On Lessons from Afvietmaliastan
Readers un search of an upbeat and inspirational read are advised not to read on. These few hundred words are an attempt to place the slow car crash that is Afghanistan in context. If you are a believer in western democracy, you are not likely to find any of it uplifting.
Yesterday (Friday Aug 6th) Zaranj, the first provincial capital fell to the Taliban. Today (Saturday Aug 7th) Sheberghan, capital of Jawzjan province, also fell. Neither is any of the more strategic trio of Herat, Khandahar or Jalalabad that news media had been reporting as under threat. With control of mot of the countryside and four of the six main border crossings, the situation has all of the attributes of dominoes falling.
The Afghan government is deploying “security forces” to counter this, but success has been lacking, not least because some units are fearful of what might happen to them in the event of a Taliban victory and fragile allegiance to a government widely seen as both corrupt and factional. Experienced observers in Kabul do not see this drift to disaster being deflected.
After 20 years, thousands of deaths and over $2 trillion expenditure, how can this all be coming apart at the seams so quickly? The short-tem answer is that the Americans, who had been propping up Afghan forces with air power are pulling out and will be gone by next month. The British, who withdrew from active engagement in 2014, are also pulling out advisers and recommending any British civilians to leave. It resembles nothing so much as South Vietnam half a century ago when the withdrawal of American firepower left the ARVN unable to cope with the NVA-backed Viet Cong and the regime collapsed, leading to the unification of Vietnam.
In theory, President Biden, who inherited this mess, could have reversed Trump’s decision to leave. But, after Bush’s revenge invasion to go after the perpetrators of 9/11 in 2001, through Obama’s ‘surge’ when troops and equipment were poured in to resolve a stalemate, military experts both inside the Pentagon and elsewhere have declared the war to be ‘unwinnable’.
The truly sad thing about all this is that they should have known that two decades ago and not wasted pots of money and thousands of mostly Afghan lives to find out. The two glaring factors that should have been evident to any adviser in reaching those fundamental facts are:
- Places like Afghanistan are quagmires for external powers
- Military intervention alone never brings stability in the long term
Both facts require explanation. But the combination of the two, as happened in Afghanistan, is a poisoned chalice, a hiding to nothing, a recipe for disaster with knobs on.
(to be continued)