01.04.2021 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Washington’s Dilemma in Afghanistan


The Afghan government gladly welcomed a call to cease military operations and to strive towards peace in Afghanistan at the recent talks in Russia.  At the March 19 conference in Moscow, participants in the intra-Afghan negotiations were urged to remain committed to the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2513 “aimed at securing a durable peace settlement that ends the conflict in Afghanistan and ensures” the country is never again a safe haven for international terrorism. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, said the government in Kabul was “committed to engaging in substantive and serious negotiations on establishing a cease-fire”.  During the conference, Taliban’s Deputy Head Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar urged the parties involved to follow, closely and promptly, the agreement reached in Doha (Qatar) in February 2020.  “The world should take into account the Islamic values, independence and national interests of the Afghan people,” he stated.

The joint statement issued at the end of the conference in Moscow appeared to give a green light to continue the peace negotiations. However, as usual, the current US leadership is standing in the way of such talks. Their goal is to keep US forces in Afghanistan for another 6 months, which would be in line with US interests. After all, what other conclusions could one draw from the statements made by Joe Biden on March 17? The new President said that he was in the process of making the decision about troop withdrawal, and that it could be tough to meet the May 1 deadline. Still one does not know whether to take his words at face value as the current US leader often looks as if he does not fully understand what he is saying or doing. And this appears to be the norm in the United States of today…

Several US defense officials “told CNN that the US-led NATO alliance would like to see decisions” on the remaining forces in Afghanistan taken no later than April 1. It is quite curious that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which portrays itself as a defender of its members states, is so involved in affairs of Afghanistan, a country that is located tens of thousands of kilometers away from Europe, and that has little to do with the alliance’s core purpose. But then again, it seems that Western officials are just as accustomed to lying nowadays as they were in the past when Mikhail Gorbachev was deceived by them.

In the author’s opinion, it is impossible to believe what US and European politicians say, after all, facts indicate that USA’s troops are unlikely to leave Afghanistan any time soon. As the reader may recall, approximately 20 years ago, the US-led coalition started a war against Afghanistan, which plunged the country into chaos. According to cheap rhetoric at the time, the United States’ fight was against the Taliban. However, last year in Doha, American officials engaged in dialogue with Taliban representatives. So what has changed over these years? Once again the truth has come to light, it would seem that the US leadership never set out to destroy the Taliban (a terrorist organization banned in Russia). The predicament the United States finds itself in at present stems from the policies pursued by the recent US Presidents.

While Joe Biden is evaluating various options probably proposed to him by officials who do not have a firm grasp of the current Afghan situation, the US military continue their operations in the war-torn country. On March 19, Eurasia Daily reported that US troops conducted air strikes against local militants in the Kandahar Province. The attack, which resulted in multiple casualties among civilians, was subsequently condemned by the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) and many other local organizations. Taliban spokesman Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi said that the bombardments by US forces was clearly a violation of the Doha agreement signed the previous year. Washington stated that the US military will continue to bomb Afghan cities and villages, which is why 2,500 US military servicemen are still stationed in the country. The well informed The New York Times reported that the United States had at least 3,500 troops in Afghanistan, including about 1,000 Special Forces operatives. It should be stated that Daesh (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) was strengthening its positions in Afghanistan. And this is yet another cause for concern as military confrontations in the nation continue and peace talks have seemingly stalled.

Some US defense officials think that the security situation and political climate in Afghanistan are not conducive to the withdrawal of US and ally troops because the Taliban is still conducting military operations in various parts of the country and the use of force against ANDSF is unacceptable to them. In addition, some US experts fear that once these forces depart, “Afghanistan could plunge into a new civil war, giving al Qaeda a new sanctuary”. But this raises the following question, “Who helped create this unlawful organization whose fighters focused on killing military personnel of the LCOSF (Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces) tasked with combatting militants?”. At the time, the United States chose to supply these various Afghan fighters (via Pakistan) with the latest weaponry, including even FIM-92 Stingers along with military trainers. And these missiles were used to bring down Soviet planes. Saudi Arabia along with a number of Muslim countries supported the Afghan terrorists and the killings of Soviet soldiers and officers financially. There was even a price list for the Soviet military personnel killed, with a severed head serving as evidence. The older generation in Russia still remember who facilitated the creation of al Qaeda.

US propagandists have listed a number of reasons as to why US troops cannot be removed from Afghanistan just yet, but they have failed to mention the main motive. It is quite likely that the US leadership is trying to postpone the withdrawal in order to avoid a repeat of the debacle in 1970s, when American forces hastily left Vietnam as Saigon fell to communist forces. At present, officials in Washington must be deeply concerned about the possibility of “another Vietnam” but in Afghanistan, especially because Russia’s reputation in the country has been improving and there is a growing respect towards it among Afghans. Thus, the Russian Federation could become a more influential player in this region.

According to a Pajhwok Afghan News survey, as of February 2021, the Taliban controlled 52% of the territory in Afghanistan while 59% of the nation’s population lived in areas controlled by the government. The data was collected from November 30, 2020 until February 3, 2021. The findings showed that the US-supported government controlled 46% of the nation’s territory, and that 2% of the population lived in areas controlled by neither side. The survey also revealed that approximately 337,000 square kilometers were under Taliban control while an area of around 297,000 km2 was in the hands of the government. As for the US role in Afghanistan, American military personnel stationed in the country do not appear too keen to leave their bases. The author is referring to USA’s air and not the ground forces.

The agreement that the previous administration under President Donald Trump signed with the Taliban was an important development in the US-led war in Afghanistan, which started almost 20 years ago. In fact, it became the longest war ever fought by the United States. The provisions of this deal include a full withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan within 18 months since its signing if the Taliban keeps its commitments, which include pledges to prevent its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies, and to start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides. The Afghan government, headed by President Ashraf Ghani, was not a party to the Doha agreement, and its members have criticized the accord in the past.

The United States has not been able to or, more accurately, has not wished to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban after it put an end to its rule in 2001. The US proposal to set up an interim government in Afghanistan meant to garner support from Afghan people and isolate the Taliban has not and will not work despite the financial backing behind the idea and all the losses sustained in this country over the past two decades. During the first years of the war in Afghanistan, the US leadership justified the invasion by claiming that they wished to overthrow the Taliban rulers who supported al Qaeda and allegedly provided refuge to Osama Bin Laden prior to 2001. Nowadays, in the opinion of the author, the US strategy in the region has changed. It takes into account the location of Afghanistan and its significance due to the nation’s proximity to Iran, Pakistan (a nuclear power) and some former Soviet Union republics as well as natural resources.

The war in Afghanistan is the second conflict that the United States has lost. However, USA’s military budget is still the world’s largest in comparison to those of other powerful countries. On average, the military spending of US government exceeds that of Russia by around 10 times and of China 4 times.

It is true that the United States was unable to reach many of its goals or complete its projects during various wars and conflicts in the past. It is also true that the Russian Federation and PRC are tirelessly working on creating a more multipolar world order via fruitful negotiations. In fact, many other countries support Russian and Chinese efforts. But are the US actions consistent with the norms of a multipolar world? Or has the US leadership, at least, acknowledged these transformations are taking place world-wide? For now, this does not seem to be the case. And Joe Biden’s offensive actions and statements on the world stage are indicative of this.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.