- by Matthew Hole
- The Guardian
- Issue #1970
The United States’ longest war has officially come to an end. After twenty years of intervention, US troops packed up and left Bagram Airfield in the dead of night earlier this month, without a proper handover to their Afghan partners and leaving countless old vehicles without keys and other equipment for onlookers to salvage. The hasty withdrawal came after US President Biden pledged in April to end their occupation, with the knowledge that if left to the generals, US presence would remain indefinitely. The official end of assistance to US-backed Afghan government forces will end on 31st August. At that time, the US still reserves the right to conduct drone strikes on ISIS and other extremist forces in the region, and an additional 650 troops will remain behind to guard the US embassy in Kabul. But, one must ask, is this really the end?
Taliban forces – the key resistance movement to US occupation – have advanced significantly across the country, first upon the announcement of the withdrawal in May, and then again as most US forces have now left the country. A Taliban spokesperson has claimed that they now control eighty-five per cent of the country, and according to a US Intelligence report, the whole country is likely to fall under their control within six months.
BACKGROUND TO THE CONFLICT
The current US intervention into Afghanistan began in the wake of the 11th of September attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, when US government officials accused the Taliban of harbouring Al-Qaeda terrorists that were responsible for the attacks. The Taliban, who were the ruling government of Afghanistan from 1996-2001, asked the US to provide evidence that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks and they would subsequently hand Bin Laden over. However, the US ignored this request and launched its invasion days later. However, one must go back further to see the beginnings of US machinations in the country that is on the crossroads of South and Central Asia.
In 1978, the Saur Revolution led to the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan being established, which then embarked on a program of modernising the country and improving the lives of workers, women, and other oppressed groups. A counter-revolution formed in the countryside by ultra conservative forces, known as the Mujahideen, which the United States under then President Jimmy Carter and Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski armed to the teeth as part of their Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union. The socialist government called on their Soviet Union allies for assistance, as Brzezinski had thought they would, and in doing so would give the USSR ‘their own Vietnam’. Ultimately the move proved successful for the United States, as the USSR was bogged down for 10 years before pulling out, given the multitude of internal issues they were facing at the time, and was ultimately one of the many contributing factors to their dissolution. Warring factions of the Mujahideen dominated the period between 1992-1996, at which time the Taliban came into existence and were able to take control of the country.
THE GRAND CHESSBOARD
Brzezinski’s wishes have ultimately come full circle, as the United States gave themselves “their own Vietnam” again when they invaded Afghanistan in 2001, being bogged down for twenty years, leaving enormous death and destruction in their wake before exiting after two decades in another war they could not win. Over one hundred thousand lives lost, and trillions of dollars wasted, this truly is par for the course of United States behaviour throughout its short history.
Whilst the “War on Terror” was utilised as an alibi for US intervention, reading Brzezinski’s own words in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, point to their true intentions in both Afghanistan as well as other Middle Eastern wars of aggression. Brzezinski asserts that all great powers throughout history have controlled Eurasia, given it has the vast majority of the world’s population and resources. Suppose the US was going to have a chance at another century of global hegemony. In that case, their number one strategic priority was to stop the emergence of a Eurasian power rising to challenge them. The independent states of China, Russia and Iran being listed as their core foreign policy objectives today remain testament to this way of thinking.
The exit from Afghanistan is by no means a turn towards benevolence by the empire, with recent reports of increased troops in Eastern Yemen to thwart Iranian support for the Houthis fighting for independence from US-allied Saudi Arabia, as well as increased focus more broadly in the South Pacific and Latin America. More recently, US corporate media have launched a massive propaganda campaign for a small group of reactionary protestors in Cuba, falsely attributing imagery from Arab Spring protests in Egypt from a decade ago and pro-government rallies in Cuba itself, in a sign of worrying times ahead.
ISLAMISM IN ONE COUNTRY
The composition of the Taliban has changed significantly in the two decades they have endured as a guerrilla force – which is four times as long as their short stint in power in the late 1990s. They are now made up of various ethnic groups across the country – including the Hazara’s who were persecuted during the Taliban’s reign – as a multitude of forces joined their ranks to repel the US invaders. The Taliban has also grown diplomatically and has built relations with China and other neighbours to gain legitimacy for seemingly their inevitable rise to power in the wake of the US’s exit.
Neighbours of Afghanistan have reason to be concerned given the escalation of the situation in recent weeks, and the fear of an extremist spill-over into their own countries. Tajikistan has arranged for 20,000 armed forces to secure their border. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan invited Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi between July 12-16 for a series of talks on how they can ensure regional security in the wake of the US withdrawal.
China – who itself shares a small border with Afghanistan – has a specific reason to be concerned, given the Taliban’s previous association with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who have been responsible for countless terrorist attacks in China’s northwest province of Xinjiang in recent decades. However, the Taliban, for their part, has made assurances that they will not harbour ETIM forces and will respect China in managing their own internal affairs.
Notwithstanding the relatively harsh interpretation of the Quran the Taliban adheres to, they now claim to be concerned with rebuilding their war-torn country and see China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a key pillar in how they can improve the lives of Afghanis and in doing so reinforce their rule. Should a relative peace within the region be found, there is an opportunity for Afghanistan to become a stopover in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), something that would benefit all peoples in the region. However, the internal dynamics of the country mean that a number of difficult hurdles will need to be overcome before such a prospect for peace is realised.
This has not only been the United States’ longest war but Australia’s too. John Howard, Prime Minster at the time of the invasion, invoked the ANZUS treaty as the reason behind Australia’s support for US aggression. The Peace Movement in Australia is calling for an end to Australian participation in US wars, with the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) recently launching an enquiry into the costs and consequences of the US alliance. Australian soldiers have been accused of war crimes whilst engaged in Afghanistan, which has significantly hampered Australia’s reputation in the community of nations.
Everyday Australians must take this opportunity to have their voices heard and ensure that our political class represent the best interest of all Australians – which would involve a defence orientated foreign policy and free up resources to better meet the needs of the public. Afghanistan may finally now have the opportunity to heal and develop a more prosperous way of life after decades of conflict. Australians must make sure that they don’t contribute to another “Afghanistan” again.