Jyoti Prakash Khan
The longest foreign engagement of troops in US history was in Afghanistan. It lasted 20 years from October 2001 to August 2021. According to US Defense Department figures, more than 775,000 U.S. troops were deployed, many repeatedly of whom 2,300 died and 20,589 were wounded in action. This is excluding the NATO coalition forces.
It all began on October 7th, 2001. In response to the 9/11 attacks and following the Taliban’s refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden and closing down terrorist training camps President George W Bush launched Operation “Enduring Freedom” dubbed as Global War on Terrorism. A month into the military operations the Bush administration, announced the ‘liberation’ from the Taliban of the first major city , Mazar-e-Sharif and a month later the fall of the last major city of Kandahar. Massive air and ground strikes resulted in the Al Qaida put on the run, losing their power, their safe havens and much of their leadership. An euphoric international community pledged $10 billion over five years for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
In 2002 backed by the coalition forces Hamid Karzai became interim President. In 2004 general election he was elected President, followed by a 2nd term in 2009 which ended in 2014.The next President was Ashraf Ghani and he served from 2014 till his flight from Afghanistan on 15th August 2021 when the Taliban took Kabul.
The enigmatic question therefore is (1) why did the US and its coalition forces dig into Afghanistan from 2001 till 2021 and (2) Why did the Afghan government collapse faced against a 80,000 strong Taliban even after when the Republic had already installed 3 Presidents via general elections and supposedly had 300,699 strong army backed up by Afghan Local Police a 19,000 strong militia.
U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war all through its two decades of engagement, painting rosy pictures they knew to be false and hiding hard evidence and facts that the war had become unwinnable.
The U.S. military generally avoids public knowledge of body counts. But internal interviews with military commanders contain numerous admissions that the government routinely gave out statistics that officials knew were distorted, or were outright false. After a sharp rise in incidents of Taliban attacks on major cities in July 2016, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time, briefed the Press saying, “We are seeing some progress”. (source : Washington Post)
As thel Taliban offensive began closing in towards Kabul the Afghan government troops abandoned their posts and melted away due to lack of basic items like food and ammunition. There just wasn’t the will to support a corrupt government in Kabul of questionable legitimacy.The repeated claims in the Press by the U.S. military and civilian leaders that the Afghan forces were improving and were combat capable were lies designed to sustain U.S. public support.
According to a Washington Post Report, “of the 352,000 soldiers and police counted as members of the country’s security forces, only 254,000 could be confirmed by the Afghan government.
Commanders not only created “ghost soldiers” to pad their payrolls but also skimmed the pay of serving soldiers and failed to deliver necessary supplies, the Post reported. To a large extent, that corruption was enabled by the United States’ free-spending ways. U.S. attempts to fight corruption were, by contrast, half-hearted and ineffectual”.
Michael Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, told government interviewers in 2015. “If we are doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing ? According to general Flynn on arrival in Afghanistan, U.S. Army brigade and battalion commanders were given the same basic mission: to protect the population and defeat the enemy.
So they all went in for whatever their rotation was, nine months or six months, and were given that mission, accepted that mission and executed that mission, then they all said, when they left, they accomplished that mission.
For Obviou reasons they were not expected to say “You know what, we didn’t accomplish our mission ”. Bob Crowley, a retired Army colonel who served as a counterinsurgency adviser in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers that “truth was rarely welcome”. Reports of corruption and inefficiency of the Afghan government was never welcome. (source :Washington Post)Some political observers are of the opinion that the 2004 Afghanistan constitution itself was highly flawed and was responsible for many of the problems faced by the successive Afghanistan governments.
They say, the single biggest flaw in the constitution of Afghanistan is that it created an over-centralized, unitary state in an ethnically diverse, mountainous country where local leaders, communities, and tribes often effectively rule themselves. Many Afghans were also of the opinion that a strong central government was necessary to thwart national disintegration due to interference by Iran and Pakistan and their lackey warlords.
But what was clearly not given a thought to during Constitution drafting was the fact that although the majority tribe of Afghanistan the Pashtuns were in favour of a strong centralised Federal Government the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks were in favour of more local autonomy and less of centralised control over local affairs at the level of villages since they detested outside interference in their traditional customs.