America’s Afghan Debacle & West’s Collective Bungle

Taliban Press Conference

Taliban’s return to Kabul this week in lightning speed dislodging world’s No.1 self-styled sole Superpower Uncle Sam, is outstanding as much as astounding, considering Taleban’s de facto rag-tag force with primitive weapons and nil airpower. They outsmarted the U.S. in almost every department of high-altitude mountain guerrilla war. Quite significant too, that a U. S. push-out was accomplished even before the well-planned U.S. exit without any air power backing for the Taleban’s. Politically it was a Taleban win at the diplomatic front; because, the Taleban’s emerged as a new-born power, moderate, accommodating and reassuring all Afghans with amnesty and jobs offer for women in governance, at least as a new start. Obviously, after all their horrendous doings during past rule, and mistakes learnt from, they seem to have followed some external strategic advice this time. The idea of avoiding massive bloodshed along a rooftop announcement of amnesty for all Afghanis with a promise of an all-inclusive government formation, indicate they could have been secretly advised by Russians and Chinese or by an unnamed Intelligence Agency or source, possibly even CIA. Nevertheless, it would be premature to judge, till we see how events unfold, whither and how the Taleban’s are heading for in plan and practice. It would be fair to call this a shameless U.S. “walk-out” than grant it a Taleban victory.

While it needs a big book to describe what all went wrong with America’s engagement in the Hindukush (currently a hot media spotlight of world press) since Jimmy Carter’s times, even before the Russian intervention began,  errors and misjudgements multiplied, entrenched and further propped up by successive incumbents of Oval Office, almost as if it was a bi-partisan adventure leading to the current self-bailout  and under what ‘Deep State’ invisible guidance these occurred, there is no gainsaying the honest truth bared now, that it was grievous misjudgement based on faulty hegemonic perceptions from the inception of U.S. Afghan intervention / interference. The U.S. governments never bothered to correctly understand the South Asian people, their finer sub-cultural mentalities embedded in language, social habits and expressions. They further laboured under an egregious professional lack in understanding or planning mountain guerrilla warfare by overlooking thoroughly life conditions and adjustments at dry high-altitudes of 3000 – 5000 ft. heights where neither the Russian nor the American troops were trained for. But it was enemy Taleban’s home ground.

Grave Blunder

The U.S. could have learned from the Russian exit, but adamantly preferred not to. We might quite appropriately reminisce here, in view of this U.S. debacle, what the legendary mountain climber Austrian-Tyrolean Reinhold Messner (reputed for having climbed almost all high peaks of the world and those in the Himalayas including Mt. Everest without oxygen bottle) warned in an interview with the Austrian daily Salzbürger Nachrichten (SN), just before the U.S. launched massive air strikes in the rocky terrain of Afghanistan [320 km broad high ranges stretching from North to South Asia with peaks rising to 7,600 metres) , how impossible it was to find an Osama bin Laden there.  “There soars all of a sudden the colossal (mountain range) like a steep wall from 1000m to 6000m and more. Deep gorges, fissured rocky masses, caverns, canyons… If you were to put me there tomorrow, I can cover a thousand kilometres and no military power in the world can ferret me out that lightly” he told SN [now quoted from my article in The Hindu, Sunday edition of Oct. 14, 2001 titled – ‘Capturing Osama no mean task]. Finally, the U.S. found him not in Afghan mountains but in Pakistan on plain grounds !

With an obvious reference to Taleban-types of Afghans Messner said, “You find excellent (able) people there. They can guide a person through 6000 metre passes with little problem).”  Admittedly, the oppressive reality of Hindukush mountains is such that survival chances become zero once life maintain supply lines get cut off, warned Messner then, 20 years ago, and just before the U.S. launched massive air strikes. It is in a war on such dangerous  Afghan terrain the U.S. got itself tangled for 20 long years and got thoroughly routed with 2448 U.S. soldiers dead.

The essential question any American citizen could justifiably ask their governments is – After Osama bin Laden was eliminated why did the U.S. government hang on in Afghanistan?

Human Loss

As net result are human fatalities, thanks to this U.S. foolhardiness in perception, as compiled by Ellen Knickmeyer of Associated Press (17/ 08/ 2021) : U.S. service members (soldiers) 2,448, U.S. contractors – 3,846, Afghan national military and police – 66,000 , Allied Service members (NATO States) – 1, 144, Afghan civilians – 47, 245, Taliban & opposition fighters: 51,191, Aid workers – 444, Journalists – 72, altogether 172690 humans. While these are official U.S. data, they ought to be considered conservative as a standard rule, especially those regarding the U.S. servicemen lost in view of the Vietnam syndrome stigmatised in the American psyche. The fatalities may seem less dolorous compared to the second Iraq war when over 200,000 civilian lives were lost due to indiscriminate U.S. carpet bombing. Whether one wants to interpret it as Karmic causality or not, the U.S. has now lost and continues to lose, more people due to Covid-19 with the highest fatality figure of 622,000 humans than in any other nation on this planet, which is more than all the Americans killed in wars so far, including WW I & WWII. Was it all a reward to American brutality elsewhere, an American might be fearfully inclined to ask?

War Bill & Loot

In addition, unlike other wars, this Afghan war cost U.S. citizens 1 Trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money in a 20 year time.

The Taleban’s material bounty is colossal; In addition to an $ 83 Billion military training imparted to Afghan security forces, U.S. invested $ 62 Billion in Afghan rebuild projects. Taleban harvested top modern, expensive, American weaponry, U.S.-supplied firepower —, ammunition, guns helicopters, many military bases and other military equipment and facilities built at a huge cost to combat enemy Taleban and quite many U.S. combat aircraft were amassed too.  In their lightening run-over from country-side to the capital these fell into Taleban’s laps without needing to throw a stone or firing a bullet at the Americans, as they walked into Kabul happily this week.  Reports say Afghan military shrewdly switched sides enticed by bonus money offered for peaceful surrender plus amnesty. The opposite option would have been bloodshed and no gain, but heavy loss of lives. That was America’s great super service.

Sarcasm allowed, the United States may be the only country in the world that understood the most difficult teaching of Jesus Christ to practise, “Love your enemies”. Well done America! Would the U.S. Govt. now also want to erect a Wailing Wall at the Arlington cemetery for self-confession and grief for its innocent lost soldiers and the innocent lives of the host they indiscriminately killed?  All U.S. Intel agencies profoundly failed to predict the speed of Taleban takeover of Kabul, As a result Kabul airport is in total quandary, another hole in U.S. Intel credibility. Few canny historians may also want to see the American Afghan debacle as a major beginning of American Decline. Whereas the Chinese got their loot of Afghan rare-earths, mining principally Lithium in untold tonnes all these 20 years, the U.S. went bombing and now goes back home not merely empty-handed but with a hung head with $ 1 Trillion lost in an unwarranted Afghan adventure.

Afghanistan’s non-virtuous president Ashraf Ghani fled with his family with a big bounty to the haven of United Arab Emirates. He took with him a sizable chunk of U.S. dollars that could fill 4 cars and 1 transport helicopter full (Kabul’s Russian Embassy revelation in RT). Of course, such a dollar load was not Afghanistan’s property, but U.S. taxpayers’ money which he credited for himself. Some might vainly or dreamingly hope, he will return the money possibly from Swiss bank vaults to his home country.  The U.S. Govt. might try to force Swiss banks to do that as they did before in case of terror financing. Ghani’s PM, Dr. Abdallah Abdallah, an ophthalmologist and a modern Sunnite, and Chief Executive of the country, also Chairman of Afghan High Council of National Reconciliation (HCNR) remained virtuously in Afghanistan to negotiate along with ex-President Hamid Karzai, with the Taleban leadership. Despite Taleban’s amnesty-prone position and a pro-all-inclusive Afghan govt. that would include women in governance, Taleban’s past history speaks different and hence they will be watched closely by world at large, as the UNSG (UN Secretary-General) Antonio Guterres pronounced after Kabul’s fall.

This writer sees a potential Russian hand here, because Russia was the first country that opened a dialogue with the Taleban’s much to the chagrin of India and to certain extent Iran in the beginning of a prolonged stalemate-phase of guerrilla fighting that followed after Taleban lost their rule and went underground. Russians have an enormous experience backlog of studying the Muslim minority cultures in the former Soviet Republic and are sociologically far better sensitively spiked than flat-footed American soldiers of an arrogant WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture trampling on men and material in an alien turf disregarding probably civilised principles, bombing indiscriminately anything and everything out of sight including women and children, referring to them merely as “collateral damage” as if to merit with impunity such deeds as “justifiable” under exceptional conditions.


The future allies of a Taleban government may possibly include Russia, Iran &, China (both Afghanistan’s neighbours) but not the West anymore, although it is the West that has the financial potential to rebuild Afghanistan. But heavy wound on Afghanistan’s Soul and Pride is too deep at this juncture to think of reviving any positive relationship in future. Neither will America want to get involved again. The European partners are only too happy to be relieved of one most expensive, worthless engagement slated originally to eliminate Al-Kaida in an awfully tiresome terrain, to please and support the U.S. Excepting as an obligation to NATO there was neither a strong genuine will nor interest for it across Europe with exception to U.K.  Europe knew too well why Russia quit Hindukush. Now, Al-Kaida danger long being muted, any further involvement, that too under a Taleban rule is self-evidently pointless. Europe cannot and will not lightly forget that at the American behest it lost 1,144 of its precious children (soldiers) as a horrendous giveaway sacrifice on Afghan soil for an American senselessness bringing only a negative return after a unilateral U.S. exit.  China is preparing itself silently and cautiously to emerge as a major game-player in this new Afghan unfolding.

Collective One World

The West as a whole with Europeans and Aussies primarily as U.S. allies in Afghanistan bungled under U.S. pressure, making their own solidarity contribution in men, material and energy, is now being forced to look lost in despair, as their sacrifices were based on a trust with Americans, but now turns out a “bloody” deceit and waste with Biden’s withdrawal. Europeans and other allies have begun to ask fundamental questions of the kind, how far the U.S. is reliable as a partner, a U.S. that could in future again delude them. In fact Kissinger said once something to this effect – ‘America has not friends, but only its interests.’ That was the Republican Rich Lobby’s biggest policy blunder rooted in pure selfishness. We are in an interdependent world. To take care of your interest in a global world you need friends. You cannot unilaterally dictate. Those days are gone. This is a multipolar world, a factuality the U.S. stubbornly and self-deludingly refuses to recognise. Now Biden wants to rectify by re-building old European partnership, but lo and behold, he too has slid into the cheat path. Europeans have not forgotten, it was Biden as Vice-President under Obama, who forced the Belgium Bank company SWIFT to reveal all data-protected SWIFT addresses under the guise of fighting terrorism, only later for U.S. Intel to abuse the data for American commercial gains as happened towards the Volkswagen and other companies and the illegitimate NSA eaves-dropping into Chancellor Merkel’s telephone. The U.S. track-record is that it has no scruples. So how can Europeans ever trust America anymore?

China could be the new beneficiary wanting to further expand its grab on Afghan minerals in toto. China may tactfully seduce a Taleban-led Afghanistan into SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation where Afghanistan’s neighbours India and Pakistan are members). The other loser after the U.S. will be India that had invested over $ 3 Billion in Afghanistan’s development. But if Dr. Abdallah Abdallah, an India friend, is included in a new Taleban coalition government, then India may still be able to play a constructive role in Afghanistan’s future. In an interview he gave to this writer in Vienna in Spring 2001 as Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, he did not shy to reveal that Afghanistan truly cherished India’s friendship. In retrospect, after all, unlike Americans, India did not kill a single Taleban fighter and was focussed more to help Afghanistan’s infrastructure deficits. Taleban’s are definitely cognizant of it. At least they cannot deny India’s positive contribution to Afghan people’s welfare.

George Chakko, former U.N. correspondent now retiree in Austria.

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