America’s longest war has ended in abject shame and humiliation for US imperialism. Twenty years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the most powerful military force the world has ever known has been dealt total defeat at the hands of a band of primitive religious zealots.
The fall of Kabul marked the end of a seven-day blitz in which Taliban forces took over an area comprising more than half of the country, including its most populous cities. They are now in control over every district of the country.
Yet not so long ago, US President Joe Biden assured everybody that the Taliban would not take Kabul; nor would they take control of the whole country; there would be a government of national reconciliation, as agreed with the Taliban. And so on and so forth.
One month ago he confidently pronounced that, “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely. We provided our Afghan partners with all the tools — let me emphasise all the tools, training and equipment of any modern military.”
Now all these promises have been exposed as so much hot air. The US troops had not even finished their planned withdrawal, when the Taliban pounced like a stalking tiger. The speed of their assault threw the already shambolic government in Kabul into a panic.
According to US officials, the Afghan regime, its army, and its police, were supposed to take over the running of the country as the US withdrew. But the regime was nowhere to be seen. The Afghan army, trained and armed by the US military and claiming 300,000 troops, melted away in the face of the simply equipped Islamists, who even by the most generous estimates comprise no more than 75,000 full-time fighters.
In the last week, there has been a sharp contrast between the valiant phrase-mongering of the army commanders and politicians – who all vowed to fight to the bitter end – and their complete, treacherous failure to put up any resistance when the time came for it. In one city after another, the same people who had been thumping their chests only days before, handed power to the Taliban and either escaped the country, or in some cases, switched sides and offered their services to the new regime.
The Afghan army swiftly descended into a state of dissolution. City after city fell as government soldiers surrendered in droves, handing their weapons over to the Taliban in exchange for cash.
As the front closed in on Kabul, the government announced that it would negotiate a peaceful transfer of power, which would guarantee the basic rights of Afghans. President Ashraf Ghani even announced that a deal had been struck to form a transitional government composed of representatives of the Taliban and the old regime.
Before any details of such a deal were announced, news arrived that Ghani had fled the country. Ashraf Ghani’s corrupt and reactionary regime collapsed like a house of cards. Ghani made one final TV broadcast to his nation, urging them to fight to the last, then promptly packed his bags and fled in a private plane for what will surely be a comfortable exile, while his people are once more confronted with all the delights of Taliban rule.
The same pattern was seen all over the country. While the masses were being lulled into a false sense of security by official statements, agreements were being struck behind the scenes between officials of the old regime and the Taliban. Some have speculated that the US imperialists also participated in such dealmaking towards the end, in a face-saving exercise to secure a bloodless exit from Kabul and prevent even greater humiliation.
While the likes of Ghani and his cohorts were busy looking after themselves, swarms of Taliban fighters descended on the capital without any resistance. Now the Afghan masses, who have suffered so much at the hand of US imperialism, are bracing themselves for the return of theocratic rule. The return of the Islamic fundamentalists struck terror into the hearts of the Afghan people. As the insurgent forces approached Kabul, panic erupted in the capital.
While the workers, the poor, women, and all others who stand to suffer at the hands of the Taliban were left to their own devices, the rich were busy saving themselves. Scores of members of the elite were seen fleeing the country. Others switched sides and joined the Taliban. Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi reportedly fled to the UAE with his sons. Humayoon Humayoon, the former deputy speaker and previously a close ally of Ghani, said that he was appointed as police chief for Kabul by the Taliban.
In the hours when Kabul was falling, a delegation including warlords and businessmen from the north of the country, which was the strongest base of the old regime, was spotted on a trip to Pakistan – the main financial backer of the Taliban. Presumably, the purpose of their visit was to negotiate their future role within the new order. All while the poor and oppressed were left to fend for themselves.
Despite the official proclamations of the Taliban that it will respect women’s rights and grant amnesty to all those who do not resist it, reports are surfacing of intellectuals and women being killed. In Herat yesterday, female students were turned away from the university and female bank employees were told to go home. In Kandahar, there were reports of door-to-door searches for journalists who have worked with foreign outlets. In the coming days and weeks, this terror will continue as the Taliban attempts to consolidate its rule.
The public spokesmen of the Taliban are putting on a show of sweet reasonableness for the sake of the TV cameras. “We are not the same as before,” they say. “We have learned many lessons.” And so on and so forth. But absolutely no credence can be attached to these statements. Their sole purpose is to soothe the nerves of the ‘international community’, and thereby, they hope, lessen the danger of foreign military intervention.
Renewed foreign intervention is a distant prospect, however. Joe Biden has made his choice and there is no going back. His political opponents will seize the opportunity to blacken his name as “the man who betrayed the Afghans”. He protested in vain that it was his predecessor, Donald Trump, who took the fateful decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.
That will satisfy nobody. In any case, it changes nothing, since neither the Republicans nor anyone else is seriously proposing a new military intervention. True, in the course of one week, the number of US troops deployed in Afghanistan swelled from one thousand to three, then five thousand and then six thousand.
But the sole intention of sending troops to Kabul is not to fight the Taliban, but to facilitate the evacuation of up to 20,000 US citizens and personnel trapped in Kabul. But even that has proved to be complicated. As the week has progressed, it has become clear that the US isn’t going to do much at all for most of those who stand to be targeted by Taliban repression.
Thousands of Afghans descended on the US consular services to secure a visa and a flight out of the country – no doubt for the vast majority, the effort proved in vain. From Saturday, Kabul’s airport was flooded with desperate people trying to leave the country at the last minute before a Taliban take over.
Others tried to leave by car leading to gridlock and a complete standstill of traffic in the city. The Taliban said that it would allow people to leave Kabul, but where can they go where they will be safe? The idea hinted at by the US administration, that the Taliban can somehow be managed via negotiation, has already proved itself to be a hopelessly naive illusion.
Amidst scenes of chaos and panic at the International Airport, thousands of desperate Afghans attempted to flee before the US finished evacuating all its civilian and military personnel. At that point, their Afghan ‘friends’ and ‘allies’ would be left to their fate in an act of cynical betrayal and cowardice.
This was precisely what was not supposed to happen. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan was supposed to be an orderly affair. According to Biden, there would be no repeat of the US evacuation of Saigon in 1975 – that humiliating debacle that marked the end of the Vietnam War:
“The Taliban is not the south—the North Vietnamese army. They're not—they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the—of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable,”
In fact, what we are seeing is precisely an action replay of the Saigon scenario, right down to the scenes of military helicopters airlifting people out of the US embassy. If anything, however, the present scenario is worse. The disarray is such that the Taliban in the majority of cases was marching from district to district virtually unopposed.
NEW: The fall of Saigon: As Taliban seizes Kabul, the Vietnam War’s final days remembered - WaPo pic.twitter.com/zBrCbU2DZ8— Insider Paper (@TheInsiderPaper) August 15, 2021
Only months ago, when announcing the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden promised that he would guarantee the survival of the Afghan regime, that he would prevent the re-emergence of outright Islamist rule, and that he would protect women’s rights. He would achieve this, somehow, while troops were removed to a safe distance. But it quickly became clear that the US could barely guarantee the safety of its own personnel, let alone the safety of the Afghan people.
Even many of those who had the financial means to secure tickets abroad by air could not board their planes. The US military had shut down Kabul airport to make way for its own flights. Of course, this was the fate of the few well-to-do and middle-class people. Most Afghans cannot even afford a taxi ride to the airport. For them, there is little to do now, but to wait and prepare to endure new, more excruciating levels of hardship.
Eventually, the huge crowds that gathered at the airport since the Taliban took control of the capital, took over the runways in desperate attempts to escape the country. They knew now that their lives were at risk merely for being seen to return home from the airport. But rather than welcoming them, US forces reportedly fired into the air to disperse the crowds of people trying to force their way onto the planes. On Monday two men were killed by US soldiers, while three were reported to have died after falling from the underside of a plane that they had attempted to cling to shortly after take-off. This is a measure of how US imperialism views its ‘allies’ – they are cannon fodder as long as they are useful. Then they are discarded as so much useless trash once they have outlived their usefulness.
How did the Taliban win?
The Biden administration has been quick to point the finger at the Afghan people, calling on them to “fight for themselves”. But his handling of the US withdrawal greatly tilted the balance of forces in the Taliban's favour. By naming the date for a complete US withdrawal months in advance, he gave the Taliban a green light to attack, as well as all the time they needed to prepare their final offensive.
But the betrayal went far deeper than this. At the negotiations in February, the US gave in to every single demand that the Taliban presented them with, without getting any concessions in return. In itself, this served to boost the morale of the Islamists, while sending a clear signal to the Afghan army that the US was pulling the carpet from under its feet. A domino effect was set in motion in which Afghan commanders and politicians scrambled to make deals with the Taliban.
Then, despite several warnings from the Pentagon, Biden failed to accelerate US withdrawal plans, imagining that there were months to go before the conflict reached its conclusion. This further magnified the sense of chaos and disarray – to the benefit of the jihadis. At every turn, the incompetence and unpreparedness of the US, and its willingness to cede to any Taliban demand, accelerated the rapid disintegration of the Afghan army and the state apparatus.
The Afghan state was always a mere puppet of US imperialism. It was a tool of the US occupation of Afghanistan, which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and caused immeasurable misery and suffering for the masses. It was therefore an utterly hated, repressive apparatus. It was composed of the most reactionary opportunists who would willingly sell their country for the right price – a coalition of former expat technocrats, local warlords and chiefs for whom the regime and the state was little more than a means of self-enrichment. Under its rule, the people – most of whom live in deep poverty – were unable to access even the most basic public services without a bribe.
The Afghan army, officially composed of 300,000 troops, was full of “ghost soldiers”; that is, soldiers who only exist on paper as a means to funnel money into the pockets of commanders and local elites. In the end, its real function was never more than as a cloak for American imperialism. Where it did manage to operate, it was far more often seen as an occupying force than as a national army. It is no wonder that such a rotten edifice, once abandoned by US imperialism, would collapse with a single kick.
The Afghan masses hate the Taliban. But on the other hand, no one believes in the corrupt regime imposed by the US, and certainly no one is willing to risk their lives to save it. By contrast, the Taliban forces are composed of hardened and fanatical Islamic fundamentalists for whom dying a martyr’s death is the highest prize.
This reactionary movement has been supported and nurtured over decades by the Pakistani ruling class, which has historically wished to dominate Afghanistan. Recently, however, it has also enjoyed increasing support from Iran, China, and Russia, all of whom are wary of the rising instability implicit in the retreat of US power.
This has helped the Taliban gain further momentum. These powers aim to somehow tame the Islamists by offering them economic and political incentives to constrain their activities within Afghanistan’s borders. But this will not necessarily turn out to be a simple feat. The Taliban is not a centralised movement; nor is it driven by rational men who can be easily controlled. US imperialism has had several first-hand experiences to convince them of this fact.
Who can be trusted?
The cynicism of western imperialism stands exposed for the whole world to see. The same people who day in, day out talk about so-called ‘western values’ such as ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, are now pulling out of Afghanistan and leaving their local helpers at the mercy of a gang of backward barbarians. The UK defence secretary has expressed sadness that “some people will not get back” as Britain tries to evacuate its own citizens and some of those Afghans who collaborated with its forces. As long as “helping people” meant bombing and invading a poor nation, no resources were spared. But a line is drawn when “helping people” means securing people’s lives by assisting them to flee a murderous regime.
US imperialism, and the NATO forces supporting them, invaded Afghanistan claiming to want to root out Islamic fundamentalism, and build a modern, democratic nation. Twenty years later, after trillions of dollars have been spent, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and a whole generation has been devastated, Afghanistan stands not one inch closer to these promises. After having ravaged the country for 20 years, these cowards are now finally fleeing like dogs with their tails between their legs, leaving the Afghan people at the mercy of the Taliban madmen. For this, they deserve to be eternally cursed by the working masses everywhere.
The Afghan masses cannot depend on any of these powers. Neither can they depend on the ruling classes of China, Russia, Iran, or any other power that lurks in the shadows trying to influence the situation in the country today. They can only depend on their own forces, which once mobilised, are far greater than any army. This has been proven throughout their history.
The Afghan people have lived through the hardest times, but time and again they have risen on the back of the most terrible adversity. We have every confidence that they will rise once more and cleanse their country of every shade of obscurantism, reaction, and imperialism.