American pundits, politicians and Pentagon apologists are all casting about trying to find the reason why the Afghanistan military, supposedly 300,000 trained people in uniform and supplied with over $83 billion in US weaponry including ground attack planes and helicopters, folded like an old deck of used cards in two weeks’ time confronted by an untrained Taliban a quarter that size armed with assault rifles and RPGs.
It’s been almost laughable watching the scramble in the US for an explanation. Gen. David Petraeus, who largely had the job of creating that military during his time heading up the Afghanistan War in the Obama administration, in an NPR interview, blamed President Biden for not sending in troops to defend against the Taliban drive, claiming that a (puppet) army will always fold if it doesn’t have backup. Probably true, but what was the alternative — another 20 years of US military “backup”? And shouldn’t Petraeus at least have taken a few minutes away from cavorting with his admiring female biographer Paula Broadwell to have warned Obama that an Afghan army wouldn’t fight in the clutch? Nixon after all tried the same thing — “Vietnamization” of the Vietnam War — and got the same result more than four decades ago when the so-called Army of the Republic of South Vietnam crumbled.
Other armchair warriors claim, as if sagely, that it was a “failure of leadership” in Afghanistan, as though more motivated Afghani generals and senior officers would have given the Afghan troops “a reason to stay and fight.”
Not mentioned by any of these “analysts,” is that the soldiers in the Afghanistan military didn’t have anything to fight for because they all knew that as awful as the prospect of a Taliban return to government power might be (and for many of these footsoldiers, it may well not have seemed so terrible, as long as they weren’t retaliated against for having been in the US backed and funded military), the government they got under US occupation was a swamp of truly epic corruption.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani is reported to have fled the country in secret in a plane loaded with money and that a group of ground vehicles also followed with him out of the country to Uzbekistan similarly packed with bundles of cash.
He was surely not alone
Ghani’s sudden departure from Kabul led Taliban forces, who at the time had been waiting patiently outside the gates of Kabul for a surrender of the government, moved into the city of five million quickly when chaos broke out on news of his departure. They immediately took over control of Kabul from local military and police forces without a shot being fired.
But corruption was not just a problem among US puppet government leaders. It was endemic in the society and in the military, with US military whistleblowers reporting that it went “right down to the patrol level” of the Afghan Army.
People mostly joined the Afghan military because in a country where the average annual income is $500 it was a good job, especially if it didn’t do much fighting and if there were ways to make money on the side too. The vast majority were not signing up and putting their lives on the line to fight for the women’s equality, for girls to be able to go to school, for freedom of religion, or other freedoms. (Even most American troops wouldn’t have given those as reasons they were fighting in Afghanistan, if we’re honest about it.)
As for a “will to fight” — given such corruption, what was there really to fight for? Certainly not the Afghan nation, as Afghanistan is actually a hodgepodge of different ethnic and linguistic groups that have been feuding and fighting amongst themselves for centuries. If there was any national consciousness at all, it would have been a simmering resentment at the occupation by US forces who in large part looked down on Afghans and themselves didn’t really want to be there.
Many experts on Afghanistan and on counter-insurgeny, both inside and outside the military, warned from the outset in 2001 that while the US surely could have gone in and ‘”taken out” Al Qaeda and its leader Bin Laden had they wanted to, but that the decision by the Bush/Cheney administration to turn that invasion into a longer term project ousting the Taliban and building a democratic country was a fool’s errand.
Now, by refusing to go back and look at that first fatal error and the imperial hubris that underlay and still underlies it, the stage is being set for the next big US intervention disaster.
The lesson of Vietnam was never learned, or if it was learned or referred to for even a short time, President George Bush declared it dead and buried after his trumped-up Gulf War “victory” over Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 1991. Now we have the lesson of Afghanistan, but the way things are going, we probably won’t learn that one either.
So the question is, where will America’s next lesson be taught? Likely candidates appear to be Cuba, Venezuela and/or Iran.