At last, US President Joe Biden has announced his administration’s intention to withdraw America’s combat troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York. Other NATO and coalition troops would also be fully withdrawn latest by that date.

 

 

Biden’s decision to end the longest and costliest war in American history is not only courageous but also makes absolutely perfect sense. Except perhaps for war-mongers in the Pentagon, the defence contractors, armaments manufacturers and the politicians whose elections they bankroll and for whom war is good business, getting out of Afghanistan after two decades of what, to borrow General Omar Bradley’s characterization of the Korean War, can be justifiably described as “a wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.”

 

A cursory glance at the compelling statistics will reveal why the withdrawal decision makes good sense. In the 20 years of the bloodbath, the US expended a staggering sum of $2 trillion, lost 2,400 service men, and recorded 20,700 wounded service men, according to The New York Times, April 14. With the exception of the casualty figures on the Afghans side, all other statistics of the war are so staggeringly unfavourable to the United States and so weighted against rationality and commonsense for America to want to continue with it. Afghanistan’s casualties is put by some reports at 157,000 deaths, of which roughly 43,000 were civilians; 235,000 displaced according to UNHCR; accompanied by extensive physical destruction, massive environmental contamination from exploded ordinance and their attendant diseases and ailments; risks and dangers from unexploded munitions and landmines scattered over the Afghan landscape; large numbers of child and youth soldiers who have never known anything but war and who will necessarily pose post-war danger to the civil population; widespread hunger and starvation among the displaced, etc. These are the deadly footprints that America is leaving behind in hapless Afghanistan after 20 years of bloodshed. Does it make any sense to continue inflicting these horrors on a people?

 

Another reason to discontinue the war is that you cannot fight a war of an indeterminate duration in someone else’s territory and expect to win totally. Except you totally annihilate your adversaries, all that they need do is patiently wait you out, knowing that someday you’re gonna become exhausted and war-weary that you’ll contemplate packing up and leaving for home. This is one such war that America could never hope to win, for the stakes are different for Americans, fighting a foreign war that majority of them could not see the need for, and for the Taliban for whom the war is an existential imperative, a fight for the control of their land and way of life as they see it.

 

Waiting America out and wearying its soldiers on the battlefield has been a part of the Taliban’s playbook. Experience has taught them that, at some point, domestic pressures in the US would eventually render continuation of the foreign war no longer defensible, more so that America has not recorded any meaningful and sustainable victory on the battlefield where its youth have been dying for no apparent just cause. One would ordinarily have expected US policy makers to have learnt this from their Vietnam experience: no matter what military victories you record on the battlefields you will never totally defeat foreign adversary permanently on its own soil! This is more when the Taliban are obtaining foreign support from some of America’s friends such as neighbouring Pakistan, and even notable adversaries like Russia whose predecessor, the defunct Soviet Union, was humiliated out of Afghanistan with the help of the US, and others such as Iran. What goes around surely comes around so, for the Russians, it’s time to pay America back in its own coins

 

Let’s remember how America got into this war in the first place. Its forces launched a massive invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Islamist extremist Taliban regime of Mullah Muhammad Omar in Kabul whom America had accused of sheltering Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist group presumed to have masterminded the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon on the outskirts of Washington DC. on September 11, 2001. The pretext was that Mullah Omar had refused to surrender bin Laden, and, pronto, two of the most hawkish war-mongering neocons in the George W. Bush administration, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, both who would also cause invasion of Iraq two years later in 2003, went to work on the invasion plan. Osama bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan had served as the casus belli for America to change the regime in Kabul.

 

It is hard to say what this withdrawal portends for Afghanistan’s future, for no government has been able to withstand the Taliban without the backing of US and allied forces. It is doubtful that the present government of President Ashraf Ghani can withstand the expected Taliban onslaught once the coalition forces withdraw. But then, it is better to allow the Afghans to sort out their own internal problems whichever way they can, than allow Americans to continue destroying their country and disrupting their lives in a war that is clearly unwinnable. After overawing the Afghans in the early days of the invasion and ousting the Taliban, the war has bogged down to fire-fights with no discernible winners, and it became quite clear years ago that the problem of Afghanistan didn’t admit of purely military solutions alone.

 

Like them or not, the truth is that the Taliban are a persistent and enduring feature of Afghan politics and society, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Overall, America’s policy has been a failure, and no countries would be more pleased to gloat than America’s foes like Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China, all who are seeking a stake in a post-American Afghanistan! It is a cruel irony that the same Taliban that American forces ousted from Kabul 20 years ago is also the one now literally chasing America out of Kabul. They will return to power and once again re-impose their brand of extremist Sharia rule that America’s invasion had halted two decades ago.

 

After more than four decades of endless war that had begun with the Soviet invasion in 1979 and later America’s own in 2001, there is no doubting that Afghanistan truly needs durable peace, but it is doubtful under impending Taliban forceful take over. No one knows the fate that awaits the long-suffering Afghan but it does not seem a pretty one, judging by the Taliban’s previous record of extreme brutality, wanton violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, restriction education for females, summary executions, etc. Afghans do not need further interference by self-appointed foreign do-gooders in their internal affairs. What they need instead is genuine and altruistic support of the international community, to help them restore sustainable peace and stability to their war-ravaged country, put in place a good, responsible and accountable governance system. But whether they will ever get it is anyone’s guess.

Prof Fawole is of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

TheNation


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