Writing for Stop the War, Chris Nineham looks at the disastrous defeat suffered by the US as it finally pulls out of Afghanistan
This weekend marks the humiliating end of one of the most disastrous wars the western powers have ever fought. For twenty years US and British troops, later joined by NATO allies, have occupied Afghanistan claiming to be forces of liberation against the Taliban.
This weekend the western forces are pulling out.
The west’s quick victory in October 2001 was celebrated as an invasion to liberate women, deliver democracy and spread western values. But actually, the troops were there to avenge 9/11 and to assert western control in a strategically important region.
As the Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox put it in 2010, “We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened.”
The US and the UK fought with the utmost brutality. As the Taliban regrouped and fought back from 2006, the occupiers tried the full spectrum of strategies, from blanket bombing to targeted counter insurgency, from massive troop surges and torture to training Afghan forces to take on the Taliban. Occupation HQ, Bagram airbase, became a byword for abuse and brutality amongst the Afghan population. All these strategies failed.
Even General Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff from 2006 to 2009, accepts that the current pull out is an admission of outright defeat. In an article in the Telegraph he complains:
“District after district has fallen to the Taliban in recent days, the Afghan National Army has lost the will to fight – many soldiers are abandoning their posts, no longer supported by international air power. In response, the American withdrawal has been accelerated from September 11 to July 4.”
The pull-out has been brought forward to avoid the danger of Vietnam-like scenes of western forces fleeing the country under attack. Dannatt and others put this crushing defeat for NATO down to a failure to follow through on the initial invasion and occupation with ‘nation building measures.’ This is not just hopelessly naïve about the politicians’ motives, it is to ignore the devastating impact of all wars and the fact that no country responds well to being bombed, invaded and occupied.
For Afghans, the US/UK invasion was one more foreign intervention in decades of occupation. As we in the anti-war movement predicted when Bush and Blair took the decision to invade, the result was a disaster for ordinary Afghans. Though no accurate records have been kept, hundreds of thousands have died as a result of the fighting.
The country’s infrastructure has been decimated. On most measures, including literacy, death in childbirth and hospital provision, Afghanistan remains right at the bottom of the list of underdeveloped countries, and way below the average for countries in the region.
Levels of inequality have soared during this war for freedom, an absolutely predictable result of sustained military intervention, the imposition of a western backed government and the corruption that goes with it.
2,312 US and 454 British troops lost their lives in this abomination. The US has wasted over one trillion dollars and Britain over 40 billion pounds on this war, more even than in Iraq. Now, as the western troops finally pull out, they leave the Taliban in a stronger position than they were in 2001.
Instead of covering up or making excuses for this defeat, our politicians should be apologising first to the Afghans, and then to their own people for a catastrophic folly that has made the world a much more unstable and dangerous place. We in the anti-war movement must ensure that nothing like this can happen again.
Originally published in Stop the War
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Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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