The fall of “American” Afghanistan: a catastrophe or a pattern?

Denis Dubrovin

The fall of the pro-Western Afghan regime and the surrender of the entire country to the Taliban (banned in Russia) occurred with dizzying speed. Absolutely all Western forecasts of the viability of the Afghan regime have failed. Afghanistan has once again confirmed its nickname “the cemetery of empires” – the British Empire, the USSR, the United States and NATO have consistently suffered defeat in this country.

A full analysis of this war, the reasons for its failure, the possible consequences and future scenarios of the development of Afghanistan, as well as the role of this war for the United States, NATO and the West as a whole, in the coming years will be devoted to dozens of academic works that will be published in Russia, Asia and the West. …

We will pay attention only to a few key theses that will allow us to better understand the ending of the 20-year tragedy unfolding before our eyes.

Failure on all fronts

The lightning-fast transition of Afghanistan to the rule of the Taliban movement, even before the withdrawal of Western troops was completed, became a moral catastrophe for the United States and NATO, at once canceling out all the results of the 20-year war in this country. Four NATO secretaries general, from Lord George Robertson (1999-2003) to the current Jens Stoltenberg, in each of their speeches about Afghanistan for 20 years repeated like a mantra two identical phrases: “Afghanistan will never again become a haven of world terrorism (meaning” Taliban “) NATO will never leave Afghanistan to its fate.” Now both of these phrases, describing the goals of the 20-year campaign, have lost their meaning at once. Over 30 thousand killed and wounded from among the military international forces, about 250 thousand killed civilians of Afghanistan, Plus, European countries are suddenly faced with the threat of a powerful new migration crisis – a wave of pro-Western Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

Way to get away

There are many ways to lose the war in Afghanistan. In fact, left to fend for themselves after the departure of Soviet troops in 1989, the pro-Soviet regime of Muhammad Najibullah held out on its own for another three years.

Moreover, he even survived the collapse of the USSR and the cessation of supplies before he lost control of the country. The pro-American regime of Ashraf Ghani collapsed even before the completion of the withdrawal of foreign troops. He himself fled the country.

As for the withdrawal of Western troops, which lasted from April 29, it only took place in May-June in an orderly manner. Already in early July, the evacuation of individual objects began to resemble a hasty flight, as, for example, the airbase in Bagram was abandoned overnight, where the American military left hundreds of units of various types of weapons, which did not even bother to transfer to the Afghan army.

As the Taliban’s offensive accelerated, the withdrawal of Western troops turned first into a chaotic retreat, and then practically into flight. Over the weekend, the last US-NATO-controlled facility in Afghanistan was the Kabul airport, for which the United States even had to return more than 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to provide adequate defense and cover for the hasty evacuation of foreign civilian personnel.

Second Vietnam?

The pictures of the evacuation from Kabul on August 14-15 had nothing to do with the systematic, planned and organized withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It looked much more like footage of the panic evacuation from the capital of South Vietnam – Saigon in 1975 by the American embassy. American helicopters picked up personnel and diplomats directly from the roof of the building, which at that time was approached by the troops of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). The footage of this flight became a symbol of the defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War, the consequences of which the United States experienced and realized over the next ten years.

When Washington announced the beginning of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in April, journalists asked Joe Biden if a repetition of the tragic events of 1975 was possible. To this Biden replied categorically: the Taliban are not the North Vietnamese army. They don’t even remotely have such capabilities. You will not see people being removed from the roof of the US Embassy in Afghanistan. These are incomparable situations. “

In some ways, he turned out to be right – transport helicopters, hastily transporting the staff of the US Embassy from Kabul to the airport, landed not on the roof, but on a stationary platform in the courtyard of the embassy, ??over which black smoke rose from hastily burned documents, state symbols and flags that shouldn’t have gone to the Taliban.

The disintegration of the army

The Taliban attack on Kabul is very reminiscent of another historical event, much less recent. Similarly, in 2014, in Iraq, the rapidly growing terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, banned in Russia) took control of the country’s second largest city, Mosul, with a lightning strike for two weeks. That story in Iraq is now almost exactly the same in Afghanistan.

The government forces trained over 20 years by American instructors, surpassing the militant detachments simultaneously in terms of personnel, weapons and technical equipment, with whole units left their positions, either deserting, or even joining the ranks of militants, into whose hands both army weapons and equipment were automatically transferred, so and warehouses abandoned by US and NATO forces.

Local centers of resistance of the most efficient government forces were brutally and quickly suppressed.

The reasons for such actions by the 150,000 Afghan army, which gave the country at best 70,000 to the Taliban, are only partially rooted in the flaws in their military training, which was built on the conduct of hostilities according to the American pattern with the leading role of aviation and artillery. To conduct such operations, the army needed a well-functioning system of interaction and coordination of actions between the branches of the military.

The Western military has assisted government forces in recent years to maintain this interaction and coordination. Their departure seriously undermined the logistics and the entire command and control system of the Afghan armed forces. Even more the flight of teachers hit the morale of the government forces, accustomed for 20 years to rely on technical and command and staff capabilities, intelligence and fire support of US and NATO forces.

However, the main problem of the Afghan army manifested itself in the lack of understanding of what exactly and from whom the troops should defend. For 90% of the country’s armed forces, the Taliban and their Islamic dogma are closer and more understandable than all the Western values ??put together, which the US and NATO have been trying to instill in the country and the army for 20 years. Moreover, the state that was being created all this time in Afghanistan was terribly far from its citizens. Most of the soldiers and officers of the Afghan army understood very well what their leadership was worth and how quickly it would leave Afghanistan in a critical situation.

In these conditions, it is difficult to accuse the army of unwillingness to fight.

Afghan Plan B

At the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016, I got into a conversation with a young and highly educated Afghan journalist named Ahmad, whose trip to Warsaw as part of an Afghan delegation was paid for by the North Atlantic Alliance. It was very interesting for him to talk with a Russian in NATO – he practically did not find the Soviet period in the history of Afghanistan, but he knew a lot about the “shuravi”.

We also discussed for a long time the activities of the North Atlantic Alliance in the country. He evaluated practically all the actions of the United States and NATO very positively, but at the same time, for some reason, he persistently spoke about them only in the present, but not in the future. When I asked him what would happen when Western troops left Afghanistan one day (then no one predicted even the date of the withdrawal of troops), he replied without a shadow of a doubt: “The Taliban will return.” When asked how quickly, the answer was: “Six months, a lot – a year.” Then I asked if he, a pro-Western journalist who travels for NATO money to Europe to the alliance summits, has a “plan B”. “Of course there is. Allah will be for everything. I am a devout Muslim, and the Taliban will need educated people,” was the reply. It was at this moment that it became clear to me that no matter how much money and forces the US and NATO have invested in rebuilding Afghanistan in a Western manner, in the long term, all these efforts are doomed to failure. Afghanistan did not accept them.

The same thing, however, was said by Russian experts, who emphasized that the occupation authorities deal only with momentary issues, primarily military ones, practically ignoring the systemic problems of this country. For example, the monstrous dependence of its peasantry on the cultivation of the opium poppy, a raw material for the drug industry, whose products have been going through Central Asia to Russia and Europe for all 20 years. Moreover, during the occupation period, drug production increased several times compared to what was in Afghanistan in the 90s, when the Taliban were in power.

Imitation of democracy

The Kabul regime developed like a house of cards, since, in fact, it was only an imitation, a props of a secular pro-Western state. Almost all government bodies, especially at the local level, in the provinces, were duplicated by traditional tribal and religious structures, which often made all the key decisions. By the way, it was with the councils of elders that the Taliban discussed the surrender of cities during their lightning offensive.

The same applied to the system of subordination – the entire Western democratic hierarchy, whether in the civil administration or in the army, was only the least significant top in the system of social relations, the foundations of which continued to be determined by clan, tribal and religious factors.

Democratic Afghanistan also lacked an economic foundation. Money for payments to civil servants and salaries for security officials went to the treasury in the form of foreign aid, which reached $ 5 billion a year. The peasantry remained largely engaged in the semi-legal production of the opium poppy, the income from the cultivation of which was several times higher than the income from any other agricultural crops.

At the same time, corruption and theft flourished throughout the entire system of government, both at the state and provincial levels. The state could not and did not want to effectively deal with this problem. Officials have practically no moral restraints, since the pro-Western government has traditionally been perceived in Afghan society as unfaithful, godless, devoid of a moral principle. Added to this was the firm understanding of both local officials and ordinary Afghans that the occupational order of things would not last forever. There was a psychology of a temporary worker who wants to enrich himself in a limited period of time with the methods available to him and manage to run in time when the situation begins to change.

In these conditions, it is not difficult to imagine how over the past 20 years people on all levels of power in Afghanistan have been free to commit various abuses.

Lost generation

Meanwhile, the EU is hastily preparing for a new migration crisis. The Western administration stayed in Afghanistan for 20 years – a whole generation. Thousands of young men and women were trained and educated in secular Western educational institutions, tens, and possibly hundreds of thousands of people built their lives, got jobs, created a business aimed at serving the foreign contingent and administration.

With the departure of the United States and NATO, many of these people were left without a livelihood, and with a disintegrated worldview. Yes, most of the Afghan population had its own simple internal “plan B” willingness to accept the new Taliban rule, and continue to live and work with it. However, the number of people who fear reprisals by militants for cooperation with the occupation authorities, and those who have lost the whole well-oiled scheme of life, is in the tens, and possibly hundreds of thousands. It is these people who form the flows of refugees who have tried in recent months to escape the Taliban offensive, and in recent days have been trying to storm the Kabul airport, still held by NATO forces.

The Taliban are not touching this facility, thus leaving a corridor for the evacuation of all those whom the West deems it necessary to take away.

Winner strategy

The Taliban’s strategy this year is extremely effective. Taking advantage of the moral shock and the collapse of the Afghan system and security forces, they were able to take a number of large objects and cities almost without a fight. The release of their supporters from prisons, the seizure of weapons, the constant broadcast of their successes on the Internet gave the radical movement not only huge resources and thousands of new recruits, but also a powerful moral superiority over government forces and over Western capitals, whose only goal now is to successfully evacuate their citizens.

The Taliban are careful not to interfere with the evacuation of foreigners, even Americans, who have been burning both military and civilian targets from drones for decades (by mistake). Thus, they enable their opponents to preserve the last vestiges of prestige, practically excluding any retaliatory measures that would inevitably follow if the Taliban declared a hunt for foreigners.

The Taliban’s declaration of amnesty and readiness to release those Afghans who want to leave the country is also a very strong gesture. This step additionally increases the prestige of the organization within the country, allows attracting additional hesitant supporters to their side, and at the same time allows bloodlessly getting rid of Afghans who oppose the Taliban. A third and more distant result is that supporters of Western democracy fleeing Afghanistan threaten to become a serious problem for these democracies on their own soil.

Islamist competition

But the Taliban are also under pressure. In Afghanistan, a considerable stratum of local and visiting radicals has long been formed, dissatisfied with the movement and creating their own groups oriented towards ISIS or other similar ultra-radical Islamist organizations. If the Taliban were unable to seize the window of opportunity that opened up in front of them in the chaos of Western withdrawal, ISIS-affiliated militias would receive the initiative and an influx of volunteers angry at the Taliban’s inaction.

In other words, the entire plan for the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan on the basis of the Doha agreement with the Taliban on their renunciation of armed struggle and readiness to start a long-term peace political process was a utopia from the very beginning. The Taliban simply could not agree to this, otherwise ISIS could become the leaders of the radical militants in a matter of months.

The situation in Afghanistan is far from resolved, and everything in this country now depends on the decisions that the Taliban will make. The war is in their blood, and they were able to win, but whether they will be able to end the war without slipping into strife, and how much they will cope with the management of a peaceful country, only time will tell.

Portray victory

The leaders of the United States and a number of NATO countries, in turn, will try to declare the operation in Afghanistan a victory. For example, stating that the evacuation was carried out heroically and in the shortest possible time. They will also argue that the war in Afghanistan has long lost its meaning, and NATO and the United States needed to free up resources to confront Russia and China. Moreover, in the near future in the Western media with a high probability there will be massive stuffing of fake information that Russia and China secretly but very actively helped the Taliban in recent months. Thus, an attempt will probably be made to partially justify the complete failure of the Afghan campaign and to slightly increase the degree of hysteria in the western media space against China and Moscow.