Afghanistan- a Callous debacle
26 August 2021
A brief history of Afghanistan.
It was a monarchy where the British and Russians had striven for influence for centuries.
The British had invaded in 1838 and installed King Shah Shujah, who was assassinated in 1842.
The second Anglo Afghan war was 1878-80 and gave Britain control of Afghan foreign affairs.
In 1919 Emir Amanullah Khan declared independence from British influence and tried to introduce social reforms, in particular education. He flees after civil unrest in 1926
King Muhammad Shar came to power in 1933 and tacitly supported the Germans in WW2 as the Afghans did not acknowledge the 1893 Durand Line, the British-initiated border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he wanted to unify the Pashtun nation, which straddled the border. His government came under pressure from an increasingly educated younger population. He voluntarily created a Constitutional monarchy in 1964, but this did not lead to significant reform and his government lost prestige due to its mismanagement of a drought in 1969-72. There was a coup by another Royal, Prince Muhammad Daud in 1973.
The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan led by British-Indian-educated Nur Muhammad Taraki staged a coup in April 1978 and formed a secular leftist reformist government. It was relatively pro-Russia and anti-religious. It was more brutal than had been anticipated, and had internal infighting and resistance from conservatives and Muslims. Taraki unsuccessfully appealed to Russia for help.
The Cold War
It might be noted that US President and Russian Chief Secretary Leonid Brezhnev met in June 1979 to discuss SALT 2 (the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty).
(I read somewhere near that time that Afghanistan was mentioned and Carter, being somewhat naïve, said words to the effect that Afghanistan was in the Russian sphere of influence. Carter’s horrified minders corrected him after the meeting, but Brezhnev took this to mean that the US would not interfere if Russia took action there. I have been unable to confirm this story despite several efforts since, which either means that I imagined it or that it has been expunged from any written history that is available online).
The US began to help the mujahedeen in July 1979 to overthrow the Taraki government. Taraki was overthrown and murdered by his protégé, Hafizuzullah Amin in September 1979. The Russians invaded in December 1979. The Russians were in some economic trouble, and it has been said that their government wanted a military victory that would distract attention and shore up the state.
President Carter refused to sign the SALT11 treaty and boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The US also increased training and weapons to the Mujahideen. President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan insisted that all this aid go through him and hugely favoured a more radical Islamist agenda, also getting aid from Saudi Arabia to set up large numbers of Islamic schools. The Mujahideen guerrillas overthrew the Russians. The USSR was falling apart when the Russians, now under Mikhail Gorbachev, departed in February 1989.
The Russian Legacy
The Najibullah government, installed by the Russians lasted until 1992, when here was a civil war with the Northern Alliance fighting the Mujadiheen, which was not a united force, but a number of warlords, each with their own territory.
Taliban means ‘student of Islam’. The Taliban emerged in 1994 from the Pashtun nation who straddled the Afghan-Pakistan ‘border’, considerably helped by the money from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They were seen as less corrupt than the Mujahideen.
In 1996 the Taliban got control of Kabul and controlled two thirds of the country.
In 1998 the US launched air strikes to get the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden.
In 2001 Ahmad Shah Masood, the leader of the Northern Alliance was assassinated.
9/11 Leads to the US Invasion
The US was shocked by the 9/11 (11th of September 2001) attack by Al-Qaeda on the Twin Towers in New York and invaded Afghaistan, ostensibly to get Osama Bin Laden. Some have said that the US hawks wanted to invade and 9/11 merely gave them the excuse. They won militarily in 3 months, but were always an occupying force.
Interestingly in 2007 the UN stated that opium production reached record levels.
The Allied occupation was by many different national forces, and each country had different rules for the area it controlled. It seems that some countries simply paid the Taliban not to make any trouble. The Australians went in because the US did and cited our national interest. The only way that this was our national interest was in pleasing the Americans.
Exit Wounds 2013
The book ‘Exit Wounds’ by John Cantwell, the Australian commander from both Iraq and Afghanistan was written in 2013. He had been on the short list to be the supreme head of the Australian Defence Force, but withdrew to treat the PTSD that he had hidden but had been suffering. He stated that the war could never be won and it was his opinion that every Australian life lost there was wasted. The pointlessness of the exercise was what caused his PTSD, and probably led to the feral actions of some of the forces, as is being uncovered. We might note that in a story on the ABC (26/8/21) a witness known as Captain Louise who was going to give evidence to the Brereton Inquiry into Australian War Crimes had her house bombed. Her former husband is an SAS operator who told her of unauthorised killing and is under investigation after 4 Corners broadcast footage of him killing an unarmed Afghan in 2012 (Killing Field 16/3/20). Clearly the hearts and minds of Afghans were not won.
Corruption was rife in the Afghan government, and some of the 2009 UN election observers were killed in a bomb blast in their Kabul hotel. The UN could not insist on an independent investigation and the head of the UN team, who was not killed in the blast, was hurried out of the country. The re-elected government did the inquiry. So much for democracy!
Australian Embassy Closed May 2021
The Australian Embassy was closed on 21 May 2021, 3 days before the last Australian troops left. Clearly our own intelligence was that things would not go well. It made the investigations of war crimes more difficult and put the interpreters who had helped the Australian troops in much more danger. An Australian digger who has tried to get his Afghan interpreter and his family since 2013 has been blocked and been unsuccessful, despite seeing Minister Dutton’s senior adviser 3 years ago.
The Taliban won a victory in a few weeks as government forces that we had been training simply declined to fight. Now there is a cordon around the airport and the Taliban are stopping people getting through to the Kabul airport, where the allies are trying to do an airlift of Afghan civilians. The UN has been most desultory in not looking after locally recruited Afghan UN staff, who are at risk and do not even have foreign passports to allow them to leave.
The Europeans have asked the US to extend the deadline for evacuations, which is 31 August- 4 days away. The US has declined to extend the deadline. Presumably this is because they are unable to even if they wanted to. The Taliban surround the airport, and could easily shoot down any planes they chose or bombard the whole crowded area with huge loss of life. American hubris would be very clearly shown.
It is a debacle- even when the Russians left the government that they established lasted a couple of years. What is wrong with US intelligence- did they have no idea that the whole country would collapse? It is hard to know why the Americans went into Afghanistan and why they stayed there. One wonders if the arms industry is happy to have a war somewhere and really do not care very much how much damage it does or who wins. One must ask what Australia is doing there and why we are so uncritical of the Americans. Sadly, Australia does not have a Peace Movement worthy of the name and seem to follow the US blindly. But when the Australian military commander says we cannot win and we continue there for another 8 years, there is something absurd.
The fact that the Labor opposition said nothing is also a worry- does our government work for us or the US?
The Fate of our Interpreters
Many people will be left behind outside the Taliban-controlled Kabul airport perimeter, or unable even to get near the city. The Taliban have been searching them out and killing not only those who helped the foreigners, but also their families. The idea that they have reformed seems very unlikely; the schools that taught them were radical Saudi Islam. It is a horrible story that has not yet ended.