After the US government withdrew its troops from Kabul questions are being asked as to why a superpower like America was overpowered by the Taliban to the point of submission.
American experts have been working on why the US is not winning any war in recent history. The other question worth mulling over is whether America will lose its stake in Afghanistan at a time when China and Russia are establishing a rapport with the Taliban?
BBC Urdu News has published an article by their political correspondent Zubair Ahmed in an attempt to answer the above questions in some measure.
Ahmed picks on University of Chicago’s Professor Tom Cassidy’s argument wherein the academic remarks that “The US army had hunted down Osama bin Laden and killed him, destroyed Al-Qaeda and killed many of its prominent leaders. The US created the necessary infrastructure in Afghanistan, opened schools for women due to which an educated class has come up in that country.
“The so-called militant group of Islamic State in Iraq was destroyed, dictators like Saddam Hussein and Col. Gaddafi were overthrown. Are all these successes not important?,” Prof. Cassidy asks.
US lost five major wars after 1945
But as Ahmed further argues, many people in America, agree that the US had failed to root out the terrorism in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan proves how the American foreign policy isn’t all that credible.
The US had won almost all the major wars it fought before 1945. However, the US was unable to get any significant victory in its wars abroad. America fought five major wars after 1945 including Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan in addition to some minor wars in Somalia, Yemen, and Libya. Except for the Gulf War in 1991, America lost all other wars.
Carter Malkasian, Ahmed writes, had worked for the US Administration in Afghanistan, and on the basis of his experiences, he has written a book titled “The American war in Afghanistan- A History” which was released on July 1, 2021.
Carter Malkasian shed light on a very interesting aspect in his book in which he claimed that while the States won all the wars they waged before 1945, in recent history, they lost to local militants. The local rebels weren’t as equipped with their military but came through as more courageous and determined.
Defeat is a different thing but the way the US army men were returned ignominiously from Benghazi, Somalia, Saigon and now Kabul has made their defeat more shocking and disgraceful.
Ahmed argues via past research conducted by academics that America generally lacked a healthy understanding of their opposition’s local culture.
US performance in battlefield
Dominic Tierney, a professor of political science in Swarthmore college in his book “The right to lose a war, America in an Age of Un-winnable Conflicts” argued that the US had lost all its wars. In his thought-provoking book, Dominic Terny wrote how America tried hard to spur its forces for dangerous guerilla warfare and put in significant efforts to match the enemy’s tactics. Consequently, most of the major wars America fought abroad resulted in defeats and the US invariable found themselves in a pickle which threatened grave consequences for the US troops and its allies.”
Former US President George W. Bush’s speechwriter David Frum, writes Ahmed, had initially supported the war in Iraq but now he has changed his opinion. He wrote in an article, “We thought that we were prepared to make Iraq a better place but we were conceited, ignorant and haughty and were responsible for all the human tragedies which did not prove in the interest of anyone – neither Americans nor the local people of the region.”
The major cause of US defeat
The Jawaharlal Nehru university’s West Asia affairs expert Professor Aftab Kamal Pasha also blames the American ignorance of the local culture as a major cause for their defeats.
Speaking to the BBC Pasha said, “The Americans neither understand the cultures of other countries nor have any desire to do so. Dick Cheney, the former Vice President of the USA, and the former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld openly used to say that when the US troops entered Iraq, the Shiites will rebel against Saddam Husain and will welcome the American troops with garlands. Where was the rebellion, where was the reception? The States was highly deluded with regards Iraq’s internal situation and the Iraqi society.”
Prof. Pasha cites one more example of America’s defeat in Afghanistan and said, ”In Afghanistan, the American troops faced difficult terrains, deep valleys, formidable mountains and caves which were the hideouts of the Taliban. While the militants were fully aware of those terrains the American troops were not.
Nationalism, ideology and religious war
In the Vietnam war, the North Vietnamese government set up a communist guerrilla force known as ‘Vietcong’ whose communist ideology and national aspirations overwhelmed the Americans. While the American troops were unclear as to why they were fighting in Vietnam at all, the Vietcongs who were ready to sacrifice their lives for their ideology had succeeded in defeating the American troops.
The US troops faced, the BBC article continues, the same situation against the Taliban as the militants not only made it their country’s war but succeeded in turning it into a religious one.
Prof. Dominic Tierney says, “The Taliban had a goal which was a combination of religious, racial and national fervor. Contrary to the Taliban the Afghan government had failed to enthuse in its troops any zeal for democracy, human rights, or national spirit.
Carter Malkasian says, “The Taliban were highly influenced by religion which made them powerful in the war. They had made themselves representatives of Islam and appealed for resistance to end the foreign occupation of their country. Their views had deeply influenced the Afghans.”
“The common Afghans are not fundamentalist but do attach pride to their faith. On the other hand, the government troops had no such religious fervor and they were fighting the war without any goal.
Taliban’s fervor for Jihad
According to Carter Malkasian, Ahmed writes, the number of Afghans who were prepared to die for the Taliban was more and the Taliban benefited with their numbers on the battlefront. Malkasian had spent considerable time in Afghanistan and had the opportunity to meet the Taliban supporters.
According to Prof. Pasha, the BBC article says, whenever Taliban venture out into the battleground they are always ready for martyrdom. The priority of the American and Afghan government troops, on the other hand, was to save their lives as they were fighting for a country that was not theirs.
What lessons did the US get from these defeats?
Ahmed writes that the American leadership has not learned any lesson from Saigon and Vietnam. It is argued that, in the year 1993, the US repeated the same old mistake while undertaking Military operations in Somalia.
The ghastly scenes of dead American Marines being dragged through the Mogadishu roads were condemned around the world. Americans were seething with anger and that emotion translated into a change in America’s policy vis-a-vis Africa.
In October 1993, the American troops raided Somalian capital Mogadishu to catch the powerful Somalian warlord General Mohammed Farah and his companions but they faced very stiff resistance from Farah’s Militias. Two American Black Hawk helicopters were downed and 18 American marines and two UN army men were killed. At that time, America was leading the UN mission in Somalia to end the civil war in that country.
America withdrew its forces within six months from Somalia and the failure of this mission has made America cautious to intervene in African conflicts.
Prof. Dominic says that there are many lessons to be learned and the most significant lesson according to him is not to start a second war before the end of the first one. Do not initiate war on religious or ethical grounds and explore every possibility to settle the conflicts through negotiation.
US interests in Afghanistan after the US troops withdrawal
Ahmed further quotes Professor Pasha, who argues that while the US has been defeated in Afghanistan but the friendship between Russia and China and their growing interest in Afghanistan will keep the Americans engaged in the area.
Prof. Pasha says, “The professed aim of the US and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq was country building, democracy, human rights and women’s education which is merely a smokescreen. The main goal was to keep China and Russia away from these countries and to lessen the influence of Russia in West Asian countries”.
“But after this defeat, the American policy has failed and the new US policy will be how to keep China and Russia away from Afghanistan. The US shall once again require the help of Pakistan which has a significant influence over the Taliban.”
Can the US send its troops once again into Afghanistan?
The article quotes Prof Pasha one last time saying that the US was unhappy with Pakistan and as such it has moved away from that country. However, the US had taken Pakistan’s help in concluding a deal with the Taliban and sought a guarantee that the retreating Americans would not be attacked. And since the American policy has failed in Afghanistan, the US will need Pakistan’s help once again in the days to come.”
America would need a person like Pakistan’s former President and military leader General Pervez Musharraf who had supported George W. Bush in 2001 during the US invasion of Afghanistan. Prof Pasha further says that the pressure on Prime Minister Imran Khan shall increase exponentially.
Prof Dominic Tierney says, “President Joe Biden is deadly against another major war in Afghanistan, but if there is any human crisis or an upswing in terrorist organizations or when Afghanistan becomes an arena for the proxy wars of big countries then the US will definitely intervene”.