America Comes Full Circle in Afghanistan
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Net Edition | Date : 12 Jul , 2021

Speaking to reporters at White House on July 8, US President Joe Biden announced rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would conclude by August 31. He said, the US had achieved what it had gone into Afghanistan to do, including preventing it from becoming a base from which the US could be attacked and added, “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build. It’s the right and the responsibility of Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.” 

Biden told reporters it was not inevitable the Taliban would seize control of the government and he trusts the ability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANF) who are “better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting war.” He further said, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”

For once, the US is not talking of having won the war in Afghanistan. On the contrary, White House spokesman Jane Psaki stated, “We cannot talk about victory in the war in Afghanistan.  Because this is a war in which no military success has been achieved in 20 years.  If we had not made this decision (withdrawing from Afghanistan) the consequences would have been much more serious.

But Biden’s claim that US has achieved what it had gone into Afghanistan to do, including preventing it from becoming a base from which the US could be attacked are half truths. In wake of the 9/11 terror attacks America wanted to finish Al Qaeda and rid Afghanistan of Taliban rule? But Al Qaeda is alive and in cahoots with the Taliban. Moreover, the US has been forced to make a deal with the Taliban so that US troops can exit safely though they did not suffer any casualties since 2015.

But this is not all why the US invaded Afghanistan. Shortly after US invaded Afghanistanin 2001, a team of Carnegie Endowment visited New Delhi. Asked how long American troops would stay in Afghanistan and why, their immediate response was “minimum 50 years”. The reasoning given was the immense mineral resources in Central Asia and danger from the north-east (read China).

Perhaps US lost interest in mineral reserves of Central Asia post discovery of huge natural gas reserves in American and after the only US Base in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan) was forced to shut down in 2014. But total troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will enable expansion of China’s strategic influence.

China was training and arming the Taliban even before the US invasion of Afghanistan. Eyeing the $3 trillion mineral reserves in Afghanistan, China inserted PLA in covert mode in development projects in Afghanistan. British sources had also been contending Chinese specialists were trainingTaliban in the use of infrared-guided surface-to-air missiles, which was supported by a classified US document released by WikiLeaks in May 13, 2008. Aviation Week of 23 December 2010 reported Chinese military advisors were advising Pakistani Taliban how to fight the NATOled ISAF.

The US Department of Defense USFS Geologic Survey published in New York Times on July 14, 2010 stated  metal and mineral development in Afghanistan could be worth more than $908 billion.  China Metallurgical Group (MCC) has been mining copper in Afghanistan and building railroad to transport copper ore from Logar to Kabul. Afghanistan has 3.8 billion barrels of oil between Balkh and Jazwan in the north. In Dec 2011, Afghanistan signed an oil exploration contract with China National petroleum Corporation (CNPC) for development of three oil fields along the Amu River. CNPC began Afghan oil production in October 2012.

In January 2018, Russia’s ‘Fergana News’ reported that a new Afghan military base would be built in Badakashan (adjacent to WakhanCorridor) with Chinese funding. According to the report, General Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence said China would cover “all material and technical expenses for this base — weaponry, uniforms for soldiers, military equipment and everything else necessary for its functioning.”

The bad news for US is with Pakistan is sitting in China’s lap, China and Russia now have a formal alliance and the China-Iran 25-year cooperation agreement signed in March 2021 has political, strategic and economic connotations. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be extended to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Can this be be matched by Biden’s ‘Build Back Better World’ (B3W) Initiative in this part of the world?

Taliban’s latest claim is control of 85 percent Afghan territory. They want to be the government, not join it. Biden’s view “it is not inevitable the Taliban would seize control of the government” is a sweet pill while US troops exit Afghanistan on the brink. Soldiers of Afghan National Army (ANA) are on shortcontract basis, which affects fighting capability. The PLA with similar short-contracts suffered same disadvantage during the GalwanClash. Ironically, some harebrained planners want similar ‘Tour of Duty’ in Indian Army. Afghanistan wanted to increase soldiers contractual period to 10 years but couldn’t in absence of long-term financial support guarantees.

Afghans have been lamenting the problem lies across the border in Pakistan (also the view of US-NATO military leaders in Afghanistan) which Americans never attacked. They now say American never asked us for coming to Afghanistan and are not informing us before leaving. Latter is with reference to US troops exiting Bagram Base without informing anyone. The requirement of security and secrecy is well understood but the Americans switched off the lights while departing and the Afghan Commander discovered only after few hours that Americans had left. The intervening hours were used by looters (read Taliban) grab what US troops had left behind.    

Biden took over the US presidency when the quagmire in Afghanistan was almost beyond redemption. Recall at the peak of the War in Afghanistan, US-NATO troop numbers had surpassed 150,000. But fluctuating policies of Washington has led to the present situation. Biden could have still retained 2,500 troops in Afghanistan akin to US troop presence in Iraq but political compulsions and fear of more American casualties probably held him back.

The present situation in Afghanistan could be visualized more than five years back; even before the Trump administration signed the sham peace deal with Taliban. Present American assurance to the Afghan government of ‘over the horizon support’ to prevent its fall is sardonic humour. Sans muscular policy, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has visited Russia and Iran recently. Russia-led CSTO will guard Central Asia against Taliban incursions but will unlikely deploy in Afghanistan. Iran at best will seal its border with Afghanistan especially since Taliban has reportedly seized the regular crossing.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has called for international support in view of the situation in Afghanistan. Why after all these years and is this fallout of Biden meeting Turkey’s President Erdogan in Brussels recently. America should be wary of Turkey playing the double game as Pakistan notwithstanding hosting, training and arming the Islamic state on behest of the US. The US troop exit will have fallout on the US conflagration with Iran-Syria and proxies – more drone and terror attacks bombing being no solution for terrorism.

America is hostage to the ‘gun lobby’ at home and the ‘arms lobby’ in its foreign policy.  The Independence Day anniversary celebrations of the US this year were marred by 88 persons being shot (10 more than the last weekend) though only 14 were fatal. No US President has the guts to ban open sale of automatic weapons. Similarly, the arms lobby wants conflicts around the world. In 20 years of US-NATO-ISAF presence in Afghanistan, the ANSF could have been made strong enough to stave off the Taliban which did not mean only increasing the contract period of Afghan soldiers to 10 years. This was not done by default or design despite knowing the rate of desertions in the ANSF because of short contracts.

Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

One thought on “America Comes Full Circle in Afghanistan

  1. Your assessment is bang on the target as usual Sir. The Chinese are going to come in a big way in the near future via the Badkashan province and by extension of CPEC.

More Comments Loader Loading Comments