What is going on in Afghanistan?
In the previous article on the subject, I have gone into the origins of the conflict, to understand such a long term event like the war and post war status quo in Afghanistan, we have to look at the origins. I did it from three different perspectives; legal, political and ethical, in case you have not read it, you can find it here — PART I.
The second part is meant to address, the following questions: Why did the Taliban regained control? Who is responsible for it? How was the retreat managed by the current US administration? And finally, was it worth it to be in Afghanistan for 20 years?
I am stating it again, we live in a world characterized by a large informational flux. People are bombarded on social media with it, they also have a wide variety of options from where to collect, analysis and explanations on this event. TV stations are broadcasting the event 24/7, all this can be overwhelming. Most of us have a busy schedule, and do not have the time to track all this done. It is very important as a citizen to be informed of the events that are taking place both domestically and internationally. Even more important to be informed correctly, but time is gold today and I recommend finding that sweet spot between being informed correctly and saving time while doing it. My attempt in the previous article and this one is to do just that.
As an international lawyer and global security analyst, I am dedicating a lot of my time on searching for information and then putting it through my analytical filter. What comes here is the result, I am doing it because I believe communication is the steppingstone for managing difficulties. I am also passionate about what I do.
This represents a high — level analysis, and its designated audience are young people or people who are not familiar with the complicated world of international security politics.
Why did the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan?
Because it is their home country. The United States and its allies have carried a military intervention in 2001 against the Taliban regime, rightfully accusing it of offering safe heaven and harboring the terrorist group responsible for the attacks on 9/11. The military operation was a fast success, the US military is the most well trained, equipped and experienced military in the world. It has been engaged in war for most of the 20th Century (1st World War, 2nd World War, the Cold War) all of them won. It was also involved in smaller regional wars such as Correa or Vietnam. It retreated from the Vietnam War also known as the Second Indochina War, defeated in 1975.
For the entirety of the 21st century, the US has conducted war in some place of the World. Most significant and longest is the official War on Terror that started in Afghanistan in 2001 and ended now, with the “defeat” of the US and its allies. We will have to define what defeat means and its correlation to the objectives of the American government.
Due to the superior capacity of the military, the US wins decisive battles, and gains control of the enemy’s territory, this is the strong part. The weak part is the follow up. After eliminating the Taliban from the leadership of Afghanistan, the US together with the international community was now responsible for governing the country, establishing peace, and placing the seed for the Afghan people to regain control and administration of their country in whatever way they wanted. If it was in a better relationship with the international community than the previous Taliban regime, direct emphasis on human rights, drug trafficking and global terrorism. The result of the policy in administrating Afghanistan according to these principles was a failure.
After their military beating in 2001, the Taliban did not vanish from their country, they did something centuries old. In matters of history, we have proof that when a superior power gains control of a territory, the warriors in that territory make good use of the geography. They retreat in the mountains, the use the swamps or the jungles, they use whatever helps them, and they know what helps them. They grew up there, they know the weather, the terrain, they can even hear the whispers of the wind. At that point they adopt guerilla warfare and now are in the advantage. They harass the enemy; they torment it, and they disappear. It may sound silly what I am about to write, except that is not.
Think about a mosquito. It is tiny, you can crush it with a finger. Now think about a night where your sleep is hunted by a mosquito. It has the advantage. You are sleeping, it bites you and you wake up, you look for it, but its night and you can’t see it, you go to sleep, then it bites you again, you wake up look for it, can’t find it. In the morning you will be exhausted and the mosquito well feed. Small things can make a difference. In terms of military tactics, the 20-year war on terror in Afghanistan was a mosquito situation.
Why did the Taliban regain control so fast? Faster than the US administration publicly declared was anticipating. They did it because it is their country. The Taliban know the details from Afghanistan, those cultural things that make a difference. No matter the number of analysts, intelligence professionals and level of information you collect, it will not match up cultural subtleties. They reached Kabul fast and without using force. The Afghan police and military force surrendered. They surrendered because the Taliban adopted a decentralized strategy, activating their regional leaders, they convinced the regional forces to drop weapons and avoid a blood bath. The Americans and their allies will be gone anyway they said, all of us are staying here, let’s avoid it. They did.
The US administration invested so many resources in terms of equipment and training for the Afghan forces with the objective of them being capable to hold control of the country after the retreat. All this effort flushed down the toiled, excuse my French. Lesson to be learned, place emphasis on cultural aspects and make it a project of any military endeavor.
Who is responsible for this outcome?
Twenty years of conflicting and inefficient policy. Two decades of ignoring the realities on the ground. This is not the work of one American President or one administration. This is the work of all of them. Responsibility is shared between all the administration starting with the Bush one, going to Obama, Trump and now Biden.
America needs to learn its lesson from this long conflict. It must acknowledge the changing security conditions and the importance of non — military elements in military domain. This is an area where is suffers.
There is something else responsible for this, it’s called the evolving nature of things. The US strategic interests have changed since 2001. They have changed not because of America’s doing, but because the complex world of international relations is dynamic, not static. China is in a completely different position now then it was in 2001, so is Russia on a smaller scale. They are now considered competitors for the US in the National Security agenda. Other areas of the world present more interest for the American strategic interests such as: South China Sea, the Arctic Circle, NATO’s Eastern European Flank, Central Africa and South America.
How was the retread managed by the current US administration?
President Biden said that the retreat will be managed in a calm and controlled environment. Pictures like the ones taken in Saigon, in 1975, with the helicopters evacuating people from the American embassy’s rooftop will not happen. Unfortunately, he was wrong, and they were taken in Kabul 2021. Images taken of the situation in Kabul, portray a sense of desperation and fear of the people toward the arrival of the Taliban. Being a history geek, it made me think of the fear people felt for the Mongols in the Middle East. The news outlets capitalized on these images and spread their emotional message. It seems to be a humanitarian catastrophe; it is not one, yet.
Unofficial information is that the US intelligence community on the ground did a good job in collecting the right type of information and sending it for packaging at the headquarters in Virginia. It was then presented in Washington, the policy makers knew about the rapid advance, and the deals made by the Taliban leaders with the Afghan forces to drop arms. The administration did not take it as seriously as it should, the result is all over cable tv and the internet.
This way of managing the retreat sent a bad signal in the world. It says that the US is not managing to find a balance between its capacity of gathering information and executing tailor made tactics to address the situation according to the received information. It also puts the US in a bad light for credibility in future events. If after 20 years, America is leaving their Afghan collaborators and allies behind in a chaotic way as happened in the last few days, trust, credibility become hard to obtain.
In a new world system, characterized once again as a competition between major powers, the capacity to project trust becomes essential. China and Russia are already making steps to profit from this chaotic American exit from Afghanistan. They will come as catalysts of peace and stability in the region. This will make for a good PR move, for both.
Was the effort to be in Afghanistan for 20 years, beneficial for the United States?
Overall, no. I will go through different phases for this answer. First as noted previously, the beginning of the situation was justified under the regulations of international law. It was also an ethical one, being conducted under the principle of self — defense. It had the elements of opinion juris and jus cogens from the international community by its side.
Secondly if the US and its allies would have adopted a different policy of administrating the region at the beginning and would have found a better way to give the Afghan people what they desired, taken into the equation the Taliban presence and influence, in my opinion that would have produced a better result on the long term. This is an example in which emotional decisions lead to long term consequences of the highest negative impact. The terrorist act was punished by the military intervention, the overthrow of the Taliban’s and the elimination of the mastermind behind it, Osama bin Laden, al — Qaeda was chased away. The Taliban remained there, so instead of trying to arm the Afghan forces against them, why not find a realistic solution to bring them to the negotiation table and adopted a hybrid administrative system. Better in terms of timeline, short, efficient, cutting costs and saving human lives.
The Taliban are in Afghanistan to stay. The question raised is how they will govern the country. They already said that sharia law will act as the legal temple of the state, Afghanistan will become once again a theocracy. It is to be seen how the international community will react to their actions, from the United Nations platform of diplomacy and communication.
There are legitimate concerns about Afghanistan becoming once again a safe haven for terrorists. I don’t believe that any terrorist actions will be launched from the Taliban backyard soon. They have waged a guerilla warfare for the last 20 years; they want peace and control in their country. The collision may come in a scenario where they commit gross violations of human rights, and the international community will isolate them diplomatically and economically. In this scenario, a major terrorist attack coming from Afghanistan via the Taliban will have a high chance coming against the West, but it will not be ballistic, it will be CYBER.