Afghanistan after 18 Years of US Occupation
Flawed strategies, ambiguous policies and the way forward
Mairaj ul Hamid Nasri
The United States has completed its 18 years in Afghanistan. On 07th of October 2001, it attacked this country by launching ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ here under the umbrella of NATO and backed by UN resolution 1368 with an apparent aim to dethrone Taliban and dismantle Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although the US dethroned Taliban within a few weeks, and pushed them to the mountains, it could not cut their roots in the Afghan society completely due to flawed strategies and inconsistent policies. President Bush in his victory speech had claimed that US forces have killed the dragon and they will now search out snakes in the jungle. Unfortunately, after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Afghan war became “the other war”. During first few years in Afghanistan, the US was unable to understand the challenges posed by Afghanistan’s insurgency. Their “Counterinsurgency Doctrine” was fatally flawed for they failed to neutralize Taliban, dismantle al-Qaeda completely, and transforming Afghans into a strong nation.
By 2003, the United States had distracted from combat to development and the Operation Enduring Freedom was ended in 2006. Later, ‘Resolute Support Mission’ was to build the Afghan nation but here once again they failed to stick to their aim. During these years, due to the negligence of US forces, the Taliban insurgents got the opportunity to reorganize and they made new recruitments, which caused another dilemma for the US and its allies here. The reason may be that the US forces, reportedly, have been involved in digging mines and transporting precious minerals back to the US since then.
Another flaw was the continuous change in strategies as well as in command. This approach added an impetus to the prolongation of the war and distraction from counterinsurgency and counter terrorism efforts.
During Bush’s second term when Hamid Karzai was the President of Afghanistan, the objectives of US presence in this war-ravaged country were unclear. The US repeated the same mistakes in Afghanistan which the USSR did in the 1980s. After the demise of Taliban rule, the United States, instead of fighting Afghans, should have invested in economic and social sector of the country to legitimize its presence and win hearts and minds of Afghans.
Here, America’s pre-mature withdrawal from Afghanistan, would have disastrously damaged the global and regional interests of America in Asia, Middle East and Latin America, just like USSR, lost it in Eastern Europe, as repercussions of its defeat in Afghanistan. Americans feared that their defeat and hasty withdrawal would have also energized global Jihad networks along with the regional powers, to line up their clients for another adventure in Afghanistan. For staying the course, America and NATO legitimized their presence by saying that it is must for surveillance of sanctuaries of terrorists and extremist activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Taliban’s re-emergence, have considerably threatened US strategic objectives in one way but provided another opportunity for their legitimate presence in Afghanistan.
The internal situation of Afghanistan shows that majority of the Afghan people are unaware of the objectives behind the American attack on Afghanistan. People living in rural areas even do not know what happened on 9/11, let alone understanding its link with the Afghan war. In a way, Americans have failed to explain “why we fight in Afghanistan” which may be considered another flaw in their respective strategies.
During the surge of troops during Obama era, the US forces couldn’t achieve the set goals of paving the way for withdrawal. They targeted the locals, civilians and conducted search operations of houses without any intimation even during the nighttime. Such acts also stimulated the locals to support Taliban for getting rid of the foreign occupants. There are many other such examples which prove the failure and flaws of US strategies during the past eighteen years.
Nevertheless, after withdrawal, the US and NATO forces’ residual presence, apart from other strategic objectives, is meant for training and support of the Afghan National Security Forces. Despite their efforts and massive funding, the Afghan forces have failed to achieve visible gains on ground and to control desertions from their troops. Corruption within the Afghan armed forces has reached at its peak and power is used to attain personal and political interests. Reports suggest that, on average, 40 Afghan soldiers and police die every day due to attacks by the insurgents or internal scuffles. By analyzing different reports and analyses, it can rightly be stated that the US is now trying to sustain the controlled chaos and manage anarchy to legitimize its presence for a long time.
Furthermore, National Unity Government (NUG) was formed to bring unity in Afghan society and to provide for a democratic setup there. The NUG proved to be united only in name as it failed to cover its internal rifts even after completion of the tenure. Alliances were formed within the government against the government. Parliament and the Arg (Afghan presidential palace) remained engaged in a continuous clash on the selection of ministers and many governance-related issues.
Afghanistan’s economy is still run with foreign aid – fiscal budget of the ongoing year included 70 percent of foreign funding. On average, the gross national product (GNP) increased by 20 percent during the past 18 years but here, once again, a major chunk comes from foreign aid. Mines are dug illegally and credible reports reveal that Afghan mainstream politicians are involved in it. The drug production, which became zero in 2001 during the Taliban rule, is now adding 90 percent of narcotics to the world drugs statistics. UN reports suggest that still more than 200,000 hectares of land is cultivated for drugs production. The US and NATO forces have failed to control the menace rather some reports even blame that they support and encourage farmers in different areas to produce opium and other narcotics.
When local warlords are the real beneficiaries of getting such a situation, how come they would support the restoration of peace and law and order here? War economy has become very strong and members of civil society as well as workers of different international and local organizations are against the complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces, as it will shrink their sources of income which they get in lieu of humanitarian services in a war-ridden state. Some figures in mainstream politics and on high positions in government offices do also support the presence of foreign forces for their survival and job security. The status quo is too strong to be influenced easily for change or any political settlement with Taliban or any other resistant group. Managed and controlled chaos is in the favour of the elements of status quo.
In addition, regional players, too, have a crucial role to play in the stability of Afghanistan; but, they, currently, are not on the same page and are vying for safeguarding their respective interests in the country. Russia, Iran and China have established contacts with Taliban – Iran and Russia are even providing material support to them. Their main concern is to defeat ISIS by using Taliban as a tool. In real sense, it is very difficult for these countries to accept Taliban in full control of the country’s state of affairs. India has been brought in to the middle in the name of development for countering the interests and stakes of its archrival, i.e. Pakistan. So, Afghanistan is once again heading towards a scenario where new proxies will be there on this chessboard.
The rise and establishment of ISIS on Afghan territory is credited (in the words of Hamid Karzai) to USA as their major financier and supporter. ISIS has added more to the already prevailing insecurity and instability, and their clashes with the Taliban in different areas are regularly reported in media. So, another source for American presence is to keep the enemy weak but alive to legitimize their presence and proactive role.
The new policy of US president, Donald Trump, has made the future of Afghan war vague, because there is no time limit for their presence and due to their perpetuated presence on the Afghan soil, the war will intensify and will become more target-oriented due to rise in the number of mercenaries and soldiers. The regional and neighbouring countries have shown their concerns on prolonged American presence.
It is quite clear from the above-stated facts that during the last eighteen years, Afghanistan has suffered a lot from the atrocities of US forces and internal instability of Afghan society. Still, there is no clear-headed policy for the future of Afghanistan. The US has stuck in a quagmire inside Afghanistan and is finding no way out of it because of its flawed policies, strategies and approaches. Now it is time for the regional countries to come forward, take Afghans on board and sort out a practicable way for ensuring long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The author is a member of faculty at Department of Political Science, University of Malakand, Chakdara. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org