Oct 11, 2021
At the end of September, the U.S. Senate grilled military leaders about the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan. Everyone in the room looked for someone to blame.
And yet, even as senators and military leaders were pointing fingers at each other, they also all admitted that well before the final withdrawal, the U.S. had already lost the war, that without U.S. military support, the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government was inevitable. What these hearings ignored was the obvious question: if the U.S. occupation had brought freedom and prosperity to Afghanistan, as they always claimed, why didn’t the population support it?
The U.S.-backed Afghan regime was based on a set of warlords and mujahideen. Many had worked with the U.S. since the war against the USSR in the 1980s and had then thrown the country into a disastrous civil war after the Soviet withdrawal. In the 1990s, the U.S. and Pakistani security forces had helped create the Taliban in an attempt to find some organization that could stabilize the country and end that civil war. But once the U.S. moved to overthrow the Taliban in 2001, it relied on the old warlords once again. No level of corruption or brutality among them was too much for the U.S. Neither was the revived oppression of women in the countryside, even in those areas under the control of the U.S.-backed government.
If we were to believe U.S. officials, the violence in Afghanistan was caused by the Taliban and by terrorists, while U.S. strikes carefully targeted those killers. But the reality of those strikes was revealed by the last two drone attacks ordered by the Biden administration on August 29. Instead of killing terrorists, they killed an aid worker and nine others, seven of whom were children. This was just the latest “targeted” killing to hit civilians: according to the U.N., 5,200 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting in just the first half of 2021. Over the twenty years of U.S. occupation, the toll of dead reaches into the hundreds of thousands, with many times that number wounded.
The poverty of the majority of the population is also even more dire than it was before the U.S. invaded. Despite all the billions of dollars poured into the country, essentially no economic development took place, especially in the countryside where three quarters of the population lives. Just two months after the U.S. defeat, almost half the population is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Aid groups warn that millions face the danger of starvation this winter. This crisis has been made worse by the U.S. cutting off aid and suspension of Afghan accounts—which itself shows the U.S.’s disdain for even the survival of the Afghan population. But the continued dependence on aid also shows how devastated the Afghan economy is after decades of U.S. occupation.
While the U.S. occupation might have improved the situation for the small layer of privileged people in Kabul and a few other cities, for the majority of the Afghan population, the 20 years of U.S. war were a disaster, not just the final chaotic evacuation. And in the end, this occupation set the stage for the return of the Taliban religious fanatics, except in an even more destroyed and impoverished country than before.