Joe Biden's statement that it is “not inevitable" Afghanistan will be conquered by the Taliban after the U.S. finally withdraws troops is simply hypocritical, writes Tomislav Jakić.
AS THE DATE of complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan nears, more and more often we hear comments which compare this withdrawal with (literally) the escape of U.S. military forces from South Vietnam in the 1970s.
The Taliban, who were the main objective of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) – in fact, the U.S. – military intervention in Afghanistan, is rapidly taking control of all major parts of the country, including border crossings to several neighbouring countries, like Iran.
Washington, as could be expected, rejects such comparisons although they are well-founded and although it is almost certain that the Taliban will gain control over the whole country after the withdrawal is completed. Just as communist forces from North Vietnam once took over the south, thus uniting the country in today’s Vietnam.
Both in Afghanistan and in Vietnam, the withdrawal of foreign troops was preceded by a year-long war. In Afghanistan, according to some estimates, more than 70,000 Afghans and Pakistani civilians were killed, leading to a situation in which almost 50 per cent of the population of Afghanistan is now just surviving below the poverty line.
In Vietnam, everyone in the south who had in any way cooperated with the Americans, suffered — in some cases being sent for long-term “re-education” in special camps. In Afghanistan, those who have cooperated with NATO forces, if only as translators, openly fear for their lives in their country under the rule of the Taliban. In the south of Vietnam, hundreds of people floated for weeks on small boats along the coast, in the vain hope that they would be picked up by their American friends, whose warships would suddenly appear on the horizon. They didn't come.
In Afghanistan, having in mind the example of South Vietnam, people who have worked with foreign forces have no illusions. Thus, a wave of refugees towards neighbouring countries has already started and there is no doubt that this wave will reach Europe as well.
The war in Afghanistan lasted for 20 years — the longest war the U.S. has waged in its short history. And although U.S. President Joe Biden successfully avoids triumphant phrases typical of former U.S. President George W. Bush, such as "mission accomplished," even his milder variant of “goals achieved” does not correspond to the truth.
If the goal was to fight against terrorism and al-Qaeda, then the target was reached in liquidating Osama bin Laden and breaking up this organisation, meaning that the time for withdrawal from Afghanistan was during the Obama Administration, when Biden was vice president. If, however, the goal was to destroy the Taliban, then the war in Afghanistan has been a total U.S. failure (it would be wrong to say that Americans are the losers because the biggest losers are the people of Afghanistan).
And a failure it was. Not only because the eradication of the Taliban failed, but primarily because the Taliban are "American offsprings" (just like bin Laden), summoned to life and supported both financially and militarily, only to hamper Soviet troops after their intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, with the clear aspiration to turn Afghanistan into some sort of "Soviet Vietnam".
Yes, the Soviets did militarily intervene after they estimated that the government of nonaligned Afghanistan could become close to the West. But, after ten years of fighting, they understood that this attempt had no perspective and retreated. This retreat ended with a colonel-general who was the last to cross the bridge at the border at the rear of his troops, unlike the Americans who escaped by helicopters from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. The Americans left Bagram, their largest airbase in Afghanistan, under cover of night (although they claim to have informed the military forces of the Afghan Government which, given the situation on the ground, would be more correct to call the government in Kabul).
It is also not true when President Biden claims that the purpose of the American intervention in Afghanistan was not "nation-building". Because a profound reform of Afghan society was something that was considered to be one of the key tasks of NATO forces since the Taliban pushed the country back to the Middle Ages (which will probably happen again now). At the same time, we forget that Afghanistan – until the overthrow of King Mohammed Zahir Shah – was a relatively advanced Asian country — "advanced" referring primarily to the position of women in society and the education system.
Including women in social life and educating girls is noted as a major success of intervention by foreign forces — as if this never existed before in a country that birthed the Prince of Physicians (Ibn Sina/Avicenna). Indeed, those forces that emerged under American greatcoats did not destroy such an Afghanistan. However, today, the country is literally devastated by 20 years of war and the main result of those 20 years, the only thing that has progressed, is the cultivation of poppies — that is, the smuggling of opium.
This author remembers well the conversation of former Croatian president, Stjepan Mesić with his Afghan counterpart President Hamid Karzai in which Karzai complained that the Americans were putting him under pressure to destroy poppies farms, arguing that he neither can nor will do this, because in this case half of the country would starve, being stripped of this source of income.
One more question arises when we try to analyse the implications of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The intervention which took place soon after the famous attacks on the New York “twins” was conceived similarly to that which birthed the North Atlantic pact. And nominally it was so. But if one views things as they really are, we must admit that NATO acted as an extended arm of U.S. policy. Like it did, as soon as the United States announced its decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan — NATO also decided to withdraw troops embedded from member-states.
Perhaps these member-states should wisely think twice (if they have not done this so far) as to the purpose of NATO. Precisely, what is NATO's purpose, if it is acting as Washington’s puppet on a string?
We should also keep in mind the "enthusiastic" sending of troops to the border with Russia, in order to prepare Europe for defence against "Russian aggression". To whom and what goal does NATO serve, if we consider: the policy of violent overthrow and/or establishment of regimes in other countries; the policy of imposing certain social (and economic) frameworks on countries that want to go their own way, and the continuation of anti-Russian hysteria — especially after the Biden-Putin summit, which was supposed to open, or at least approach, a new chapter in relations between these two countries?
As for Afghanistan – to come back to the beginning of this story – Biden's statement that it is “not inevitable" that Afghanistan will be conquered by the Taliban after the U.S. (NATO) withdrawal, is simply hypocritical. It won't be long before reality denies it. And the U.S. is not giving up efforts to be present in Afghanistan in the future, either – trying “to hire” some allies in the region to take a role in an attempt to keep the government in Kabul alive. The term "proxy war" is nothing new!
In Afghanistan, the world will follow a kind of reprise of what happened in Vietnam in the past, so the phrase déjà vu ("already seen") makes a lot of sense. Secondly – but no less important – the United States loses credibility with such moves. So, those who are American allies should consider the price of such a “partnership” — how much it pays off. And if it pays off at all.
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