Fall of Kabul & the US blunders
THE fall of Kabul is what the most expected following the instant smooth top pling of the Ashraf Ghani reign by the Taliban and his immediate flee from Presidential Palace.
We need to learn the rational lessons from the attempt of hybrid imported rootless puppets from abroad to run the state affairs. Where ever it is tried it didn’t work at all.
Again needs to acknowledge the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought. All sacrifices go dishonoured with fake representation elsewhere.
Post 9/11, America’s NATO allies invoked the mutual defence clause of the NATO treaty and offered to help the US go after the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Instead of making Afghanistan a collective project from the start, Bush wanted to show it could do the job all by itself, with an assistant from the Afghan Northern Alliance.
That decision seemed justified when the Taliban fell quickly, but when Bush & Co. marched off to Iraq, there was hardly anybody left to keep the Taliban from coming back.
By the time NATO got involved, a new civil war was underway and the best opportunity to build a stable Afghanistan had been squandered.
The US invaded Afghanistan to get Osama and as many of his followers as possible. The poor coordination with local Afghan forces and reluctance to commit sufficient US troops at the battle of Tora Bora allowed Osama to escape into Pakistan, where he remained at large for years.
Had American caught him then and there, Al-Qaeda might have been dealt a fatal blow and the US could have declared victory in the “war on terror” instead of watching al Qaeda morph into a global franchise.
Yet despite this costly failure, the US Commander at Tora Bora Army Gen. Tommy Franks was later chosen to command the invasion of Iraq.
The Bonn Agreement in December 2001 established an interim government for post-Taliban Afghanistan and was, in many ways, an impressive diplomatic achievement. The Constitution adopted in 2004 was an ill-conceived misstep.
It created highly centralized state that ignored Afghan traditions of local autonomy and gave the President too much powers.
The new government was supposed to run the entire country from Kabul and appoint all the key local officials, but the Karzai regime lacked enough competent civil servants and the new structure created irresistible opportunities for patronage and corruption.
The Afghan economy could not support an elaborate governmental structure or large security forces, which made the fledgling Afghan state permanently dependent on outside support from the start.
The Bush decision to invade Iraq was not just a disaster for Iraq and for the US, it also diverted military and intelligence resources from Afghanistan and allowed the Taliban to regroup and resume the war.
We will never know what might have happened had the US and NATO kept their eyes on the ball back in 2003.
In the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama burnished his national security street cred by declaring that he was going to end the war in Iraq so that he could focus on the “real war” in Afghanistan.
He then succumbed to military pressure and sent additional US troops, starting with 17,000 and adding another 30,000 in the fall of 2009.
But the decision to escalate was fatally flawed, because the Taliban still had sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan and were never going to be defeated by military force alone.
To succeed, the surge would have had to be far larger and much longer in duration, and Afghanistan simply wasn’t worth that level of effort.
The surge also led to a sharp uptick in Afghan and American casualties, which gradually undermined support for the war back home.
The mistaken decision to escalate was compounded by a second error: Obama made it clear from the start that the surge would be a temporary measure and gave the Taliban a pretty good idea when the US would begin to get out.
As critics noted at the time, telling your adversary exactly when you were going to quit was hardly the best way to persuade them to give up the fight. Instead, it told the enemy exactly how long they needed to hang on in order to wait.
Ending the war and building a functioning Afghan government required a reconciliation process that would integrate the more moderate elements of the Taliban back into the Afghan political community.
The US didn’t get serious about a peace process until it was too late. It was probably a mistake to delay a serious effort at reconciliation until 2011.
America should have pushed hard for serious discussions while the surge was at its peak, instead of waiting until its role and therefore its leverage was declining.
The US also failed to engage regional powers that might have helped put together a stabilization deal, in part because it wasn’t even talking to some of them.
When the Taliban refused to give up Osama, the US decided to go after the man who was alleged to have orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.
The American public signed up for that war with enthusiasm, but not to an open-ended effort to transform an impoverished, land-locked, and ethnically divided Muslim country that had never been a vital US strategic interest before.
Neither Bush nor Obama ever managed to persuade them that the war was worth the cost, mostly because the American aren’t completely gullible.
By 2008, the war was costing the American taxpayers an amount several times larger than Afghanistan’s entire GDP, and neither Bush nor Obama could come up with a convincing rationale for continuing to pour money and lives into distant strategic backwater.
Obama tried to justify the war as necessary to prevent Al-Qaeda from establishing a safe haven again, but Al-Qaeda already had better havens by 2009 and was barely in Afghanistan by that point.
A long and costly war against the Taliban was increasingly a distraction from the broader campaign against Al-Qaeda itself.
The American will support a war when vital interests are at stake and there is a plausible theory of victory, but by 2009, neither of those conditions had been met.
Winning the war in Afghanistan depended upon getting at least two foreign governments to play ball.
The first was the Afghan government itself, which was corrupt, inefficient and increasingly unwilling to listen.
The second was Pakistan, which continued to play footsie with the Taliban and sometimes put roadblocks in the way of the US military.
The US leaders never fully appreciated that the war could not be won if Americans didn’t get more cooperation from these supposed allies, and that US wouldn’t get that support as long as they were convinced that US would never call their bluff.
—The writer, based in Islamabad, is book ambassador, columnist and author of several books.