You might’ve heard that the US has left Afghanistan.
After twenty years there, the US and the international forces have pulled out. They tried to do it pretty quietly. So quietly, in fact, that the overnight departure from the Bagram Air Base was something the Afghan commander there didn’t even know about until the next day. They didn’t even bother to *tell* their Afghan allies that the final departure was happening.
What was the point of the war in Afghanistan? And the point of twenty years of US/UK/NATO involvement in the country?
Now that the US and NATO have unceremoniously withdrawn from Afghanistan – having apparently accomplished next to nothing, either for US interests *or* the Afghan people and society – the question really needs to be asked again.
In this article, let’s try to find some way to make sense of this apparently fruitless two-decade war. Let’s look at (1) why we were there in the first place, (2) how or why we appear to have failed so completely, (3) the origins of the Taliban, as well as some of the conspiratorial background to the Taliban’s survival, including the involvement of Pakistan and other foreign entities, and then (4) the significance of the drugs trade and the heroin output in Afghanistan, and (5) the significance – or not – of Afghanistan’s substantial mineral resources.
Were we there to fight terrorism? Not really – given that (1) the War on Terror was a manufactured pantomime in the first place, (2) that Islamist-linked terrorism *increased* after 9/11 and the Afghanistan invasion, and (3) that the US, the CIA and the Saudis (among others) pretty much created the extremist/militant melting-pot in Afghanistan in the first place – for the purposes of fighting the Soviets in the 80s.
Were we there for ‘nation building’ – and to bring democracy and freedom to the Afghan people? If so, why are we leaving?
As is widely reported, following the US withdrawal, the Taliban has captured or recaptured vast territory and control in astonishingly rapid time: so what’s going to become of all the ‘nation building’ – and of the democracy, the civil rights, women’s rights, religious tolerance, etc? If we were there for nation building, we must’ve done a horrendously bad job of it – the Taliban should *not* have been able to recapture so much of its territory that quickly.
Among the Taliban’s victories since the US withdrawal are apparently most of the key border crossings (including most of the Pakistan border: which is worrying for Pakistan’s fight against its own Taliban). True or not, the Taliban is reported to have claimed to be in control of 85% of the country: and the reports suggest they’ve acquired territory that was never previously part of their old strongholds.
Taliban fighters have also been seizing abandoned US military bases and capturing large quantities of weapons and equipment that the Americans didn’t bother to either retrieve or destroy: this, according to a Sky News on-the-scene report, includes Humvees, military trucks, guns and ammo. This on-the-ground report, concerning just one base in Wardak Province, tells us: ‘The commander accompanying us said his fighters had taken 70 sniper rifles, 900 guns, 30 Humvees, 20 army pickups and 15 articulated military trucks… Taliban fighters showed us shipping container after shipping container on the base stashed full of the world’s most developed weapons. There were satellite phones, grenades, mortars, bullets, empty containers for sniper rifles and a range of ammunitions…. Many had labels on the front saying “Property of USA Government”.’
Is this not somewhat reminiscent of the ISIS fighters in 2014 seizing various US vehicles and equipment before beginning their rampage across Iraq?
Stories of Afghan forces and volunteer units literally fleeing the advancing Taliban are in fact also frighteningly reminiscent of the stories of Iraqi forces fleeing the Islamic State fighters in 2014. You will recall that that lightning campaign of the Islamic State group in 2014 also came on the heels of the US withdrawal from Iraq – after over a decade in which nothing was accomplished.
And now, pretty much five seconds after the final US personnel left Afghanistan, the Taliban began sweeping back into control of various territories in Afghanistan. And you will also recall how Islamic State fighters in Iraq began mass executions of Iraqi security forces? Well, there have already been reports of Afghan security forces being executed by Taliban fighters – in this instance, with their hands tied behind their backs.
Clearly we hadn’t built up or empowered local Afghan forces and institutions anywhere near well enough – not if they’re being overrun that immediately and that easily. Seriously, the speed of the Taliban resurgence after the US withdrawal is almost comedic – or at least it would be if this wasn’t so tragic an overall saga.
I don’t know what kind of ‘training’ or ‘support’ the US or NATO gave to the Iraqi personnel prior to 2014 or to the Afghan personnel prior to 2021, but both cases seem to suggest it wasn’t good enough.
Besides all of this, President Biden has himself said in recent days, “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build.”
So, again, what was our purpose in Afghanistan? Was our purpose there perhaps to fight or neutralise the Taliban?
If it was, then twenty years of US and NATO operations in Afghanistan have been a total and complete failure – because, again, as soon as we departed, the Taliban began retaking its territory and reasserting control.
And also, again, bear in mind that the Taliban itself was born out of US involvement, CIA operations and Saudi funding of the Mujahideen jihadists in the 1980s: what we know as the Taliban is simply the continuation of the jihadist forces and culture that were nurtured and empowered by the US and its allies during the latter days of the Cold War.
Not that creating an army to fight off the Soviet invasion was necessarily a bad idea in itself: it’s everything that happened *after* the Soviet defeat that is highly questionable – and which we will question here, among other important things.
So, if we were there to fight the Taliban, we were fighting our own creation – and, as of 2021, having spectacularly failed to defeat them anyway.
Twenty years in Afghanistan and the Taliban is arguably stronger in 2021 than it was in 2001. Again, it would almost be comedic – if it wasn’t also so sad.
Actually, if we go back to the start of the campaign in Afghanistan, what we will recall is that all of these stated agendas from over the years – nation building, fighting the Taliban, fighting terrorism, etc – were add-ons or afterthoughts, secondary to a clearly-stated primary narrative: the point of going into Afghanistan, according to Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and co, was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
Let’s even put aside for now the overwhelming evidence that Osama bin Laden had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks: even if we just stick to the official BS narrative, we’re left with the fact that the US, with all its resources and technology (precision drone-strike technology, advanced surveillance and tracking systems, etc), apparently failed to locate or capture a middle-aged man living in caves and suffering from kidney failure… for ten years! And he then, apparently, was found in Pakistan (under the patronage of a US-allied Pakistani military or intelligence community).
And then apparently they killed him. And then stayed in Afghanistan for another ten years: clearly *not* defeating the Taliban during that time.
Also, we should remember a key and often-overlooked fact in this saga: when the US decided Bin Laden was behind 9/11 and threatened to invade Afghanistan unless the Taliban gave him up, the Taliban leadership had actually offered to give him up – on the condition that the US provided some evidence linking Bin Laden to 9/11. Taliban loyalty to Bin Laden made perfect sense too: after all, it was Bin Laden and his family money that had played so big a part in funding the anti-Soviet Mujahideen movement that later became the Taliban.
They owed him a debt: and that’s not even accounting for the cultural factor of Afghan hospitality and old-school codes of honour, which would make it very difficult for them to ‘betray’ their ‘guest’ to a foreign power. Osama bin Laden, pre-9/11, was a hero not just in Afghanistan, but across much of the Islamic world: he was the face of the ‘holy army’ that had defeated the great Soviet Union. And, as the newspaper example above shows, he – and the Mujahideen – were not portrayed as Bad Guys in the foreign media.
The US, we have to assume, failed to provide the evidence requested.
Even putting that aside, I honestly wonder to what extent the Taliban themselves have been confused by the whole War on Terror and the twenty-year operation in Afghanistan. The US was its backer and ally in the 1980s: and Bin Laden and the Saudis were its primary source of funding. Now the US was threatening to go to war with them – and demanding the capture of Bin Laden (who the Taliban leadership presumably knew had a business relationship with both the Bush family and the Saudis). And all of this while the Taliban was still being supported and funded by the same Pakistani intelligence community that had been supporting it since the CIA anti-Soviet operations of the 1980s – while Pakistan was still allied to the US in its War on Terror from 2001 onward!
Did the Taliban have *any* idea what was going on?
Hell, even Osama Bin Laden by this time appeared to have little idea what was going on. He denied any involvement in 9/11: and then watched the US and its allies launch an invasion and war against both him and the very network/culture of ‘holy warriors’ that they themselves had helped him establish in Afghanistan.
The big media stories about the ‘trove’ of valuable terrorist intel the US took from Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, seems to have been mostly propaganda: in fact, according to official releases, much of what was found in Bin Laden’s secret house were things like Mr Bean videos, Tom and Jerry cartoons, cat videos, etc; and lots of videos about the so-called ‘Hunt for Bin Laden’ itself. Extraordinarily, Bin Laden also appeared to have been looking up and exploring various conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attack too.
Honestly, real life is more satirical than any actual satire could ever be.
Sure, the US could argue that they were going after Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. And yes, there were definitely Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. But, as the late British Foreign Minister Robin Cook had pointed out, ‘Al-Qaeda’ was essentially nothing more than the US and Britain’s data-base of Mujahideen holy warriors that they’d helped Bin Laden set up in the 1980s.
Mr Cook claimed that Al Qaeda in the post-9/11 global bogeyman sense didn’t really even exist.
What’s clear is that the presence and activities of Bin Laden, the Mujahideen, the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was something actively created by the US, the Saudis, the Pakistani Deep State and others: and wasn’t a ‘problem’ until after the 9/11 attack.
But, crucially, there’s more evidence to link the Saudi intelligence community, the Israelis and the Bush regime to the 9/11 attack than there is to link Bin Laden, the Taliban or even Al-Qaeda to it. We could present strong, coherent and evidence-backed arguments for Saudi, Israeli and US orchestration of the 9/11 attack: I challenge *anyone* to present an equally strong counter-argument to show the evidence linking 9/11 to either Bin Laden, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or Afghanistan.
None of which is intended here as a defense of the Taliban or the Bin Laden group: but the Taliban is what it is – a puritanical religious movement seeking to create and maintain a society based on medieval-style religious law. Its motives and ideologies may be backward, but they have never been complicated: it’s everyone else’s motives and actions that require scrutiny.
Because I still don’t understand what the point of this Afghanistan war was.
And the blame can’t be laid on Joe Biden: you could hardly blame him for apparently recognising the pointlessness of being in Afghanistan and deciding to pull US forces out. The real questions need to be asked of the Bush/Cheney administration and of Britain and NATO for initiating the Afghanistan campaign in the first place.
Clearly anyway, the Bush/Cheney regime was intent on invading Afghanistan – irrespective of any Bin Laden link to 9/11.
Everything the Taliban did from that point until the present day has been logical and obvious: they simply waged a mostly defensive guerrilla campaign against the foreign invading force (the United States and NATO), just as they had years earlier against the Soviet Union. And with, eventually, the same outcome: the defeat and withdrawal of the invading foreign force.
Commentators now can call Afghanistan the ‘graveyard of empires’ as much they like, but it doesn’t cover up the fact that the US and NATO – who once celebrated the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan – have now met the same fate. And the Taliban – a group that wants to live in a medieval style caliphate, after all – was always going to have the patience to simply outlast the foreign occupiers and their obscure agendas.
So… has this two decades in Afghanistan been an abysmal failure purely on account of US/UK/NATO incompetence? What was the end-game? What was ‘success’ meant to look like?
The only way the Taliban wasn’t going to emerge as the winner again was if the US, Britain and its allies had built and helped maintain a strong, functioning Afghan state with a capable Afghan security infrastructure and military capable of defending the civil society and institutions.
We’ve had two DECADES to do that. Clearly, that job has – at best – been left only half done; or it’s barely been done at all. And, again, add to this President Biden’s recent statement that America was never in Afghanistan for nation building and you can only be left scratching your head in bemusement.
So what the fuck were we *doing* out there for twenty years, if it wasn’t to give the Afghan forces and institutions the strength to fight off the Taliban for themselves?
Clearly the problem was not with American or NATO soldiers or personnel, who no doubt did the best job they could: but with policy makers, governments and planners. How can two entire decades of international presence and involvement *not* result in the creation and strengthening of an Afghan democracy and society? How could it *not* result in at least a weakening of the Taliban… at least enough so as to negate the Taliban overwhelming the Western-backed Afghan forces more or less immediately after the US withdrawal?
That level of failure and incompetence is… well, it’s embarrassing.
And while the international community’s long-term plan for Afghanistan is presently unclear and President Biden has been very sketchy about what the vision is, the implication *at present* is that there is no plan… and that the US, Britain and the West has simply skipped town and left the Afghans to suddenly manage their own problems: after two decades of being completely dependent on the US, NATO and others.
The Taliban’s rapid reclamation of territories in the days following the US withdrawal – and the United States’ apparent lack of interest in the matter – suggests there might not be any intention of intervening any further on behalf of the Afghan state or its poorly-prepared forces from now on.
And again, this quick-time Taliban resurgence is *very* reminiscent of the ISIS avalanche following the US withdrawal from Iraq: which is scary. And, for the record, the Islamic State group does have a presence in Afghanistan too: so an Afghanistan with lots of Taliban-controlled areas could be a perfect breeding or regrouping ground for ‘ISIS’ too. I mean, if we were worried about vast, lawless areas of Afghanistan playing host to Al-Qaeda and terrorist training camps in 2001 (which was what Bush, Blair and others claimed was the issue), then why aren’t we worried about what could happen *now*?
At present, the Taliban claims to be see ISIS as an enemy and not a friend: but who knows how these equations could mutate in the future?
So, really, to whose benefit has any of it been? If the Taliban continues its resurgence at this pace, then it’s not to the benefit of the Afghan people or its society. And what has either the US, the UK or anyone else gained from it? If it was a war against the Taliban, then clearly it’s a war that we *lost*.
In fact, the West’s misadventure in Afghanistan has ended the same way the Soviet Union’s did. But probably worse.
For that matter, the ‘War on Terror’ itself – even if we pretend it wasn’t a staged pantomime and was something the US and its allies actually believed in – can only be judged to have also been lost.
More than a decade after the so-called War on Terror was initiated, we saw the emergence of the Islamic State terror group, the spread of Islamist terror groups like al-Shabab and Boko Haram in Africa, a dramatic increase in terror attacks on European and Western soil, and – and top of all of that – the US, Britain and its allies were now directly supporting Islamist terror groups in Libya, Syria and Iraq (for the purposes of overthrowing Arab governments). In the case of Libya, we were literally in alliance with Al-Qaeda, with NATO acting as Al-Qaeda’s air-force – at a time, no less, when the Gaddafi regime was literally trying to conduct anti Al-Qaeda and anti-Islamist operations.
Just think about that for a moment: in the ten years between 9/11 (in 2001) and the NATO war on Libya (in 2011), we went from a ‘War on Terror’ primarily targeting Al-Qaeda… to allying ourselves with Al-Qaeda militarily in both Libya and Syria.
Now, sure, most of us here know that the ‘War on Terror’ was bullshit from day one (as was the 9/11 narrative): but how did even those intent on manufacturing and maintaining that false narrative manage to balls up that narrative so amazingly in just ten years? Did they just think no one would notice?
And what is the narrative supposed to be *now*? ‘We tried our best, but we failed – sorry and goodbye?’
That seems to be all there is.
But with all of this farce in mind, it’s hardly even surprising that the rag-tag, medievalist Taliban in Afghanistan has WON against the US, Britain, NATO and half the international community. They were just waiting patiently for the foreign powers to give up and leave.
So, alright, I realise I’ve spent most of this text just complaining and being angry.
Let’s go back and try to make some (minimal) sense of this quagmire: although, honestly, ‘digging deeper’ doesn’t seem to offer anything more coherent or validating than just looking at the surface level confusion does. But it at least offers additional context.
So there’s always been a lot to suggest the involvement of the Pakistani intelligence community (the ever-present ISI) in supporting and empowering the Taliban in Afghanistan. This appears simply to be fact. Taliban members were even apparently on record saying the ISI was funding and supporting them, even sometimes sitting in on meetings of the militant group’s supreme council, and most Afghan commentators openly blame Pakistan for the Taliban’s strength in Afghanistan.
However, US, British or Western commentators pointing to Pakistani duplicity in this matter – true as it is – is somewhat disingenuous: given the US/Western role in also creating the foundations of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Firstly, this Taliban policy shouldn’t really be blamed on specific Pakistani Prime Ministers over the years, but more on the Pakistani Deep State (specifically the ISI) and its long-term operations. And let’s keep in mind the following: the Pakistani Deep State’s supporting of the Afghan Taliban was a continuation of its involvement in supporting and facilitating the Mujahideen operations against the Soviets – in other words, the one is a continuation of the other. And, crucially, the Pakistani Deep State was doing this in conjunction with its US and Saudi allies – the Mujahideen operation was an international affair, with Pakistan playing a key facilitating role due to both its geographical location and it being an ally of the United States at the time.
It was Pakistani Deep State policy to support the Mujahideen in the 80s – and the Taliban thereafter. But, post-9/11, was this still in conjunction with its US and Saudi allies’ interests and wishes? Or was it acting on its own?
The latter is possible (and is certainly what is claimed by Pakistan’s critics): but can we be entirely clear-cut about that, especially given both US and Saudi duplicity in regard to 9/11 itself?
Again, whether or not – as is often claimed – agencies in Pakistan had been double-dealing during the War on Terror (supporting extremist groups and actors at the same time as apparently being allied to the US government in the fight against terrorism), what is clear is that the country has suffered massive blowback from both the US-backed Mujahideen war in Afghanistan and the later War on Terror. In terms of the Pakistani covert support for Islamist activity while supposedly assisting the US in the supposed fight against terrorists, it is again important to remember the extent to which US agencies (particularly the CIA) has created, nurtured and supported the very ‘enemies’ it later claimed to be fighting. We can clearly observe that in both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State Group; both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, after all, came out of the proxy war against the Soviets in the 80s, and the so-called ‘ISIS’ out of the US invasion of Iraq and proxy wars in Libya and Syria.
Therefore, American complaints about Pakistani duplicity in these areas – valid as it may be – brings to mind the pot and the kettle; there is also the question of whether any Pakistani collusion with Islamist or terrorist outfits/actors might’ve occurred with covert US approval, even as – officially – the US was complaining about such things.
The idea, for example, that elements of the Pakistani military or intelligence service was hiding Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad entirely without US knowledge has always seemed dubious – it has always seemed more likely that the US, which needed Bin Laden alive for many years to help perpetuate the so-called ‘War on Terror’ (because the ‘Hunt for Bin Laden’ was what kept the War on Terror going), would’ve been happy for him to be kept safely in Abbottabad while it pretended to be looking for him in Afghanistan.
Did the US really have no idea Bin Laden was in a Pakistani military town?
Also, my own belief (which was included in ‘The Libya Conspiracy‘ book) is that the US chose that specific date in 2011 to assassinate Bin Laden purely to cover up NATO’s botched assassination attempt on Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi on the same day: in other words, because the US and NATO claimed to *not* be trying to assassinate Gaddafi, but yet had clearly just attempted (and failed) to do so, they quickly decided now was the time to embarrass the Pakistani military and assassinate Bin Laden – so that all of the international news coverage would be of the killing of Bin Laden and not the failed assassination attempt on Gaddafi.
Either way, the blowback suffered by Pakistan in general from all of this has been massive. Pakistan’s terrorism problem, which has claimed many, many lives, mostly comes from the Pakistani Taliban: which, confusingly, is a distinct and separate entity from the Afghan Taliban. The paradigm therefore seems to be that Pakistani agencies secretly support (and even controlled) the Afghan Taliban for geopolitical purposes, but doesn’t control (and is, in fact, under attack by) the Pakistani Taliban – which, as far as I can tell, is identical (ideologically) to the Afghan Taliban, the only difference being that it wants to take over Pakistan and turn it into a hard-line Sharia State.
I got confused just typing out that last sentence; but this seems to be the paradigm.
There are possibly many Afghans who would see Pakistan’s domestic Taliban problems as a form of poetic justice.
However, it is, of course, the ordinary and innocent people in Pakistan who suffer, just as it is the people in Afghanistan who suffer: and, in both cases, the progress and future of those countries and societies is in the balance. The majority of ordinary Pakistanis don’t like or support the Taliban, just as the majority of ordinary Afghans don’t: the Afghans generally view the Taliban as a foreign-imported entity – again going back to the 80s and the US/Saudi/Pakistan-backed Holy War against the Soviets.
The ideology of the Taliban is also derived largely from the puritanical and Saudi-funded Wahhabist movement: the British-created and British and US backed Saudi state has been disseminating its extreme version of Islam across the Muslim world for the last few decades, with the Saudi wealth contributing massively – as I have explored before – to the growth and spread of Islamist extremism across much of the Muslim world (including parts of the Muslim world that previously had not *had* any history of extremism).
Pakistan and Afghanistan have been two particular targets of this long-term indoctrination campaign: and the US-backed Mujahideen Holy War in the 80s was a significant factor in the expansion of those ideologies.
In terms of US knowledge of Pakistani support for the Taliban, it’s not entirely clear: the Pakistani ISI and Deep State appears to be a highly autonomous entity that operates largely without any accountability to the Pakistani government. You can see this clearly in, say, the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto or in the way that the one-time military dictator and US ally Pervez Musharraf has been thrown under the bus: the inescapable conclusion is that Pakistani Prime Ministers and leaders are almost expendable entities and that the ISI or Deep State does whatever it wants.
So it is possible that certain Pakistani leaders were trying genuinely to cooperate with the US in the War on Terror and War in Afghanistan, but that the ISI was running its own show? But, again, did the US not know the Pakistani Deep State was in league with the Afghan Taliban? That’s hard to believe: especially given that CIA operations were involved in the very creation of the Mujahideen/Taliban in the first place and that the Pakistani ISI was acting as a CIA ally in those operations in the 1980s.
Logically speaking, if the Pakistani Deep State was controlling or supporting the Afghan Taliban, why didn’t the US move towards regime change in Pakistan? After all, regime change was the post-9/11 norm, wasn’t it? It was used in Iraq. And in Libya. And attempted in Syria. Moreover, the Bush regime’s mantra at this time had been about targeting ‘state sponsors of terrorism’, right? Well, if the Pakistani Deep State was sponsoring the Taliban in Afghanistan – in turn, supposedly harbouring Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden – why wasn’t Pakistan targeted? For sanctions, at the very least?
Why wasn’t Saudi Arabia – the source of the religious ideological network that helped create the Taliban – also targeted? Why, instead, did we target Saddam’s regime in Iraq, which had *nothing* to do with Al-Qaeda or terrorism? And Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, which was actively engaged in anti Al-Qaeda and anti jihadist operations?
The answer can only be – as most of us already accept – that there was no actual ‘War on Terror: it was all smoke-and-mirrors.
And all of these various players – the US, Britain, NATO, the Pakistani Deep State, the Saudis, Israel – were simply servicing various mutual interests across the geo-political chessboard. One would assume that the long term interests of the Afghan people was never a primary concern. Which is not to say that we didn’t genuinely try to do some good for Afghan society while we were there – in terms of things like women’s’ rights and education, for example.
But, if the present reports out of Afghanistan are anything to go by, we haven’t done a great job of it: and, again, it was never our primary motive or concern in that country – otherwise we’d still be there.
A conspiracy theory has also persisted for a long time among some Afghans that the US and the Taliban were working together much of the time. Whether there’s any truth to that belief or not, you can hardly blame some Afghans for thinking this: given the degree of confusion that has persisted in Afghanistan over what exactly the US-led invasion and occupation was supposed to be about.
As this New Republic piece from 2011 explains, ‘… the notion that the United States and the Taliban are collaborating has grown more frequent among Afghans since the military surge began, says Noah Coburn, a political anthropologist at Skidmore College who has been doing research in Afghanistan since 2005. “It is amazing how many Afghans believe this,” he says. During the time I have spent in Afghanistan over the last two years, this belief has, for me, come to symbolize just how confused Afghans have become about the war the United States is fighting in their country… This view can even be found among Afghan journalists…’
The article quotes an Afghan journalist, who asks, ‘If NATO is really fighting the Taliban, why don’t they target big groups of insurgents everyone can see riding around in cars and on motorbikes? There are now more than 130,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, far outnumbering Taliban insurgents, who are estimated at 25,000 to 35,000 at most.‘
So… was the US aware that its Pakistani Deep State ally was directly supporting the Afghan Taliban even during those years when the US and its allies were supposedly fighting the same Afghan Taliban? Clearly not, since the matter has been openly discussed and generally acknowledged – for example, in this paper published by the London School of Economics in 2010.
So, if the US and NATO knew about this, why didn’t they confront Pakistan over it? Did they not want to rock the boat and risk destabilising consequences? If that was a concern, then why invade Afghanistan in the first place – let alone engage in such destabilisation projects as the War in Iraq or the wars in Libya and Syria?
Furthermore, it appears to be well known that, among various avenues of funding for the Taliban, there are both private individuals and charitable organisations donating money to the Taliban, particularly from the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. According to a CIA report, the governments of Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are all believed to bankroll the Taliban too, somewhere in the area of $500 million a year.
Has any US administration called out these governments or institutions – especially of ‘allies’ like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States – for any of this?
Should we consider, perhaps sympathetically, that the US and NATO has been actively sabotaged in Afghanistan by other governments and powers? And that this active interference has resulted in a failed twenty-year operation? I mean, this could be the answer – it’s at least part of the answer.
But it doesn’t justify the overall failure of the NATO/US mission in Afghanistan – nor the US retreat resulting in near-immediate Taliban takeover.
Or was this all part of a grand deception – with the fighting in Afghanistan merely being a front for other things?
Like the drugs trade, for example? Those copious Afghan opium fields have always been a curious question mark in the equation, haven’t they?
The US had claimed to be trying to fight the Afghan drugs trade: for one thing, most analyses seem to point to the Taliban being the ones who’ve benefited most from the poppy fields and using the heroin trade to fund its militant activities: in fact a recent Foreign Policy article calls the Taliban the world’s biggest drugs cartel.
The stats are staggering: Afghanistan has been the world’s leading illicit drug producer since 2001. Afghanistan’s opium poppy harvest produces more than 90% of illicit heroin globally, and more than 95% of the European supply. More land is used for opium in Afghanistan than is used for coca cultivation in Latin America. In 2007, 93% of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan. This amounts to an export value of about US$4 billion, with a quarter being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords, and drug traffickers.’ (source).
But when it comes to international narcotics networks and operations, the US – and the CIA in particular – has a pretty sketchy track record, including longstanding allegations over the Contra affair: so we’re forced to wonder what was going on here, and whether interests other than the Taliban or their rival Afghan warlords were also profiting from the production and flow of heroin.
There’s some curious things here. As much as the Taliban has certainly profited substantially from the drugs trade (as have rival Afghan factions), it’s curious that Wikipedia tells us Afghanistan has been the world’s leading illicit drug producer since 2001 specifically – which was the year of the US/NATO invasion of the country.
Even more curious, it tells further down on the page that the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, had been (as of July 2000 – a year or so prior to the US/NATO War in Afghanistan) ‘… collaborating with the UN to eradicate heroin production in Afghanistan, declared that growing poppies was un-Islamic, resulting in one of the world’s most successful anti-drug campaigns. The Taliban enforced a ban on poppy farming via threats, forced eradication, and public punishment of transgressors. The result was a 99% reduction in the area of opium poppy farming in Taliban-controlled areas, roughly three quarters of the world’s supply of heroin at the time. The ban was effective only briefly, due to the deposition of the Taliban in 2002.‘
It’s kind of odd that, just prior to the US/NATO invasion, the Taliban leadership had actually cracked down on heroin production and the drugs trade – in collaboration with the UN no less. Again, these stats are staggering: ‘a 99% reduction’ in opium farming and ‘three quarters of the world’s heroin supply’?
If anything, the Taliban’s subsequent profiting from the opium farming appears to have been driven by the need to fund its anti-American and anti-NATO operations: in other words, while the Taliban of 2000/2001 appeared to be trying to eradicate the opium trade, the NATO invasion eventually made it necessary for them to use the drugs trade (which rival Afghan warlords and corrupt politicians were already doing anyway) in order to keep its war going.
Even a Washington Post piece from 2019 seems to confirm that the Taliban had gotten the drugs situation under control and that it was the US-led invasion that saw the staggering expansion of the Afghan heroin trade, ‘Afghan opium production has skyrocketed over the course of the 18-year war. Last year, Afghan farmers grew poppies — the plant from which opium is extracted to make heroin — on four times as much land as they did in 2002… As soon as the U.S. military invaded and toppled the Taliban in 2001, Afghan farmers resumed sowing their poppy seeds.’
While most available information suggest the US and NATO were – at least on the surface of it – opposed to the Afghan drugs trade, it doesn’t appear that much concerted effort was made to stamp it out. While various reasons were given over the years for the failure to crack down on the opium industry (the job was at one point placed in the hands of the British), it’s curious that if the US and co knew the Taliban were at this time profiting substantially from the poppy fields, they didn’t make it a priority to eliminate that industry.
Particularly given that the Taliban itself, just prior to 9/11 and the War on Terror, had apparently managed to stamp it out.
Again, it’s another apparent anomaly in the whole narrative. One which prompts us to wonder what additional groups or interests – other than the Taliban and the Afghan warlords – were interested in seeing the heroin production maintained. Where that much money and profit is involved, there’s going to be more than just one party getting a piece of the pie.
Another argument forwarded by some is that the US and NATO were there to strip the country of its substantial natural resources. Afghanistan is rich in mineral resources, including iron, copper, gold, cobalt, rare earth metals, and lithium. And this is thought to be a major reason the Soviets invaded. But, as far as can be gleaned from various sources, it doesn’t appear the US has done much mining there. China has – and China certainly could be positioned to move more firmly into this space the US has just departed.
President Trump was reportedly looking into taking more advantage of the country’s resources: but this was pretty late in the game as far as the NATO/US presence goes. Curiously, a Salon article from 2017 revealed that Trump had discussed mining in Afghanistan with US/Israeli citizen Stephen Feinberg, head of the notorious DynCorp. Even more curious, the even more notorious Blackwater founder, Erik Prince, had also been involved in these plans and had ‘…argued for a complete privatization of the war in the country, calling for one sole “viceroy” to conduct all US efforts, and an “East Indian Company approach” involving “private military units” and “a nimbler special-ops and contracted force”…’
I’ve written about real-life Bond villain Erik Prince and his shady operations before (see here): particularly his operations to establish private military forces and mercenary units all over the world, from China (in the Xinjiang Province) to Yemen and the Middle East. While Trump is no longer the sheriff in town and Biden’s surface-level actions in regard to Afghanistan suggest a very different view of the situation, is it possible one of the reasons for the US/NATO withdrawal is to pave the way for Afghan operations to be taken over instead by private contractors and covert warfare specialists?
Could this be seen as a more efficient, less problematic and costly way forward? There’s no indication of that yet; but the main thrust of the older exploration of the Prince controversy was this noticeable shift towards an unofficial policy of using mercenaries and foreign contractors to carry out the work that used to be done by traditional military or peacekeeping forces. We’ve already seen this happening; not just in the Middle East (Prince was even shipping in Columbian mercenaries to the Gulf States), but look at the recent assassination of the Haitian president – carried out, we’re told, by Columbian mercenaries who’s act can’t be easily traced to a source.
I’ve written previously about why this potential shift to private armies and contractors is a horrible, horrible idea for the world (see here and here): for one thing, the lack of accountability, military codes of conduct, and recourse to justice. But since we don’t know for now whether this is the direction the US/Western policy in Afghanistan is headed, it’s something we just have to keep an eye on.
So, coming back to the central question… what was the *point* of the War in Afghanistan?
I’m honestly not sure. And, in fact, numerous NATO and American military planners and policy makers don’t seem to be sure either. President Biden doesn’t seem to know what the point was either.
And, again, most Afghans don’t seem to understand what the purpose of the twenty years of NATO presence was about either.
And… what now?
If the Afghans get overrun by the Taliban, do we do anything? Is the Pakistani Deep State still controlling or supporting the Afghan Taliban? And what of the various foreign groups and governments reportedly providing funding to the Taliban? No more big speeches about womens’ rights, free society or religious freedoms – or a better future for the Afghan people? No more concerns about jihadism or terrorism being potentially fermented in dangerous parts of Afghanistan?
Or are all these things that were apparently so important twenty years ago no longer a concern?
Ironically enough, after all of this nonsense and death and cost over two decades – including countless assassinations, terror attacks, coups, conspiracies and all the rest of it, in Afghanistan and Pakistan – not only is the Taliban looking like the winners, but geo-political analysts are now talking about China stepping in to the American vacuum. What that means is anyone’s guess – except China, unlike the US and co, probably won’t even pretend to be interested in human rights, democracy or Afghan society: but resources, plain and simple.
Just as ironically, Pakistan – once America’s and the West’s all-important ally in the ‘War on Terror’ and the Afghanistan campaign – has already turned away from the US and is more allied to China too. Maybe this withdrawal from Afghanistan is simply another sign of a waning United States abroad: and the rise of a Chinese World Order.
Certainly, in geopolitical terms, it seems to be China that would benefit the most from the US defeat and withdrawal. Or maybe someone in American foreign policy circles is playing some kind of ineffable game of 4D chess? I mean, I realise I’m clutching at straws there – but, really, I’m just trying to find something, anything, to cling to in the way of a silver lining or just something to justify twenty years in Afghanistan – either for the West or for the Afghan people.