US military-industrial failures and calculations in Afghanistan

Commentary: A foreign model cannot be rigidly imposed on a country with a completely different history, culture and national conditions. If the U.S. does not learn from Afghanistan, it will experience more failures in the future

The Afghan landscape as seen from the back of a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter flying over Nangarhar Province. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Analysts have pointed out that the 20-year war in Afghanistan has shown that the United States has failed to use force to solve the problem. They remind me of an Italian politician who, once the US invasion of Afghanistan began in 2001, said on TV that the White House was right to bomb that country in order to avoid women having to wear the burqa. To advocate indiscriminate violence in order to wipe out another - albeit targeted - violence is immoral and criminal.

The United States has had four failures and one success in dollars, which we will gradually examine in this article.

The situation in Afghanistan is still evolving. Its future development remains to be seen, but it is certain that the United States has failed completely.

We will examine, however, all the great failures the United States has experienced ranging from the military failure evidenced by the squalid retreat, to the collapse of American diplomacy and its discredited international reputation. As long as the United States does not change its hegemonic strategy, it will experience ever more failures in the future.

As the Americans hastily fled Kabul, the Western model led by them was once again hit hard. This has also highlighted the fact that every time the EU Member States bow to the orders of the White House and the Pentagon, they later have no other way but to apologize with nauseating whining and whimpers about human rights and welcoming the more fortunate people who have the money to flee.

Who does not remember the boat people? They were the wealthy South Vietnamese leaving Saigon as US helicopters rushed out of the country and the said boat people were rescued and taken care especially by France. On August 17, the US Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction issued a report stating that despite the huge investment and the heavy losses over the past two decades, due to a lack of understanding of Afghan politics and culture, and deliberately ignoring the Afghans’ will, the United States in Afghanistan has pursued and cherished an illusion "doomed to failure from the start".

According to some observers, this 140-page report was written long before the United States hastily withdrew from Afghanistan and reveals in detail why the USA has invested so much in Afghanistan over the past two decades but ultimately failed.

The report points out that the policies of successive US governments have ignored the current situation in Afghanistan and the Afghan people’s will, and have tried to forcefully impose a development model that was seriously out of touch with reality in Afghanistan. That policy was doomed to failure from the start. According to the report, many US officials said that the United States had always "lacked the most basic understanding" of Afghanistan. The United States "did not know what to do there", but despite the warnings of conscientious US experts, it failed to influence the previous Administrations that emphasized and bragged about their supposed successes there.

The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John F. Sopko, pointed out in the report that US politicians were "very ignorant" about Afghanistan at the highest strategic level and often tried to "repress and remove the real Afghanistan" by applying the vision of their own Americanized "imaginary Afghanistan" and by behaving in a way that created reasons for conflict with the local population.

Sopko also stated that there were severe problems of corruption and waste of resources in the system on which the United States relied to operate in the country: many reconstruction projects in Afghanistan cost a lot of money but in the end remained inevitably unfinished.

The report also points out that over the past two decades the United States has been unable to successfully establish a sustainable operating model in Afghanistan while, with the hasty withdrawal, even the few fragile results achieved are destined to be wiped out. 

Some commentators believe that the failure of the so-called US "Afghan model" has wiped away the false illusion of strength and prosperity that the USA has maintained through its grandiose soft power.

The rhetoric is always the same. We must treat the rogue countries as we did during World War II with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and militarist Japan. We must bomb and massacre them so that democracy may be established and they will become good.

It is a mistake to equate Germany, Italy and Japan with the Muslim countries of the Near and Middle East: the former already had democratic-bourgeois-liberal representative traditions. With the Meiji Restoration (1866-1869), Japan itself - while aiming at emancipating the country from Western powers - promoted a reform process inspired by Western state systems which, especially thanks to the contribution of Itō Hirobumi (1841-1909), culminated in the adoption of the Meiji Constitution, the first Constitution in the modern sense in Asia. My close friend and great Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gianni De Michelis - who, unlike the current Foreign Minister, did not go to the seaside during times of crisis - used to say that every problem of a State should be solved according to the will of its people and not with the coming of violent and beastly warmongers.

Ultimately, the United States launched the war in Afghanistan in the name of the fight against terrorism, but what did it achieve? Over the past twenty years, terrorist organizations in Afghanistan have multiplied. In the last two decades, thousands and thousands of Afghans have been killed or wounded under 'friendly' fire from the United States and its allies, and over ten million people have been displaced.

The war in Afghanistan has caused an average loss of 300 million US dollars per day for twenty years, costing over 2,260 billion US dollars. In addition to the countless deaths.

As of April 2021, there have been 47,245 civilian casualties; 66,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen dead; 51,191 deaths of the Taliban and other opponents, who, reading the Western press, seem to be immortal because they are the bad guys. 

The US army suffered 2,448 casualties and 3,846 US mercenaries and foreign fighters died. The victims from other NATO Member States were 1,144.  444 aid workers and 72 journalists also died. All this has severely curtailed the country's economic and social development.

Facts have shown once again that US military intervention and power policy since the 1950s have been unpopular and have ultimately failed.

A foreign model cannot be rigidly imposed on a country with a completely different history, culture and national conditions, as if its people were breeding chickens turning into lions over time. Solving problems with power and military means only increases problems not for the United States - which has seen its war industry flourish and thrive again over the last twenty years - but for the EU Member States, especially with the impending refugee and Covid-19 problems.

Whether it is Korea, Vietnam, the Latin American countries (Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, etc.), Iraq, Syria, Libya or Afghanistan, we have seen that wherever the US armed forces intervene, there remains unrest and division, broken families and devastation.

Probably even President Biden has realized it, as in a recent speech he has said he would not make the mistake of investing too much energy in other countries' civil wars and reshaping other countries through endless military intervention.

Hopefully, the United States can seriously reflect on its policy of military intervention and violence at all times, and stop its unbridled interference in other countries’ internal affairs under the pretext of democracy and human rights, as well as stop undermining the peace and stability of other countries and regions. All this just to benefit its own war industry, the only one that has emerged successfully from the Afghan bloodshed. 

With a view to sustaining its arms production, the United States has experienced four failures: a national political failure (its own citizens who died for nothing); a military one (the defeat); an international political failure (its allies’ bitterness and disappointment), and a severe international reputational damage (foreign citizens killed for imperialistic reasons and disregard for its allies - nothing to do with the Don Milani-style propagandistic slogan I care).

US wasp elites often take it for granted that US democracy is the way to prosperity and to solve all society’s ills. After the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, the United States had the ambition to make Afghanistan a 'model democratic country', with the emergence of parties and movements, as well as the acceptance of Western negative values and the demolition of the manifestations of God. Instead, not only did it fail to unite all the ethnic groups, but it did intensify the contradictions within the Afghan elites, whom the USA itself had financed and trained (including the Taliban) when it came to repelling the Soviets from 1979 to 1991. 

Looking back at the 20 years of war in Afghanistan, as well as to the chaos left in Iraq, Libya, Syria and other countries, an increasing number of people is realizing that the USA is far from being the 'great country' it bragged to be. It is often a destructive force: the "peace" they hope for is first of all taken away from peoples. The "democratic model" that its own soft power sells is reduced to a Munk-style mask for military intervention and power policy.

Buried under the "beacon of human rights" is the dark history of people in other countries, abused and killed by the war industry, as well as the painful daily lives of tens of thousands of innocent civilians tortured by the flames of war, who are now seeking refuge in Europe, as walls are being erected in the USA to drive neighboring Mexico away. 

According to some reports, seven regiments of Afghan government forces have completely lost their combat effectiveness, and all troops have turned over their weapons and equipment to the Taliban. The Taliban have posted on the social networks pictures and videos of the rich trophies seized from several former US military bases. The Taliban are a force that represents the country and this is the reason why, at a certain point, the embarrassment of many Afghan soldiers in fighting compatriots in the pay of foreigners has become unbearable.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan was like the flight from Saigon: helicopters hovered uncertainly and overloaded in the air; the Embassy officials lowered the flag, burned confidential documents and the USA continued to send more soldiers to help with the evacuation: a film we have already seen. The hasty escape drew huge criticism from all quarters.

No matter how the US government hides and justifies the catastrophic policy of troop withdrawal. Not only has it drawn criticism in the USA itself, but it has also caused an unprecedented decline in the US international image and reputation. A protest was organized outside the White House on August 15 last. The protesters were Afghans with US citizenship and they showed their anger to protest against the government's deception. That anger was also expressed by former US soldiers who had participated in the war in Afghanistan and sympathized with their fellow citizens of Afghan origin. 

The world sees very clearly how the USA treats its allies in Afghanistan. Maria Vladimirovna Zakharova, Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said in an interview: "For twenty years, NATO and the USA have been training political forces in Afghanistan. Now they are shifting responsibility to the Afghan political leadership that they themselves have nurtured and educated".

Hussein Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the USA, said: "The White House's abandonment of the Afghan government will make many US allies reconsider their commitments vis-à-vis the United States". A clear warning from one of Washington's most important allies in the region, already prepared to recognize the new Taliban government.

This kind of diplomatic failure will not only affect President Biden’s already weak and uncertain Administration, but will also seriously damage the US credibility in the world. 

The humiliating troop withdrawal drew criticism not only from US politicians, but also from US media. CNN ironically stated that the Biden Administration's troop withdrawal and failure not only showed its mismanagement, but also revealed that "the US vision of building a functioning country is illusory". Local politicians themselves call the USA in Afghanistan the biggest foreign policy failure in decades. What is the reason for the US failure in Afghanistan?

On August 17 last, the President of a NATO ally, the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, said in an exclusive interview: "I had already criticized the withdrawal at the NATO Summit held in London a year ago and now at the NATO Summit held in Brussels. I was looking Trump and Biden in the eye, telling them it was cowardice. I think that, by leaving Afghanistan, the USA has lost the prestige of a global leader and NATO itself has raised doubts about the legitimacy of its existence". Would an Italian be able to say such things? Cowardice has no positive effects. Quite the reverse. It gives the Taliban unprecedented opportunities. 

The lack of international credibility makes allies aware of not having to negotiate and accept US diktats, but of only having to take care of themselves and their foreign policy.

After coming to power, President Biden’s Administration announced "The USA is back on the international stage", thus declaring to the world that multilateralism would regain its place. Nevertheless, on the issue of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Biden Administration did not negotiate with its allies (Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, etc.), but decided and created the fait accompli and forced the others to follow its own withdrawal. Many Afghans who had worked for the United States were abandoned. The New York Times reported that this meant "the end of the US era" and was "another blow to the US image and reputation abroad".

Before the fall of Saigon (April 30, 1975), South Vietnam's President Nguyen Van Thieu had denounced the USA for betraying his country, as "inhuman, untrustworthy and irresponsible". The same is now taking place in Afghanistan. The USA just wants to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. As French defence analyst François Heisbourg commented: "The idea that the USA is unreliable will become more deeply entrenched because of Afghanistan." We believe that if the USA does not learn from Afghanistan as well, it will record ever more failures.

According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Survey published on August 9, 2021, when asked whether they support or oppose the decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, 70% of American respondents support it and 29% oppose it. 

"The Stars and Stripes", the Defense Department's daily newspaper, published on August 16 last, ran a headline on its front page: "It's over: the West's 20-year experiment in transforming Afghanistan is over". The end of this flirtation is shocking. Afghanistan has been thrown away as an iniquity by the USA, and its future direction remains to be seen. But whatever the way forward for Afghanistan, the USA will never be able to erase its extremely shameful history.

To conclude, let us take a quick look at the international relations of the former Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (1996-2001), ruled by the Taliban. It was fully recognized by three US allies, namely Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as by the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (1994-2000) and the uncertain Turkmenistan.

Who do you think will recognize the resurrected Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan today? In my opinion the most loyal US friends in the Near and Middle East and many others, since the Taliban - at least in these forty-two years that have elapsed since the Soviet invasion - have proved to be the strongest and the most solid. In international relations, facts count, not speeches to become an MP or Senator and win the votes of gullible people.


Professor Valori is President of the International World Group

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