The Guardian • Issue #1977

Afghanistan: no clean end to a dirty war

The Russian Foreign Ministry was the first to announce [last month] that a suicide attack outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport killed at least two people and wounded fifteen more. Other explosions in Kabul, including one at a major hotel, were also reported. Later reports had at least fifteen US citizens and Afghans killed.

The Russian report was the first to give the number of casualties from one of the explosions, at least one of which occurred among crowds clustered outside the gates of the airport.

Late Wednesday, 25 August, the US embassy had warned its citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain, and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday to stay away, with Australia’s Foreign Minister saying there was a “very high threat of a terrorist attack.”

An extremist group, ISIS-K, is believed to be behind the bombings. They have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants

The Taliban have fought against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan. But ISIS-K fighters were likely freed from prisons along with other inmates during the Taliban’s rapid advance. Extremists may have seized heavy weapons and equipment abandoned by Afghan troops.

Despite the warnings from Western officials, however, thousands of Afghans have descended on the airport in hope of scoring a spot in the US-led airlift that has flown more than 100,000 people out of the country over the last few weeks, according to the US government.

The press has jumped all over the airlift, condemning the Biden administration for allegedly botching the operation. Even as they admit that the people of the US overwhelmingly back withdrawal, media commentators emphasise that Americans don’t support the “way” it has been done. Admittedly, everyone would prefer a Holly­wood ending, but dirty wars simply don’t end that way.

At the end of World War II, the newsreels and the movies fed the American people Hollywood endings to that horrible war. Scenes of happy crowds in Western European cities throwing their arms around American liberators marching into their towns and cities abounded. America’s wars end with everyone living happily ever after – that was the message.

After the Vietnam War, Americans received very different images – videos of US helicopters lifting off the roof of the US embassy in Saigon as the last troops were driven out of the country by the Vietnamese liberation forces, finally ending many decades of colonialism and foreign intervention. Thousands of Americans and Vietnamese supporters of the occupation of that country were left behind.

Like that war in Vietnam, the war in Afghanistan was a dirty one from the very first days when the US intervened in that country’s affairs. In the 1980s, the CIA backed the fundamentalist forces from which the Taliban eventually emerged – essentially opening the way for an eventual Taliban takeover of the country. Before that, Afghanistan had a progressive socialist government that had put the country on a path to progress and democracy.

It continued to be a dirty war when the US intervened to replace that Taliban government with a puppet US regime allegedly to save us all from terrorism after the 9/11 attacks. The US then bolstered that corrupt and unpopular government for twenty long years, long after it could be claimed (if it ever truthfully could be) that Afghanistan was the location from which future terrorist attacks on the US might take place.

If anything, the attacks [last month] at the Kabul airport as the airlift races toward an end further strengthen the argument by those who say we should withdraw from this dirty war. The Hollywood happy ending will never come because a tidy “victory” has been, since the beginning, an impossible goal.

You can’t interfere in the internal affairs of another country, overthrow a progressive government, install right-wing religious fundamentalists in their place, and then replace them with a corrupt puppet government to do your bidding and expect sunshine and rainbows when it’s all over.

Those who say they support withdrawal but not the way it has been done have thus far suggested no alternative exit strategy. That’s because there is absolutely no clean way to end a dirty war – a war that cost trillions of dollars and countless lives.

Instead, the carnage will continue for the people of Afghanistan, long after the US has already launched its next war.

People’s World

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