are the examples of that.
The US invasion leading to the occupation of Afghanistan was justified using the pretense that the US was retaliating against "its" (Afghanistan) attack on 9/11. It was a complete lie, Afghanistan did not attack the US. 15 attackers out of 19 were Saudis, not a single Afghan was among the attackers.
A Taliban spokesperson outlining their perspective on the 20 year Afghan war said that the US could resolve the issue of Afghanistan through peaceful means 20 years ago without invading the country as they had reached an agreement with us 20 years later. He further added that the Afghan issue was more an internal struggle among Afghan parties rather than having international tentacles.
Now, twenty years hence, we are seeing the end of that war. According to the New York Times, the war cost the US more than $2 trillion and then said "it is difficult to see what of lasting significance has been achieved".
307,000 Afghan soldiers and police trained and armed by the US were not enough to hold at bay 60,000 Taliban fighters without any air cover, artillery or armour. This sudden collapse of Afghan military forces is indeed a major military debacle for the US. Josep Borrell, the European Union Foreign Policy Chief possibly summed up the feeling when he said "This is a catastrophe".
However, according to the Intercept (16 August), from the perspective of some of the most powerful people in the US, the Afghan war has been an extraordinary success, especially the boards of directors of all five defence contractors including retired top-level military officers.
The Intercept further added that military stocks outperformed the stock market overall by 58 per cent during the Afghan war including stocks of Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop-Grumman, Lockheed-Martin and General Dynamics. It is estimated that $10,000 invested in defence stocks when the Afghan war began, now worth almost $100,000. The Afghan war, indeed, was a great success for the top five defence contractors and their shareholders.
The reality is, most of this $2+ trillion flowed back to the US, more precisely most of it not even left the US at all. The money was mostly spent on military hardware suppliers like Raytheon, Boeing and other similar suppliers, and the mercenary forces recruited within the US to supplement the regular US military personnel.
The very tiny amount money that reached Afghanistan was largely pocketed by America's Afghan clients. It was like a massive industry assistance package for the US armament industry. The whole amount ($2+ trillion) was financed by debt and is estimated to end up paying $6.5 trillion in interest and principal payments.
The human costs of the war for the Afghans are catastrophic. Official data while massively under-reported claim that 164,436 Afghans were killed in the war and hundreds and thousands of Afghans were wounded. The Afghan causalities are the result of indiscriminate bombing by B-52 bombers, reaper drones and AC-130 gunships and victims are mostly rural people which included women and children.
The war quickly turned from hunting down Al Qaeda to war against the Afghan people in which anyone perceived to be a threat to the US occupation was dealt with a "terrorist frame up" allegations and imprisoned, tortured and quite often summarily executed. Afghan collaborators also played a major role in committing these war crimes.
The military debacle in Afghanistan can not be blamed on an anti-war movement as was the case during the Vietnam war or any popular domestic opposition to the war. In fact, the US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq or on a wider scale in the other Middle East countries like Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, Somalia have widespread popular support in the country to fight "terrorism" and to spread "democracy and human rights".
The war in Afghanistan, we are told by the New York Times ( August 15), after achieving the primary objective of denying sanctuary to Al Qaeda evolved into a two decade long nation building project guided by the "enduring American faith in the values of freedom and democracy".
"Building democracy" is an euphemism used for creating a US client regime which will then be labelled as a "democratic" and must remain subservient to the American dictates. In the diplomatic term a pro-American regime. No wonder, the US installed "democratic" regime in Kabul amounted to a political zero. The regime's survival depended on the US military presence and support. Once that support was withdrawn the regime just disappeared.
The US is now attempting to claim a moral victory from the military debacle and argue that they tried to "liberate women". In fact, women's education was a top priority of the Soviet backed government of Afghanistan from the late 1970s through to the 1980s. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the fanatically anti-communist national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in 1978 initiated the policy of fomenting Islamist insurgency labelled as the Mujahadeen against the Soviet backed regime in Kabul to give Moscow its "own Vietnam".
Brzezinski called upon them (Mujahadeen) standing on the soil of Pakistan to carry out Jihad to regain their mosques and a country to establish Sharia law across the border from Pakistan. Even President Carter purportedly said that at least these Muslims believed in God, just like Christians. Carter's own alternative to Soviet communism was Saudi Wahhabi fanaticism for Afghanistan.
Now the US encouraged, armed and funded Jihadis (Brzezinski used to call them stirred-up Muslims) turned not only against the modern regime in Afghanistan but also girls education. Historically, the US role in promoting girls education in Afghanistan is highly questionable.
Despite the US claim of promoting education, especially female education in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, 63 per cent of girls and 34 per cent of boys are still unable to read or write. The figures are much higher in rural areas where more than three quarters of Afghan people live in dire poverty.
Afghanistan is a country where the vast majority of women live in rural areas and are struggling to find enough food to sustain themselves and their children each day. But in the US, from the far right to the far left including American feminists joined together with the corporate media behind them to ensure that women's rights are established even if that means bombing the hell out of Afghanistan.
Keeping in view, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' "deep concern" for the future of women and girls under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the Taliban can look for inspiration from the US in devising its own policy for girls' education in Afghanistan to address the Secretary General's concern. It is not difficult to imagine how the image of Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, Susan and Condoleezza Rice will make the Taliban want to create its own generation of educated women like those who were groomed through the US education system.
One of the tragedies surrounding the US financed and armed Jihadis' rise to power and eventually leading to their complete political dominance in Afghanistan is the total eradication of any political space for progressive secular political forces to take any hold. In fact, in the 1960s through to the 1980s vibrant and active progressive secular forces were active in Afghan politics. The US was the most instrumental factor in decimating those progressive secular political forces into oblivion in Afghanistan to pursue its own anti-communist Jihad.
Twenty years of occupation, repression and killings by the US left Afghanistan impoverished, underdeveloped and riven by extreme levels of social and economic inequality. Now 70 per cent of the population live on less than a dollar a day while the Kabul based political elite enriched themselves through embezzling public and aid money and lucrative contracts.
Three quarters of Afghan population live in rural areas, barely making a living from subsistence farming and bore the brunt of regular US bombing to weed out the Taliban and destroy their sanctuaries. Such military actions provided the Taliban with an unending supply of young recruits regardless of how many of them were killed.
Afghanistan has become a metaphor for the decaying American empire. The US as the global hegemon can no longer afford the financial burden of continuing its military occupation of Afghanistan. The costs of new imperial ventures that are being planned for the future like confronting China and Russia have risen dramatically.
The US simply no longer can afford these new imperial ventures if it continues to throw money into the bottomless hole called Afghanistan. The US has now decided to cut costs in less strategic areas to finance growing costs in dealing with the newly planned imperial ventures-- China and Russia.
Also, US budget deficits have been papered over by printing trillions of dollars calling it "quantitative easing". The US empire and its global hegemony rests on its economic power in the global economy and that very power is under serious challenge from many fronts now. The average annual US economic growth since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007-08 has barely reached 1 per cent a year in real terms.
Definitely, the US presently enjoys a significant competitive advantage in its military might and in the armaments industry. But such an advantage is not sustainable if its economic and industrial foundation can not maintain its preeminence in the global context.
All fundamental macroeconomic indicators indicate a declining position of the US in the global economy which is unlikely to be offset by further acquiring mastery of weaponry technology and enhancing military strength. The Afghan war has clearly demonstrated the limits of US military power and its inability to conclude a war on favourable terms.