Shouldn't we be amazed? After all, for almost 20 years, the U.S. military has been supporting, equipping, training, and building up the Afghan military to the tune of more than $70 billion. The result: a corrupt mess of a force likely to prove incapable of successfully defending the U.S.-backed Afghan state from the Taliban once our troops are gone that is, by this September 11th.
I mean, what were the odds? All too high, I'm afraid, given the U.S. military's record in Afghanistan and elsewhere in these years. (Think about the collapse of the American-trained and armed Iraqi military in the face of ISIS in 2014.) In fact, for those of you who are old enough, a few Vietnam War-era bells should already be ringing as well, given the fate of the South Vietnamese military, supported in a similar fashion, once the U.S. pulled out of that conflict.
Recently, three New York Times reporters interviewed Afghan officials and military and police figures across the country and concluded that Washington had
"produced a troubled set of forces that are woefully unprepared for facing the Taliban, or any other threat, on their own" Afghan units are rife with corruption, have lost track of the weapons once showered on them by the Pentagon, and in many areas are under constant attack" Prospects for improvement are slim, given slumping recruitment, high casualty rates and a Taliban insurgency that is savvy, experienced and well equipped including with weapons originally provided to the Afghan government by the United States."
Consider that also a verdict on the crew that America's taxpayers have invested in so staggeringly in these years. I'm thinking about the Pentagon. In a set of conflicts that used to go under the title of "the war on terror," but now are generally just called our "forever wars," that military has essentially won nothing and, in return, continues to get ever more taxpayer dollars (just in case you think that only the Afghan military is corrupt).
As the American war in Afghanistan winds down, perhaps the only question is: Who's been on what drugs all these years? It's a subject that TomDispatch regular and author of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power Alfred McCoy takes up in his always striking fashion today. In fact, he offers us a unique look at the Afghan War as, in so many senses and at so many levels, both a drug and a drugged war. In the process, he gives the very word "withdrawal" new meaning. In his treatment of America's disastrous Afghan War, he also offers a hint of the striking analysis to come in his new imperial history of the world, his latest Dispatch book due out this fall, To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change. Tom
The True Meaning of the Afghan "Withdrawal"
Will the Nightmare of Saigon's Fall Return in Kabul?
By Alfred McCoy
Many of us have had a recurring nightmare. You know the one. In a fog between sleeping and waking, you're trying desperately to escape from something awful, some looming threat, but you feel paralyzed. Then, with great relief, you suddenly wake up, covered in sweat. The next night, or the next week, though, that same dream returns.
For politicians of Joe Biden's generation that recurring nightmare was Saigon, 1975. Communist tanks ripping through the streets as friendly forces flee. Thousands of terrified Vietnamese allies pounding at the U.S. Embassy's gates. Helicopters plucking Americans and Vietnamese from rooftops and disgorging them on Navy ships. Sailors on those ships, now filled with refugees, shoving those million-dollar helicopters into the sea. The greatest power on Earth sent into the most dismal of defeats.
Back then, everyone in official Washington tried to avoid that nightmare. The White House had already negotiated a peace treaty with the North Vietnamese in 1973 to provide a "decent interval" between Washington's withdrawal and the fall of the South Vietnamese capital. As defeat loomed in April 1975, Congress refused to fund any more fighting. A first-term senator then, Biden himself said, "The United States has no obligation to evacuate one, or 100,001, South Vietnamese." Yet it happened anyway. Within weeks, Saigon fell and some 135,000 Vietnamese fled, producing scenes of desperation seared into the conscience of a generation.
Now, as president, by ordering a five-month withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by this September 11th, Biden seems eager to avoid the return of an Afghan version of that very nightmare. Yet that "decent interval" between America's retreat and the Taliban's future triumph could well prove indecently short.
The Taliban's fighters have already captured much of the countryside, reducing control of the American-backed Afghan government in Kabul, the capital, to less than a third of all rural districts. Since February, those guerrillas have threatened the country's major provincial capitals Kandahar, Kunduz, Helmand, and Baghlan drawing the noose ever tighter around those key government bastions. In many provinces, as the New York Times reported recently, the police presence has already collapsed and the Afghan army seems close behind.
If such trends continue, the Taliban will soon be primed for an attack on Kabul, where U.S. airpower would prove nearly useless in street-to-street fighting. Unless the Afghan government were to surrender or somehow persuade the Taliban to share power, the fight for Kabul, whenever it finally occurs, could prove to be far bloodier than the fall of Saigon a twenty-first-century nightmare of mass flight, devastating destruction, and horrific casualties.
With America's nearly 20-year pacification effort there poised at the brink of defeat, isn't it time to ask the question that everyone in official Washington seeks to avoid: How and why did Washington lose its longest war?
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).