As America’s allies and surrogates gathered in London to discuss how they plan to salvage their failed war. The Afghan war is being described as the humbling of the US as they have been unable to defeat a force, a fraction the size of the coalition troops with weapons that are older than many of the foreign troops participating in the war.
This therefore would be an apt moment to review the events that have led to this situation in Afghanistan and the possible direction events will most likely take. It should be remembered from the outset that this conference would not be taking place had the West been in a position of strength. In fact we must ask how the most technologically advanced military in history has been humbled by tribal warriors using weapons developed in the 1960’s.
War on terror
The events of 9/11 shifted the US military machine into 5th gear. The US mobilised for WW2 with a massive expansion of its military industrial complex after Pearl Harbour was destroyed by Japanese forces. However in invading Afghanistan the US military deployed a limited number of troops on the ground. The plan was that Special Forces, and intelligence officers with a military background, would serve as liaisons with Afghan militias opposed to the Taliban, who would advance after the cohesiveness of the Taliban forces was disrupted by American air power.
The air campaign lasted for around a month and is considered to have had little effect. The US enlisted the assistance of countries around Afghanistan such as Pakistan and Iran to provide supply routes for the attack. The Northern Alliance, fighting against a Taliban captured Mazari Sharif and then rapidly gained control of most of northern Afghanistan and took control of Kabul in November 2009, after the Taliban retreated from the city. The last Taliban-held city in the north, Kunduz, was captured on November 26th 2001 and the Taliban retreated to Kandahar – to the South of thre country. When Kandahar was invaded, the Taliban had fled to Pakistan.
By December 2001 on behalf of the US the United Nations hosted the Bonn Conference in Germany. The aim was the creation of a political process which would bring all the different tribes, warlords and factions into the US constructed political setup. Participants included representatives of four Afghan opposition groups – Pushtun, Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek – all anti-Taliban groups. Observers included representatives of neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran. The result was the Bonn Agreement created the Afghan Interim Authority that would oversee the transition of Afghanistan towards a new constitution and the choosing of a new Afghan government.
Historically all those who invaded Afghanistan, be they the British or the Soviets, captured Afghanistan very quickly due to their overwhelming numbers. The US deployed a mere 20,000 troops and never defeated the Taliban, but ensured they fled the country. However history has shown that consolidating Afghanistan is the real challenge. The USSR at its peak had 320 000 troops in Afghanistan during its attempt to occupy Afghanistan in the 1980’s In the end the USSR left the region humiliated and defeated. Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, commander of Soviet armed forces, to the USSR’s politburo in the Kremlin on November 13th 1986 summed up the invasion: “There is barely an important piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another,” the commander said. “Nevertheless, much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centres, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory that we seize.” He added: “Our soldiers are not to blame. They’ve fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land, where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills.”
There is also sufficient evidence that indicate the US had plans to invade Afghanistan well before 9/11. In a BBC article Niaz Naik, the former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, claimed that he had been told by senior American officials in July 2001 that military action against Afghanistan would begin by the middle of October at the latest. The message was conveyed during a meeting on Afghanistan between senior US, Russian, Iranian, and Pakistani diplomats. The meeting was the third in a series of meetings on Afghanistan, with the previous meeting having been held in March 2001. During the July 2001 meeting, Naik was told that Washington would launch its military operation from bases in Tajikistan – where American advisers were already in place – and that the wider objective was to topple the Taliban regime and install another government in place.
By the time the US began its invasion of Iraq in March 2003 Hamid Karzai the American stooge had been appointed the head of the interim authority and in 2004 he became the official president of Afghanistan after an election fraught with widespread fraud. Hamid Karzai gave various posts to his supporters whilst removing the influence of the Northern Alliance. For the US all the various factions, who previously had used violence to achieve their interests were now to fight for their interests through the US inspired political process, a process which protects ethnic differences and interests – a recipe for disaster.
The US became marred in Iraq as an insurgency consumed US forces. During this period considerable US resources focused on the Iraq conflict as it became central to US policy. During this period the world’s attention was on the spiralling disaster in Iraq as the US was unable to contain an insurgency by numerous Shi’ah groups in the South of Iraq and with various Sunni groups in central Iraq.
From 2003 – 2006, the Taliban regrouped and began launching attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan. This was during the same time as the US was bleeding to death in Iraq. The Taliban began an insurgency in Afghanistan that even today the US has been unable to contain. The Taliban had reorganised and reconstituted their forces and just like they did against Soviet forces, utilised guerrilla tactics as well as the Afghan mountains as a sanctuary to launch attacks.
By 2007 the US had managed to co-opt various factions in Iraq into its political process and had reduced violence to an acceptable level. This was fundamentally achieved through Tehran who extended its support to the leader of SCIRI, ayatollah Hakim and the Badr Brigade who still remain the lynchpin of US plans for Iraq. This is turn brought Afghanistan to the forefront after a number of reassessments and renewed commitments. The US increased its troop levels through a number of surges. All of this failed to stem the Taliban onslaught as an Afghan government filled with various rivalries became polarised and with systemic governmental corruption it only weakened it further.
Various think tanks and academics carried out research in 2007 that showed the Taliban controlled over 50% of Afghanistan. A report by the Senlis Council think-tank stated that more than half of Afghanistan was back under Taliban control. The BBC carried out extensive research and highlighted in a special report the areas and degree of control the Taliban had of Afghanistan, it was this reality that earned Hamid Karzai the title of “Mayor of Kabul” due to having little ability to govern outside Kabul.
Like Iraq the US turned to its regional surrogates to navigate out of its Afghan dilemma. The US by July 2008 has begun using drones to target the areas on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and into Pakistani territory. Whilst on the surface the Pakistani government reacted angrily to such attacks this charade was exposed when Senator Dianne Feinstein chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, publicly commented on where the Predator aircraft patrolling Pakistan take off and land. At the hearing in February 2009, Feinstein expressed surprise over Pakistani opposition to the campaign of Predator-launched CIA missile strikes against targets along Pakistan’s northwestern border. She commented “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.”
As Obama took office in 2009 the US military and foreign policy establishment had abandoned the neo-conservative objective of crushing the Taliban and remaking Afghanistan into a functioning democracy. America’s Afghanistan policy fell into the hands of the realists, whose priority was maintaining a tractable and viable client in Kabul, keeping Afghanistan securely inside the US sphere of interest, holding on to a key asset in Central Asia’s “great game” of energy resources and pipeline infrastructure.
Obama’s main foreign policy position was that Bush’s adventure into Iraq has obscured the real threat from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which should be the priority. Obama publicly and repeatedly promised to escalate US military intervention in Afghanistan, increasing the number of US troops and expanding their operations and engaging in methodical, cross-border attacks. Obama declared that his regime would extend the ‘war against terror’ by systematic, large-scale ground and air attacks on Pakistan, thus escalating the war to include villages.
Obama shifted US policy from a purely defensive posture to a mixed posture of selective offensive and defensive, and placed more forces into Afghanistan. Obama’s basic strategy remained the same as Bush’s: hold onto to Afghanistan until the political situation evolves to the point that a political settlement is possible.
The US faced Mullah Omar’s Taliban in the south of Afghanistan, where the bulk of combat continues to take place. Sirajuddin Haqqani’s network is fighting NATO in the southeast, whilst Iran has brought stability in the North-West through building roads, power transmission lines, and border stations, among other infrastructure projects. Colonel Christopher Langton, who heads the defence analysis department at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said Iran is an important country in the future reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, “They are being closely linked by efforts against the Taliban in the past, but also because of the influence that Iran can bring there with the Hazara population [who, like Iranians, are Shi’a Muslims]. And in the development sector, there are already projects which Iran is involved in — for instance, the road from Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf up through Afghanistan to Central Asia is a very, very important project for the future of Afghanistan…There is a whole list of political, economic, and security issues which connect Afghanistan and Iran.”
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the architect of US cold war policy had stated as far back as 1997 in his book ‘The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives,’ that for the United States, control of Eurasia – the region encompassing Afghanistan and Pakistan and their neighbours in the states of the former Soviet union – was a prime goal of post cold war US military and foreign policy. He said in his book ‘whoever either controls or dominates access to the region is the one most likely to win geopolitical and economic prize.’
Condoleezza Rice confirmed this view in January 2006 “One of the things that we did in the State Department was to move the Central Asian republics out of the European bureau, which really was an artefact of their having been states of the Soviet Union, and to move them into the bureau that is South Asia, which has Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. It represents what we’re trying to do, which is to think of this region as one that will need to be integrated, and that will be a very important goal for us.”
US presence in Afghanistan has always been due its aims of protecting its interests against a resurgent Russia and China. However after nearly a decade of the war on terror the US finds Ukraine – once a shining beacon of pro-Western color revolutions – back in Moscow’s fold, with the Caucasus on its way and the Baltic States the next Russian targets. The US needs to redeploy its troop’s in order to counter Russian resurgence. STRATFOR, a widely known mouthpiece for the CIA confirmed America’s wider aims in the region: “The US has had the ultimate aim of preventing the emergence of any major power in Eurasia. The paradox however is as follows – the goals of these interventions was never to achieve something – whatever the political rhetoric might have said – but to prevent something. The United States wanted to prevent stability in areas where another power might emerge. Its goal was not to stabilise but to destabilise, and this explains how the United States responded to the Islamic earthquake. It wanted to prevent a large, powerful Islamic state from emerging. Rhetoric aside the United States has no overriding interest in peace in Eurasia. The United States also has no interest in winning the war outright……the purpose of these conflicts is simply to block a power or destabilise the region, not to impose order.”
Like Iraq, the US is attempting a similar strategy in Afghanistan of utilising regional surrogates, corrupt warlords, and through political compromises to maintain an acceptable level of violence, whilst constructing the necessary political architecture that will protect its interests. All political settlements are useless in Afghanistan unless the Taliban are participants, as they control most of Afghanistan’s territory. The governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have confirmed meetings with the Taliban for such purposes as numerous Western politicians have called for dialogue with the Taliban. The Taliban, despite their vowed statements that they would never enter into negotiations while Afghanistan was under occupation, have not denied such meetings with the Karzai government. Abdussalam Za’eef, the former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan in September 2008 clarified to Reuters that certain Taliban elements travelled to Saudi Arabia in September 2008 and met the Saudi King and Afghan officials.
The US needs to bring the Taliban into a political settlement – which Pakistan will be central to; but it will also use its military option to force the Taliban into this political settlement through targeted strikes against key Taliban personnel. The aim is to weaken the Taliban, so political reconciliation becomes the only practical option. The Pakistan government is central to this as the Taliban insurgency cannot be halted until Pakistan and the United States reach a consensus over reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban. The United States lacks the intelligence to draw the distinction between reconcilable and irreconcilable elements. Pakistan is the one entity that does have the intelligence and connections to do so, however the US does not trust many elements within Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Interstate Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) and the army. This is why such elements are consistently termed ‘rogue’ elements.
The Taliban have the upper hand in Afghanistan through successfully intercepting US supply lines and through an insurgency the US is unable to contain. Talks with the Taliban are still in their early stages and have been painstakingly slow, due to America’s occupation with the global economic crisis. By all indications the US is now attempting to bribe the Taliban into a political deal, which in any language is an admission of failure.
The Western powers, since Obama’s inauguration have been preparing the ground for reconciliation with the Taliban. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled plans on the 22nd January 2009 to reintegrate Taliban fighters into the political mainstream in Afghanistan. On the 23rd January 2009 British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in Washington in order to brief US lawmakers and officials on the London 28th January 2009, stressed the need to reach out to the Taliban. “We do not conflate or confuse Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” he told a US Senate panel. “The Taliban leadership do not have as their principal aim Al Qaeda’s violent global jihadist agenda.” Hamid Karzai also announced a package of incentives, offering money and jobs to encourage Taliban fighters to lay down their arms and return to civilian life. A few days before the London conference Nato’s top commander in Afghanistan US General Stanley McChrystal outlined the direction he will be taking the Afghan conflict: “I believe that a political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome. And it’s the right outcome.” Asked if he thought senior Taliban could have a role in a future Afghan government, he said: “I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future, and not the past. As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there’s been enough fighting.” Similarly in an interview with the New York Times, United Nations special representative Kai Eide called for some senior Taliban leaders to be removed from a UN list of terrorists, as a prelude to direct talks. “If you want relevant results, then you have to talk to the relevant person in authority,” Mr Eide said. “I think the time has come to do it.”
The week before the London conference saw an increased push for negotiations with the Taliban by virtually all interested parties, including the British, Americans, Turkey, Afghans and Pakistan in multiple conferences in Istanbul, Moscow and The Hague. It is this context the Afghanistan conference that took place in London on the 28th January 2009. It took place in the context of enlisting support form coalition patterns to commit to a new plan to bring the Taliban into a political settlement that will allow for a reduction of troops as the insurgency would have subsided – in time for the US general elections due in 2012. The civilian surge, as the conference went to some lengths to outline is the colonial West attempting to consolidate their hegemony on Afghanistan when they have failed to defeat the Taliban. However all such plans are useless unless the Taliban who control more than half of Afghanistan can be brought into America’s ‘Iraq model’ in South Asia.
The US has been humbled by the Taliban after nearly a decade of war, which has lasted longer than both the world wars combined. As a result of America’s apparent weakness the challenges stemming from her competitors have grown in size and scope and today are much stronger. Whilst US aims to gain a permanent presence in the region to counter China and finish its post Cold war project of bringing all the former Soviet republics under US control. Russia however, has managed to take advantage of America’s preoccupation with Afghanistan and its weakness in achieving its aims to strengthen itself in the Former Soviet republics. The US today has no problem in negotiating with its enemy the Taliban who apparently provided sanctuary to those who carried out 9/11. This is nothing other than the acceptance of defeat, the US will never be able to defeat the Ummah no matter how many from amongst the Ummah are duped through bribes and wealth. Allah سبحانه وتعالى confirms this in the Qur’an:
يُرِيدُونَ أَن يُطْفِؤُواْ نُورَ اللّهِ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَيَأْبَى اللّهُ إِلاَّ أَن يُتِمَّ نُورَهُ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ
هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَى وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ
“They seek to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths; but Allah refuses but to perfect His light, though the disbelievers may resent it. It is he who sent His Messenger with guidance and the truth, in order that it may prevail over all other ways of life, even though the polytheists may detest it.” (At-Tawba – 32-33)