Afghan war: after 18 years is there finally an end in sight?

Just as in Vietnam, the mighty USA has spent incalculable blood and treasure trying to enforce its will, and has signally failed.

Afghan resistance fighters and villagers attend a gathering as they celebrate the peace deal signed between the US and Taliban, Laghman province, 2 March 2020.

On 29 February 2020, the Times reported: “America has signed a deal with Taliban insurgents that could pave the way towards the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to the 18-year war in the country.

“Under the agreement, America will cut its forces from 13,000 to 8,600 in the next three to four months, with its remaining troops withdrawing in 14 months. Complete withdrawal depends on the Taliban meeting commitments to prevent terrorism.” (US troops set to quit Afghanistan after America signs peace deal with Taliban by Catherine Philp)

It will be recalled that Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States four years ago on the basis of a promise to pull out US troops from the various unwinnable wars in which they were mired. Now that elections are looming again in November, and wishing to be elected for a second term, he is most anxious to be seen to be fulfilling his promise.

Bottomless pit

The war in Afghanistan has been swallowing up US resources over the last 18 years in spectacular manner, being estimated to have cost no less than $2tn so far – and without any tangible results. It is no wonder that anyone at least half way sane in America wants to pull out, and the sooner the better.

(This does not include the execrable secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who apparently told a conference of American ambassadors at the state department that he was only going to the signing ceremony because the president was insisting on it.)

What did the US get for $2 trillion in Afghanistan?

On 9 December 2109, the New York Times published an article entitled ‘What did the US get for $2 trillion in Afghanistan?’, authored by Sarah Almukhtar and Rod Nordland. In essence, the answer to the question was ‘less than nothing’, but the authors ruthlessly spelled out how the money was wasted:

“There is little to show for it. The Taliban control much of the country. Afghanistan remains one of the world’s largest sources of refugees and migrants. More than 2,400 American soldiers and more than 38,000 Afghan civilians have died …

“Eighteen years later, the Taliban are steadily getting stronger. They kill Afghan security force members – sometimes hundreds in a week – and defeat government forces in almost every major engagement, except when significant American air support is used against them …

“In a report last year, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction described counter-narcotics efforts as a ‘failure’. Despite billions of dollars to fight opium poppy cultivation, Afghanistan is the source of 80 percent of global illicit opium production.

“Before the war, Afghanistan had almost completely eradicated opium, according to United Nations data from 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban were in power.

“Today, opium cultivation is a major source of income and jobs, as well as revenue for the Taliban. Other than war expenditures, it is Afghanistan’s biggest economic activity.”

After the US spending $87bn to train Afghan military and police forces, “The Afghan army … suffers from increasing casualty rates and desertion, which means they have to train new recruits totalling at least a third of their entire force every year.”

Moreover, they might have also mentioned that: “In recent years, the brunt of fighting has been borne by Afghan soldiers and police officers, many of them American-trained. But even some of them came to see US troops as invaders, turning their guns on their American and Nato partners.

“More than 150 American and Nato troops have been killed in such ‘green-on-blue’ attacks, including two American service members gunned down this month.” (Taliban and US strike deal to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by Mujib Mashal, New York Times, 1 March 2020)

But to return to Sarah Almukhtar and Rod Nordland:

Despite a $30bn spend on reconstruction programmes, “American dollars went to build hospitals that treated no patients, to schools that taught no students (and sometimes never existed at all) and to military bases the Afghans found useless and later shuttered.

“The inspector general documented $15.5bn in waste, fraud and abuse in reconstruction efforts from 2008 through 2017.”

To cap it all, “To finance war spending, the United States borrowed heavily and will pay more than $600bn in interest on those loans through 2023. The rest of the debt will take years to repay.”

And last but not least: “More than $350bn has already gone to medical and disability care for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Experts say that more than half of that spending belongs to the Afghanistan effort.

“The final total is unknown, but experts project another trillion dollars in costs over the next 40 years as wounded and disabled veterans age and need more services.”

Will the peace hold?

Without a peace deal there can be no doubt that more and more billions of dollars will literally go up in smoke:

“Much of the peace negotiations happened in a year of record violence from both sides. In just the last quarter of 2019, the Taliban carried out 8,204 attacks, the highest for that period over the past decade. The United States dropped 7,423 bombs and missiles during the year, a record since the air force began recording the data in 2006.” (New York Times, op cit)

The Taliban for their part long for peace and an end to occupation, as do all Afghans. In the face of an infinitely more powerful enemy, their tactic has been to make it not worthwhile to the enemy for it to carry on, and there are good signs that this has finally worked.

However, there are two major stumbling blocks, the first being America’s loss of face. The fact of its defeat will only encourage others whom it wishes to exploit and oppress to stand up to it.

This would no doubt have to be dealt with by getting the bourgeois media to publicise far and wide how they only intend to go if the Taliban behave themselves, and maybe dropping a few bombs here and there to show they mean it.

The other stumbling block is the stubbornness of its local puppets in the Ghani government, who, under US protection, for what it’s worth, have been feeding their kleptomania like there was no tomorrow, and now refuse to accept that tomorrow is arriving fast.

Specifically, the government has refused to implement one of the key provisions of the peace agreement, which was the immediate release of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners from jail.

The announcement of this refusal was followed by the Taliban resuming hostilities that had been suspended for weeks to allow for peace negotiations:

“The Taliban have carried out at least 76 attacks across 24 Afghan provinces since Saturday, when they finalised an agreement for a troop withdrawal by the United States, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s national security council said. And on Wednesday [4 March], the United States conducted its first airstrike against the insurgents after an 11-day lull …

“The deadliest of the dozens of assaults so far were on the outskirts of Kunduz in the north in the early hours of Wednesday. The Taliban’s elite Red Unit stormed Afghan army outposts there from several directions, killing at least 15 Afghan soldiers.” (Taliban ramp up attacks on Afghans after Trump says ‘No Violence’ by Najim Rahim and Mujib Mashal, New York Times, 4 March 2020)

The Taliban is offering something of an olive branch to US imperialism as it renews its offensives by telling the Americans that it will not attack Nato soldiers but only the Afghan ‘government’. Seeing that it is the Afghan government that is in breach of the peace agreement (to which it was never even a party), the US does have an excuse not to get involved – but is it able to grasp it?

US imperialism will be most reluctant to pull out. It would be obvious to all that they are pulling out because they have been defeated, just as was the case in Vietnam:

“The war in Afghanistan in some ways echoes the American experience in Vietnam. In both, a superpower bet heavily on brute strength and the lives of its young, then walked away with seemingly little to show.” (New York Times, op.cit)

International criminal court

In the meantime, the international criminal court (ICC) has suddenly chanced upon its mojo and has decided, on appeal, that it “will open an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, including those committed by US forces, setting off a potentially explosive showdown with the Trump administration.

“Judges in the Hague overturned an earlier ruling that the investigation ‘would not serve the interests of justice’, clearing the path for the ICC chief prosecutor to pursue cases.

“The decision marks the first time that the court will examine actions by American forces since it was established 15 years ago to seek justice for the victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

“Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, denounced the move as ‘a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution, masquerading as a legal body’.” (Court to examine ‘US war crimes’ in Afghanistan by Catherine Philp, The Times, 6 March 2020)

The whole world, however, is painfully aware of the war crimes that US imperialism and its hangers on have been committing, not only in Afghanistan, but also in Syria, Iraq and Libya, to name but a few.

It seems that the ICC prosecutors, too, were only too aware of them:

“The ICC began collecting evidence of war crimes in 2006, including torture by the US military and CIA in Afghanistan and at so-called black sites in eastern Europe. Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, said that the court had sufficient information to prove that US forces had ‘committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence’.” (Ibid)

US imperialism’s highly mature and considered response has been to revoke Ms Bensouda’s US visa and announce that it would block all other ICC prosecutors from entering the US.