Is that it? Nearly two decades of war – America’s longest-ever, almost twice as long as the Vietnam War – and now, finally, a dubious peace deal.
It’s a “deal” that could have been signed years ago by previous U.S. administrations, thereby saving hundreds of thousands of casualties and trillions of dollars in damages.
The Afghan combatants that the U.S. vowed to defeat back in 2001 – the Taliban – are stronger than ever and look set to take back control when the Americans eventually tuck tail and get out. The militants view it as a “victory over a superpower”, according to NBC.
President Trump’s administration is of course trying to sell the conclusion of the Afghan War as some kind of honorable exit from the Central Asian country. But the shaky peace pact – cobbled together in haste and with no input from the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul – looks more like an electioneering ploy by Trump.
There are some 13,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan. That’s about 10 per cent of the levels that were there under the GW Bush and Obama administrations. Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban mandates that troop levels will be drawn down to about 8,500 in the next four months. After 14 months, the aim is to have no U.S. troops remaining there.
The scheduling looks arranged to give Trump a timely electioneering boost. After all, he took office in January 2017 promising to end the “endless” Afghan War. Nearly four years on and just in time for the November election, Trump can claim he is delivering on that promise.
The flimsiness and contradictions of the bargain – the word “deal” seems misplaced – also indicate more haste than honor. Washington wants the Taliban to cease military attacks on U.S. troops over the drawdown period, but the militants appear to have leeway to continue assaults on the local U.S.-backed Afghan security forces.
Washington says its wants to see an “intra-Afghan” political dialogue on the future polity of the country. But the Americans fatally undermined the authority of its Kabul regime by excluding it from talks with the Taliban. The regime looks set to collapse without U.S. support. Why would the Taliban bother to engage with an entity it sees as a corrupt American puppet? Trump has even admitted that he sees the possibility of the Taliban taking full control of Afghanistan once the U.S. finally pulls out.
Here there is an echo of the “Fall of Saigon” when the Americans sold out the venal South Vietnamese regime in a 1973 peace deal with Communist North Vietnam which then went on to rout the crumbling U.S. Saigon puppet in 1975.
On a wider note, it is understandable that the region is apprehensive about the future of Afghanistan. Two decades of war and a botched retreat by the Americans could leave the country as a miserable failed state with no stable government for many years to come. Russia and Iran have good grounds to be concerned about the security implications from such a failed state. Fortunately, Russia has been developing working relations with Afghan parties over recent years, including the Taliban and its opponents. Thus, Moscow may be well-placed to help stabilize the country in the aftermath of Washington’s exit from the Afghan quagmire. How ironic is that? Afghanistan was supposed to be Moscow’s “Vietnam”, according to U.S. imperial planners. Turned out, however, that Afghanistan became America’s “Second Vietnam”.
An absurd contradiction in Washington’s deal-making with the Taliban is the expectation from the Trump administration that the Taliban will cooperate to prevent the emergence of Al Qaeda-linked terror groups. Hold on a moment. The official reason why the Americans invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 was a “war on terror” against the Taliban following the September 9/11 attacks in New York. Now we are told that the Taliban are some kind of legitimate partner against terrorism.
No wonder most U.S. military veterans are disillusioned with the Afghan War and the latest attempt to end it. As one former soldier told Time magazine: “I’m okay with the Afghans fighting for their own country and us supporting them from a distance. I’m not comfortable with us just walking away. It is morally wrong to give legitimacy to an enemy that continues to murder our people,” he said. “And it undermines our credibility around the world. Who can – or should – trust an America that cavalierly surrenders an ally like this?”
War fatigue in America is understandable. But the fact is this war should never have been started in the first place. The Afghan War stands as a monumental crime by the American state. Its aim and justifications by Washington were always a farrago of lies, as declassified U.S. documents show.
About 157,000 people are estimated to have been killed, with 43,000 of the dead being civilians. If there was any justice in this world, American leaders and generals should be prosecuted in a Nuremberg-type war crimes court, including Bush, Obama and the incumbent president, Donald Trump.
A reduction in violence is unquestionably welcome. We may hope the Afghan people can somehow develop a political process for a peaceful future. But eternal shame on Washington. It’s the Afghan people and the region which are having to pick up the pieces from criminal American adventurism.