Afghanistan occupied under fake charges
When George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan in order to avenge the attacks in New York and Washington allegedly masterminded by Osama bin Laden (OBL) led al-Qaeda on 9/11, the US was the most powerful country of the world and it had carved out a New World Order to monopolize the world for next 100 years. After its capture in Nov 2001, Afghanistan was converted into a permanent military station. Northern Alliance forces supported by the air umbrella provided by the Western forces captured the most impoverished country, singing the song of freedom and liberty, promising to make it democratic and prosperous and to emancipate the Afghan women by promoting education and liberalism. The dancing and cheering crowds in Kabul welcomed their Western liberators and thanked them for freeing them from the clutches of the brutal Taliban. The happiest were the Afghan Northern Alliance forces who came riding on the shoulders of the western forces.
Hidden Objectives. The major objectives of the US were:-
Destabilise China’s Xinjiang Province by stoking Uighur and ETIM movement. Disrupt China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and effectively contain China. Unsettle resurging Russia. Denuclearize Pakistan and make it a compliant state. Affect a regime change in Iran. Monitor the unravelling of the Middle East after capturing Iraq, again on false charges. Demonise Islam.
The US also planned to make India a key player in Afghanistan, economically and militarily fortify it to become a bulwark against China and a policeman of Indo-Pacific region. Pakistan was taken on board as a tactical partner for the achievement of its short term objectives and its nuclear teeth were to be extracted covertly.
History of Al-Qaeda & OBL
30, 000 Mujahids assembled by CIA from different Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, were brought to FATA, chosen as a base of operation in 1981, to beef up the strength of Afghan/Pakistan Mujahideen and to fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The war was won by the Afghan Mujahideen, helped by Mujahids from other countries including FATA tribesmen, and fully supported by the ISI. Not a single American or European soldier took part in the ten years war. After the war, not only Pakistan and the Mujahideen were abandoned by the US, the latter were not accepted by their respective countries. They had to reside in Afghanistan and in FATA. (Today the US is worried about the settlement of pro Afghan regime and the US Afghans who didn’t part in the war, and intend to shift 18000 Afghan interpreters, who had worked with them, all-told 80,000 with families, by July 2021).
The holy warriors under OBL named as Al-Qaeda by the CIA were declared as terrorists in 1997, and were hounded after they attacked American targets in two African countries and Gulf of Aqaba in reaction to their relinquishment. The CentCom under Gen Zinni attacked Al-Qaeda base in Afghanistan with cruise missiles from a naval warship deployed in Arabian Sea in 1998 but missed OBL. Since this outfit was on the hit list, it was promptly blamed for the 9/11 attacks. No proof of Al-Qaeda’s involvement has been furnished to this day. Not a single wanted militant was killed in the massive Tora Bora bombing in Dec 2001 in which not even a lizard survived. Suffering from acute kidney disease, OBL slipped into North Waziristan and next to Haripur. It was widely reported in 2005 that he had died, after which the biggest manhunt ever launched went cold. For sure, he was completely cut off from Al-Qaeda and posed no threat to the USA. Reportedly, he was killed by the US Navy Seals on May 2, 2011 in a house in Abbottabad, but the story of his killing woven by the USA left many lingering doubts about its authenticity and it is not certain whether it was OBL or his son, or a dummy. Dumping the dead body in the sea secretly raised many questions which have not been answered. Most of the Naval Seal members who had taken part in Operation ‘Get Osama’ died either in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan or were killed by mysterious hands.
After taking the credit of killing OBL over whom $ 25 million head money had been announced, President Obama proudly declared in 2012, that Al-Qaeda had been effectively disrupted, dismantled and destroyed. In actuality it was weakened mainly by Pakistan security forces by netting over 600 senior and middle order leaders. They were handed over to the CIA for onward transfer to Guantanamo Bay. Majority had shifted to Arabian Peninsula in 2004/05 after the invasion of Iraq by western forces in March 2003 and had formed APAQ under Al-Zawahiri.
Bounce back by Taliban
The Taliban under Mullah Omar who had taken active part in Jihad against the Soviets and had lost an eye, ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and had made the lawless country stable and peaceful. He refused to hand over OBL, whom he treated as his guest, without furnishing proof of his involvement, and on account of the injunctions of Islam and demands of Pashtunwali. On the insistence of Pakistan, he agreed to hold his trial in Saudi Arabia or any other country under Islamic laws. The US rejected his reasonable demands since they had no proof and 9/11 was an in-house drama.
In the wake of relentless carpet bombing of the invaders, Mullah Omar in consultation with his Majlis-e-Shura wisely decided to carry out a tactical withdrawal into FATA in Nov 2001 to save the people and the country from further deaths and destruction; regroup and fight an insurrectional war. Within a year they started hitting back and thereon fought the invaders ceaselessly.
Unlike in the 1980s when the Mujahideen were backed by the whole free world under the USA, this time they fought single-handedly without any external support. By 2008, they managed to bounce back in a big way in their home bases of southern and eastern Afghanistan, from where they could target the invaders and collaborators in other parts of the country. Mullah Omar’s fighters in the south and Haqqanis under Sirajuddin in the east surged forward in coordination and started hitting targets in all parts of the country. They were ready to face the two troop surges ordered by Obama in 2009 from Iraq and the USA.
ISAF’s change of posture
Gen McChrystal who had earned fame untruthfully on account of defeating Al-Qaeda in Western Iraq, (but the feat in reality had been achieved by Sunni Iraqis), he was posted to Afghanistan as ISAF Commander in 2008 to defeat the surging Taliban. With no dearth of airpower and resources, he requested for additional 100,000 ground troops which was granted by Obama. With over 140,000 combat strength, he launched a major offensive in 2009 in Helmand province which had become the hotbed due to the attraction of poppy trade, and where Britain had built the biggest cantonment near Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, and named it Camp Boston. After Bagram airbase, it was the strongest fort of the occupiers. An auxiliary was launched in Kunar-Nuristan.
The ISAF suffered much more casualties in Helmand operations than they had suffered in previous years, and also met a big fiasco in Nuristan. Frightened by the mounting casualties, the General lost his offensive steam and hastened to adopt a rearward posture, confining the troops to the 8 military bases and terminating use of boots on ground. Support to the Afghan forces was restricted to air cover only. Defensive strategy enabled the Taliban to gain initiative and a military edge which could not be regained by the occupiers and the collaborators.
Obama’s drawdown of troops
Obama after spelling out his Af-Pak strategy in March 2009, he made Holbrooke as the coordinator. He wanted hot pursuit operations by Special Operations Forces into FATA based on actionable intelligence, but Gen Ashfaq Kayani put his foot down, saying his forces were capable of dealing with the militant threat. Seeing that the war couldn’t be won, Obama rightly took the decision at the Brussels conference in December 2010, and ordered a troop drawdown in July 2011 which was to be completed by Dec 2014. With the achievement of major objectives of destroying Al-Qaeda and killing OBL, there was no justifiable reason for the US to prolong the drawdown of troops from July 2011 to Dec 2014. On one hand, Obama opened peace talks with the Taliban in 2011, on the other hand he stepped up drone war and declared drones as his choice weapon, the brunt of which fell upon Waziristan in Pakistan.
Pentagon and the spoilers prevailed upon Obama to sign bilateral security agreement with the new unity regime of Ashraf Ghani-Dr. Abdullah in Sept 2016 by virtue of which a Resolute Support Group (RSG) of about 12000 troops were to stay in Afghanistan in all the airbases for another year, but the dates of their departure kept extending.
Once bulk of the 1, 40, 000 ISAF troops withdrew by Dec 2014, and the two power contenders of the unnatural unity government remained engaged in power tussle, the Taliban accelerated their spring offensives each year and kept gaining more and more space. Nothing was achieved by prolonging the occupation, except for prolonging the agony of the resistance forces, the occupying forces, the government forces and the civilians. But the Pentagon kept painting a rosy picture to befool the American public that the US was winning the war and all was okay.
Trump, after adopting a hardline approach in 2017-18, reopened peace talks with the Taliban in Sept 2018 and signed a peace agreement at Doha on Feb 29, 2019. The Kabul regime was kept aside throughout the talks. While the Taliban agreed that they will not allow Afghan soil for terrorism against any other country, the US agreed to exit by May 1, 2021. It was also agreed that both sides would refrain from attacking each other, Taliban leaders would be removed from the UN blacklist, and the Taliban would start intra-Afghan dialogue soon after the release of prisoners.
By the time Trump left the White House, only 2500 US troops were left in Afghanistan. Commitments made with the Taliban had mostly remained unfulfilled. 3500 foreign troops had been killed and more than one lac casualties of civilians had taken place in Afghanistan since 2009.
Violation of Doha agreement by Biden
No sooner Joe Biden took over in January 2021, the lobbyists sprang into action, some pro and some against the pullout by the due date. Those against the retreat spread scary stories. On March 29, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough used his high-profile “Morning Joe” show to suggest that pulling out would lead to Islamic State militants burning people in cages and the Taliban “cutting off the heads of young girls.”
Influenced by the Pentagon, Israel, Kabul regime, India and 18000 security contractors in Afghanistan, Biden decided to review the Feb 2019 Doha agreement and seemed inclined to delay the departure by six months or so under the plea of arriving at a political settlement. He blamed the Taliban for violating the Doha agreement and promoting violence.
The Taliban shot back saying they were strictly abiding by all the clauses of the agreement but it was the US which had not honored it. They recalled that the US failed to get their 7000 prisoners out of 10,000 locked up in jails of all the 34 provincial capitals, it failed to remove Taliban leaders from black list, and the US airpower struck their fighters during their fight with ANA.
New date of Sept 11 given for pullout
Those in favor of timely pullout began to mount pressure on Biden giving their set of arguments and reminding him of the homesickness and demoralization of the left over troops in Afghanistan, increased trends of suicides, and tens of thousands suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After wrongfully blaming the Taliban for not abiding by the terms of agreement that were refuted, sense prevailed and Biden acted before it was too late to avert the blowback by announcing on April 14 the new exit date of 11 Sept to end the longest war in US history. Four months extension was a bad idea, futile and at the cost of loss of face. It heralded the burial of the third super power in the graveyard of Afghanistan.
Extension of withdrawal date was taken by the Taliban as a violation of the agreement. They warned that after the deadline of May 1, they will be justified to launch their spring offensive with full force.
Hurried vacation of Bagram airbase
The foreign troops started exiting from May 1 onwards and the bulk of pullout was completed by July 3 to ensure participation of the troops in the US Independence Day on July 4. The largest and strongest Bagram air base was the last to be vacated on the night of 2 July. The lights of the base were put off to conceal the exit which was undertaken in complete secrecy. Even the ANA Commander who was to take over the security and management of the airbase learnt about it 2 hours after their departure. No handing/taking took place nor any sendoff arranged. The date and time of exit was kept secret to ensure security of the US troops.
Fear was not from the Taliban who they knew would honor their commitment, but they were not sure of the loyalties of the ANA since they had been involved in Green over Blue attacks and several Americans had died at their hands inside Bagram base.
One can imagine the fright and jangled nerves of the last batch of US soldiers during the first half of night 2/3 July impatiently wanting to sneak out safe and sound in one piece. Huge dumps of storage, arms, ammunition and sophisticated equipment (3,500,000 items) were left behind unattended. For two hours the base was looted by the people living in close vicinity and they managed to run away with whatever booty they could lay their hands on. It was a sorry spectacle, an inglorious withdrawal undertaken in panic and a disgrace. Only about 650 to 1000 American troops are now present in Kabul for the protection of American diplomats and Kabul airport. They are expected to leave by the end August 2021.
Stepped up offensive of Taliban
The Taliban had already drawn a comprehensive war strategy and had divided the country into five commands (Western, Southern, Eastern, Northern and Central) with respective field commanders. Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Yaqub are the two deputies of Haibatullah Akhundzada. Taking advantage of the speedy withdrawal of occupation troops, the Taliban stepped up their attacks after May 1, and in May-June captured 60-100 new districts including seven in Badakshan northeastern province and several districts in northern Kunduz province. . At several places, the ANA surrendered without putting up resistance and handed over military equipment. Well over 1000 ANA troops bolted to Tajikistan from Badakhshan leaving behind a huge quantity of arms, ammunition, equipment, tanks, armored cars and vehicles.
Badghis province including its capital Qila Nau fell to the Taliban on July 6, which is the first urban centre to fall and will not be the last. In the remaining half a month of July, and 4 weeks of August, the Taliban are likely to capture many more districts/cities and tighten the noose around major cities including Kabul. Ultimately the centre of gravity will reside in Kabul.
The Taliban now control 85% of Afghanistan's territory including 270 of 398 districts. They have succeeded in dominating all the major highways and almost all major cities are under their siege. With such speedy and easy successes, the Taliban stopped the intra-Afghan dialogue and got wholly focused towards exploiting the momentum gained and to capture as much territory in the shortest possible time and to stand on a strong bargaining position.
Having gained control over Sher Khan Killi in a district in Kunduz, which is a dry port on the border with Tajikistan, the Taliban are now in control over the sole crossing point between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Likewise, Islam Qila crossing point in Farah province bordering Iran, three crossing points of Torkham, Chaman and Spin Boldak into Pakistan, Torghundi into Turkmenistan, and the one into Uzbekistan have also been seized. The Wakhan corridor is in their grasp. The Taliban recovered Rupees 3 billion from the office of Afghan intelligence Col near the entry gate at Chaman, which was meant for payment to the proxies.
With all the transit points used for trade with other countries and also the inter-provincial crossing points in their control, the Taliban have started earning billions from custom duty and toll tax to run the administration by shadow governors and to dispense justice through Qazi courts.
The Taliban will prefer to throttle the cities and the government rather than head on attacks. This has become evident from the seizure of oil tankers moving to Kabul and other big cities by the Taliban to deny fuel to the ANA vehicles, tanks, helicopters and jets and thus force them to surrender.
With the acquisition of surface to air SAM anti-air launchers as well as anti-tank FGM 148 Javelin rockets, the Taliban are now in a position to strike ANA’s attack helicopters and tanks. One helicopter was recently shot down and seven ANA pilots killed. Sensing that the Taliban are now in possession of long range rockets and might be supplied drones by Iran, the US has installed an air defence system at the airport. Indian pilots flying Afghan air force helicopters and India having promised to supply 21 helicopters would now be thinking differently
Bounded by the Doha agreement, the Taliban refrained from attacking the foreign troops. Had they attacked them and caused fatalities and injuries, could Biden afford to accept responsibility for more deaths and that too without any tangible results? It was quite obvious that when 1, 40,000 strong ISAF couldn’t reverse the tide from 2009 to 2019, what could 2500 troops achieve.
Lessons from history
Learning from history, the Taliban have activated their political and diplomatic fronts and have sent their delegations to Moscow, Tehran, Beijing, Islamabad, and capitals of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, assuring them that they are against bloodshed. China and Turkmenistan’s concern would be the ETIM and that of Tajikistan IMU. The Taliban have stated that they will not allow cross border terrorism, do not war with any neighbor, will maintain friendly relations with them, will ensure safe, secure and strong Afghanistan, will not allow bloodshed of the Afghans, and are keen to rebuild the country, and would welcome the international community to develop the war torn country.
They have adopted a forgiving attitude and are welcoming the Afghan troops surrendering to them. They have assured all uniformed personnel with job surety. They have already indicated their leniency towards education of girls and have also said that the future government will be all inclusive, and the system of governance will be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people. So far no case of killing or torture or humiliation of the surrendered troops has been reported. All hospitals, schools, and administrative bodies have been allowed to remain functional. A department of public works has been opened which is busy constructing/repairing roads and bridges all over the country. All this indicates that the Taliban are maintaining a happy balance between their military, political and diplomatic strategies and are projecting themselves as seasoned, well versed and balanced.
Respecting the coming Eidul Azha, the Taliban announced on July 15 a 3-month ceasefire which will be subject to the Afghan regime agreeing to release their 7000 prisoners and the US removing their leaders from black list. These are not new demands but are contained in the Doha agreement. It is a smart move since it will placate the Taliban fighters, shift the ball into the court of the other side, allow the Taliban to consolidate its gains in the captured areas, and also will refrain the ANA from launching counter attacks to recover some of the lost regions.
Threat of isolation. In response to the pressure exerted upon the Taliban that they will be ostracized by the international community if they refuse to let go their resolve to establish Islamic Emirate instead of Islamic Republic, and shirked from establishing a broad-based government inclusive of incumbent regime in Kabul, or if they take over Kabul by force, they say that governed by the pulls of geo-economics, the world needs Afghanistan, while they could do without the support of the world as they had done in their previous rule. They said that the Doha agreement was by itself a certificate of world recognition.
Role of spoilers
The tottering Afghan regime, dejected India and the biased western media are collectively spreading scary stories and demeaning the Taliban that they are responsible for the violence and instability and are non-cooperative to restore peace. To tarnish the Taliban’s policy of forgiveness and announcement of general amnesty to all, a story is in circulation that the Taliban killed 22 Afghan commandos in their captivity. The news were denied by the Taliban, saying that after losing the battle, the commandos were caught while they were trying to cross into Turkmenistan and they are with them as guests.
In order to hide their embarrassment, the government officials of Afghanistan are spreading false news that Pakistan army special units are taking part in operations with the Taliban against the ANA. They also allege that the PAF is providing close support to the Taliban in certain areas. Going further, they allege that the PAF has warned ANA and air force that any attempt to dislodge the Taliban from Spin Boldak will be repelled by PAF.
The propagandists in Afghanistan and their western backers look the other way to the double dealings of India. India’s two C-130s were sent to Kandahar on July 10 -11 to evacuate their stranded diplomats and RAW operatives. On each day, 40 tons of war munitions consisting of 120 mm mortars, 122 mm artillery shells and small arms ammunition was off loaded for use by the ANA. On one hand India is bending over backwards to win the friendship of the Taliban and has sent its delegations to Doha, and on the other hand it is supplying arms to the ANA to fight the Taliban.
The US legacy of failures
The Americans are leaving a legacy of failures. They could neither defeat nor contain the Taliban, nor were in a position to stay on or exit safely. They could not develop the country, alleviate poverty and reduce illiteracy. They also failed to end corruption and improve the governance of the regime it installed in Kabul, and couldn’t sufficiently train the ANA and inculcate desired motivation and will to be able to fight the rag-tag Taliban. A small percentage of the elite and the ruling regime got rich while the vast majority still live in abject poverty. Not a single objective could be accomplished. The US earned nothing from this ill-conceived venture except for losing grace, respect and incurring huge financial loss. It has shown the world that there has been yet another war which the US couldn’t win.
The foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan — almost 3,500 of them, including 1,892 American combatants — have died for nothing. The entire war has been a disgraceful catastrophe.
Cost of Afghan war $ 2.26 trillion; human cost 241000; refugees 2.7 million; persons displaced 4 million; to train one soldier in Afghanistan $175,000 and salary $ 45000; expenses of technology, research and vehicles $ 300,000 per soldier; miscellaneous expenses $ 1.5 million per soldier; guns & equipment $28,000 per soldier. A soldier cost $ 2 million to the US exchequer. It doesn’t include the expenditures on treating 66000 PSDs cases, thousands of injured and crippled, or the amount spent on bribes and covert operations. After recklessly spending so much, Afghanistan was left worse off than before.
Afghan urbanites in panic
The urbanites in Afghanistan are in panic and are spending sleepless nights fearing how the Taliban would deal with them. They are trying to flee the country; hundreds are lined up daily outside the embassies seeking visas. They are thoroughly disappointed and disillusioned with the American forces, and feel they have been left high and dry at the mercy of the marauding Taliban.
Elbowed by the faltering Afghan regime, few hundred women came out on the streets in some cities holding guns and placards and chanting anti-Taliban slogans, in their bid to stir up demoralized Afghan forces. A rally of non-Pashtuns was also stage-managed to show to the world that the people are against the Taliban and the situation is getting ripened for a civil war. Historically, the liberals and seculars have mostly welcomed the invaders and became their loyalists, or fled the country, and seldom took up arms.
Iran ad Pakistan’s importance
Iran which sits on the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Indian Ocean is important for China for the extension of CPEC into Middle Eastern and African markets and beyond. For this purpose, Beijing signed $ 450 billion long term strategic agreement with Iran and managed to throw out India from the Chahbahar project and the railway line project connecting Zahidan with Helmand and beyond in Afghanistan. The agreement included the stationing of 5000 Chinese troops on Iranian soil.
China eager to fill the power vacuum
After the departure of the US, China is anxious to fill the vacuum left behind by the US in Afghanistan. It is already in close liaison with the ruling regime in Kabul and the Taliban. It had been persuading Ashraf Ghani since 2016 to join the BRI but he was reluctant due to American and Indian factors. After the Doha agreement, the Chinese officials were constantly in touch with the Taliban and found them receptive. The CPEC is the flagship project of the BRI, which cannot attain its optimum economic potential without taking Afghanistan in the loop.
For China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran are equally important for the success of the CPEC, and in this regard peace and stability in neighboring Afghanistan, which is contiguous to Pakistan and three Republics of Central Asia is essential in order to draw maximum benefits from the six mineral laden Central Asian States.
China is keen to build a highway connecting Peshawar with Kabul to connect Afghanistan with CPEC and is looking forward to lay road infrastructure, railway line and gas/oil pipelines.
Both China and Pakistan can jointly do a lot to develop the war-ravaged country. China must also be eagerly eyeing the mineral resources of Afghanistan, which the US couldn’t extract.
Turkey’s insistence on defending Kabul airport
Turkey has been part of the coalition taking part in the war on terror in Afghanistan. Since 2007, its 500 troops have been defending Kabul airport and are still there. Being part of NATO, Erdogan offered to continue performing this role after the departure of the US troops. He asked the US to provide financial, political and diplomatic support. He also asked for Hungary and Pakistan to provide additional support. Probably Erdogan has made this offer hoping that the US would remove sanctions imposed over the installation of the Russian S-400 air defence system in Turkey, facilitate Turkey’s membership of EU, and overlook Turkey’s intrusion in the eastern Mediterranean for oil and gas exploration.
The Taliban have however reacted strongly stating that if the Turkish troops didn’t withdraw by Sept 11, it will be against the Doha agreement and the violators will be branded as occupiers, and dealt with accordingly. They said that they are quite capable of managing and defending Kabul airport.
Prospects of civil war
In my view, the spoilers of peace are drumming up a fake narrative of civil war, refugee influx and all regional countries getting affected by the intensified instability in Afghanistan under the Taliban. What could be worse than what has been experienced by the Afghans and Pakistan during the 20-year war on terror? The situation would gradually calm down after August 31 provided the spoilers are kept at bay and the Taliban allowed to restore peace and order, and Pakistan plays its cards sagaciously. Pakistan should avoid going an extra mile to help the illegitimate Kabul regime which is pro-India and anti-Pakistan, merely to please the US and in the bargain dishearten the Taliban. In case the situation becomes explosive in Afghanistan brewed up by the spoilers, there is a possibility of China deploying its peace keeping force in the war torn country.
Instead of reaching out to the Taliban and extending support to them in their testing times when the whole world seems to have ganged up against them, Pakistan has teamed up with others to maximize pressure upon them and is creating hurdles in their way. It looks as if Pakistan is friendlier with their adversaries. It has been constantly pressuring the Taliban to enter into an agreement with the US installed regime in Kabul which the Taliban view as collaborators and illegitimate.
The loaded statement of the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid is evocative and says it all. The last sentence of his interview to a Pakistani TV channel was, “If our decisions were in the hands of Pakistan, the USA would have succeeded in its mission a long time back, forcing us to surrender and after tying our hands and legs, handed us over to others”.
The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, took part in epic battle of Hilli in the 1971 War with India, defence & security analyst, international columnist,, author of five books, his sixth book under publication, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Member CWC PESS & Think Tank. firstname.lastname@example.org