The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Afghanistan:
40 Years of War and U.S. Maneuvers

Aug 16, 2021

On August 15th, it took only a few hours for the U.S.-backed Afghan government to collapse completely and President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country after the first insurgent Taliban forces had entered Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city.

Over the last weeks, as the remaining U.S. military forces had been leaving Afghanistan, the Taliban offensive against the U.S.-backed Afghan government and military had turned into a rout. The Afghan military, as well as U.S.-backed Afghan militias, had surrendered one major city after another, until Kabul fell without a fight.

Top U.S. officials and the news media had all expressed shock at just how quickly the Afghan military had crumbled like an empty, rotten shell. After all, the U.S. had been building up those forces, providing training, equipment and expertise for the last 20 years. And this was done at great cost: over 6,000 U.S. troops and private contractors had been killed, with tens of thousands wounded. And the U.S. government had poured well over a trillion dollars into this war effort, with the final cost expected to run two to three times higher, after all the bills are finally paid.

But the more the situation for the U.S.-sponsored Afghan government and military had deteriorated, the more the news has been filled with justifications by top U.S. officials, trying to make it sound like the 20 years of U.S. occupation had improved the situation for the Afghan people, with an elected government, more schools and better public health care. Not mentioned was the fact that the elections were fraudulent, and the government was dominated by murderous warlords, or that hundreds of thousands of Afghan people had been killed in an unending war, and that seven million Afghans had been forced from their homes in one of the worst refugee crises in the world. As for all of the promises from the U.S. about helping develop the Afghan economy, what has also gone unmentioned is that the economy’s main pillar remains the export of narcotics, with Afghanistan supplying almost all of the world’s heroin.

In fact, the main goal for U.S. government policymakers was never to improve the lives of the Afghan people, but to impose U.S. domination as the world’s superpower in Central Asia and the Middle East, where Afghanistan is located.

Using Afghanistan as a Pawn

The U.S.’s first intervention in Afghanistan dates back to 1979, in order to use Afghanistan and its peoples as a proxy against the Soviet Union. At the time, the Soviet Union was still the U.S.’s main superpower rival, and Afghanistan was part of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. In mid-1979, the CIA tried to increase instability and social unrest in Afghanistan by funneling aid to small groups of Islamic fundamentalists, or mujahideen, that opposed the Afghan government. To bolster the Afghan regime, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, in order to prevent the pro-Russian regime from collapsing.

A war began against the occupiers, waged by the mujahideen, who were warlords relying on their own ethnic group, or even their tribe, and fighting in the name of Islam. This was the start of 10 years of war.

The brutality of the Soviet army’s intervention contributed to the recruitment efforts of the armed bands in rebellion, but most of the aid came from abroad. The United States took covert action, helping to arm, finance and train the fundamentalist militia to fight against the Soviet troops. It also recruited foreign fighters and organized them into terrorist groups to fight against the Soviet troops.

Ten years later, the last Russian troops withdrew, defeated, at the end of a war which had led to more than a million deaths.

But for the U.S. government, the war was a great victory, since it “gave the Soviet Union its own Vietnam,” as one official boasted. That is, the war had weakened the Soviet government.

But there was “blowback” from this war. Terrorist groups, like al Qaeda, funded or even created by the CIA to fight against the Russians, turned on the U.S. and carried out attacks in many places, from Saudi Arabia to Kenya to the United States.

There was also tremendous “blowback” inside Afghanistan itself. Afghan warlords, or commanders as they were called, used the arms and money that they had received from the U.S. to build up their own militias and armies. They preyed upon the Afghan population, engaged in various rackets, including drug smuggling, while invoking religious zealotry as a cover. With Afghan schools destroyed by the wars, millions of Afghan boys in refugee camps were educated across the border in Pakistani madrassas, or religious schools, where they were fed an extreme, violence-laden form of Islamic fundamentalism in textbooks paid for by Washington.

After Soviet troops left in 1989, a new period of bloody civil war began. Rival warlords fought first against the Afghan government, and then after bringing the government down, they fought against each other for power.

To restore order, U.S. imperialism’s client states in the region, the Pakistan military and the Saudi Arabian monarchy, created the Taliban in 1993–94 with its own brand of virulent religious fundamentalism. Former fighters in the mujahideen and young men in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan were recruited into the Taliban.

Over the next two years, the Taliban fought to impose its rule over the competing warlords. The Taliban held out the hope of ousting the much-hated warlords and mujahideen and provided a sense of order and security, thus gaining popular support. It also gained the allegiance of many local warlords and strongmen, who kept their own fiefdoms.

By September 1996, the Taliban controlled Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and began its reign. But it was never able to defeat all the warlords and mujahideen, as former enemies who had fought each other during the civil war banded together to form the Northern Alliance.

For the next five years, the Taliban imposed a dictatorship over a poor, backward country left in ruins and bled white by several wars. But the Taliban was never able to extend its rule to the north, which remained under the control of the Northern Alliance.

2001: U.S. Invasion and Occupation

This was the situation in Afghanistan when U.S. imperialism invaded the country after the 9/11 attacks.

The U.S. invasion was a spectacular show of U.S. force aimed at demonstrating to the world that the U.S., as the only superpower, was still to be feared. U.S. policy makers probably chose to invade Afghanistan because it appeared to be a pushover. One of the poorest countries on earth, largely rural, with the population scattered in small, impoverished villages, Afghanistan had already been devastated by 22 years of war and destruction, thanks to previous U.S. interventions. Moreover, the Taliban didn’t even control the whole country, and the U.S. could rely on the warlords and militias of the Northern Alliance to do most of the fighting.

Under the pretext of hunting for bin Laden and the surviving forces of al-Qaeda, or for Mullah Omar, the former leader of the Taliban, the U.S. and its allies reduced entire villages to dust. In five weeks, the Taliban regime was wiped out, at the cost of thousands of civilian deaths and the destruction of the country.

The U.S. proceeded to put together a new government and a new army for Afghanistan, a completely artificial creation, which owed its existence to the U.S. occupation. The U.S. granted the warlords of the Northern Alliance top positions in the new ministries, with their control extending down to the local governments. Their militias became the basis of the new Afghan military.

The warlords used their positions to smuggle, plunder, rob and rape, cloaking themselves in brutal religious fundamentalism. They got their hands on money pouring in from the U.S. invaders, and began to salt it away in bank accounts in such places as Switzerland, Dubai, and the U.S.

So, what the U.S. considered to be the Afghan government and military were completely artificial creations of the U.S. occupation, that couldn’t exist unless they were constantly buttressed by the U.S. military.

One War after Another

The Taliban had not at all been destroyed. Those who made up the Taliban had simply returned home or crossed the border into Pakistan and continued their existence underground. The U.S. and its Afghan allies set about rooting it out.

This campaign could only mean a new war against the Afghan population. When a village was suspected of harboring Taliban, or other insurgents, it was bombed. Entire villages were destroyed by “surgical” strikes. U.S. forces carried out night raids, assassinations, and mass arrests, filling prisons and detention centers, including the massive ones at the U.S. Bagram Air Base outside of Kabul and the Kandahar Air Base in the south, where they often carried out systematic torture. Some “high value” prisoners were shipped out to the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This “war on terror” backfired on the U.S. occupiers. Former Taliban and other warlords began to take up arms against the Afghan government and the U.S. authority. And because the fighting had left the economy in a shambles, with so many people having lost their land and often their families, it provided a ready mass of people with no other prospects than to join up with local guerrilla commanders.

What was intended as only a rapid blitz soon turned into a very long occupation by hundreds of thousands of U.S., British, French, and other NATO troops.

Over the next 20 years, the U.S. tried to extricate itself from this war, only to be pulled by the growing conflict still deeper. In 2003, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, had already announced “the end of major combat operations.” Seven years later, the number of troops stationed had ratcheted up again to 100,000.

In November 2009, after having sent 30,000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan, Barack Obama declared that he wanted to put an end to the “endless wars” and promised a definitive withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2014. More than six years after that target date, 3,500 U.S. troops still remained in the country, plus another 6,000 from other NATO member states.

To this must be added all the personnel who allow the military bases to function, and the growing presence of “military contractors.” These mercenaries are commanded by former U.S. officers, hired by private companies like Academi (formerly known as Blackwater), DynCorp, and KBR, Inc. (formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton).

Growing Chaos

Twenty years later, the United States is once again trying to extricate itself from this conflict it created. But for the U.S. imperial power, the question is, how will order be imposed after it leaves? Obviously, its puppet Afghan government and military are proving that they cannot exist without a military occupation.

But the possibility of a new “Taliban” regime controlling the country may not be viable either. For what goes by the name “Taliban” is not one united force. After years of war, the number of jihadist groups with varying allegiances have multiplied, as have the armed bands led by different warlords and organized crime networks, which are sometimes the same.

What concerns the U.S. government and military is not that armed bands might continue to kill each other in Afghanistan after the U.S. forces leave, but that the instability there might spread to the entire region. The Taliban itself might only aim to impose an emirate based on Sharia law within the boundaries of the nation. But the same cannot be said for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which have already shown in places like Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and many other countries, that they have much wider ambitions to challenge and bring down other regimes.

If that happens, the U.S. military could very well find itself fighting new wars in the region.

U.S. imperialism has always tried to maintain its domination by relying on the most reactionary forces and fanning rivalries between regional powers. From Iraq to Syria to Afghanistan, the results can be seen: chaos continues to spread. The Afghan population is trapped between the dictatorship of U.S. imperialism, via the corrupt and venal government of Ashraf Ghani; the presence of the armed forces of the Taliban, who once in power will impose the same despotic regime as in 1996; and other forces which are just as reactionary.

Putting an end to this situation means taking on an entire system of domination, which includes imperialist interventions, local ruling classes, and militias acting autonomously. Overthrowing this system can only be done on the basis of a revolutionary, proletarian, and internationalist policy, making it the common goal of the exploited masses of the entire region.