Conflict comes and goes—and comes again—in Afghanistan. Powers rise and fall, invaders appear and disappear, occupiers enter and exit. This is where superpowers go to be humiliated and then fade into obscurity. And one after another, the headstones go up in this graveyard of empires.
On October 26, Britain joined the list of demeaned world powers that failed to accomplish their military missions in Afghanistan. It was the fourth time in Britain’s history. After eight years, Britain’s combat operations ended with the dramatic withdrawal from its massive military complex at Camp Bastion in Helmand province. United States Marines at adjoining Camp Leatherneck similarly left with hardly a goodbye.
Britain joined the United States in the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan in 2001. In 2006, the British set up camp in the Helmand province and built a military base the size of a small city to take the fight to the Taliban in its stronghold. Camp Bastion housed 26,000 soldiers and became Britain’s biggest overseas military base since World War ii. The Americans built their adjacent military city just as big: power plant; water and sewer treatment plants; grocery stores; movie theaters; gymnasiums; churches; a $34 million, two-story, 64,000-square-foot operations center; paved roads and streets with stoplights and names like Echo and 5th.
Now, these bases are mostly dusty ghost towns.
With the troops gone, perhaps it is time to ask: At what cost? Some of that cost is quantifiable. In terms of treasure: $30 billion for the British and over $760 billion for the U.S. In terms of blood: 453 British, 2,350 Americans, and tens of thousands of Afghan allies.
In terms of prestige: incalculable.
What was gained is difficult to ascertain and even harder to measure—especially considering the circumstances of the departure.
British troops kept the flag-lowering observance in Helmand low-key amid grave concerns that the Taliban would punctuate Britain’s withdrawal with an attack. The impression it left was that Britain slinked away from Afghanistan with its tail between its legs. British officials didn’t even speak during the ceremony—only a U.S. general did. Back in Britain, there would be no fanfare or cheering crowds or marches or grand speeches or formation fly-pasts to welcome the lads home.
Brig. Robert Thomson, the senior British officer at Camp Bastion, knew what the situation looked like. But he assured the Telegraph, “This is not an evacuation. I am standing here without body armor, and we are going at walking pace.”
Yet filling the skies above were assault helicopters and warplanes to cover the departures of dozens of C-130 cargo planes, Chinook heavy helicopters and other military transport aircraft as they whisked away army personnel in a less-than-glorious airborne parade that lasted 20 hours.
Despite Brigadier Thomson’s assurances, the scene was starkly reminiscent of 1975 and the final withdrawal of the United States from Saigon, Vietnam. With the North Vietnamese closing in, the U.S. embarked on the largest helicopter evacuation in history. The North Vietnamese had successfully attacked the airport runways, leaving the U.S. with helicopter withdrawal as the only option. Even the choppers were reportedly tracked by Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries, but rather than choosing to fire, the Communists were content to let the last Americans scamper away.
They left behind millions of people in the clutches of Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge monsters, who tortured, mutilated, massacred, dismembered, disemboweled and murdered tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of civilian men, women, children and babies.
“It was an amazing moment, but surreal,” said Capt. Anthony Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American, after arriving at Kandahar Airfield from Helmand, Afghanistan. “We are not refugees or anything, but it kind of reminded me of scenes of Vietnam, of people running to the helicopters.”
The Corpses in the Graves
From the onset of the latest war in Afghanistan, the coalition forces knew what challenges they were up against. The United States and Britain knew lives would be lost. They knew billions of dollars would be spent. They also knew the nature of the enemies: the Taliban, al Qaeda, and their sympathizers. That’s because these were the very people the Central Intelligence Agency had helped fight the Soviets. They knew the rugged geographical barriers they would have to battle. They also knew that the terrain was notorious for swallowing empires.
With all that foreknowledge, it is remarkable how commanders and politicians allowed the Afghanistan campaign to deteriorate to the extent it did. But it reinforces the veracity of the Bible’s prophecies regarding the British and American peoples today. As Herbert W. Armstrong proved in The United States and Britain in Prophecy, these nations descended from Abraham. They are the recipients of the national blessings God promised for his unwavering obedience. But now, because Abraham’s modern descendants are unquestionably and adamantly disobedient, God is removing those blessings and replacing them with curses. (Request your free copy of The United States and Britain in Prophecy.)
Shortly after 9/11 in 2001, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told the nation on nbc’s Meet the Press, “I can assure you that our military will have plans that will go against their weaknesses, and not get trapped in ways that previous armies have gotten trapped in Afghanistan.”
Those previous armies that have been trapped in Afghanistan go all the way back to the Hellenic army of Alexander the Great. Afghanistan was one of Alexander’s most difficult expeditions, as Seth Jones notes in his book In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan. “His adversaries were not conventional European armies but tribesmen and horse warriors who inhabited the steppes and mountains of the region. Both sides fought barbarously. Alexander’s army was technically superior to the local forces they faced, but it needed to clear and hold an expansive territory. … Despite the bloodletting, his army failed to subjugate Afghanistan’s population, and his tenuous grasp on the region collapsed after his death in 323 b.c.”
British and U.S. forces were technologically superior too.
After Alexander, Afghanistan was largely left alone until around a.d. 652, when Arab armies of Mohammed’s followers conquered Herat in western Afghanistan. But they too could not overwhelm the country’s mountain tribes.
Learning from history, however, isn’t America’s or Britain’s strong point. The Britons have invaded Afghanistan before—also to their detriment. During the first Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-1849, in one battle alone, 16,000 British troops were exterminated, leaving behind a single survivor. The second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878 was another quagmire that again ended with the withdrawal of the technologically superior army.
The Soviet Union gave Afghanistan its best shot beginning in 1979 in a campaign against the Mujahideen. It ended in a humiliating stalemate in 1989. Months later, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire collapsed.
When the war on terror began, the United States and Britain had all this history to learn from. But in they went. And now out they are coming.
Only nations operating under a curse, knowing such tragic history, would repeat it. The Bible shows that while God once mightily blessed the United States and Britain, He is withdrawing those blessings. He is removing “[t]he mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator” from the leadership in these nations (Isaiah 3:2-3). He is breaking “the pride of [their] power,” and as a consequence, these nations’ “strength shall be spent in vain” (Leviticus 26:19-20).
Something to Show?
Britain and the United States have little to show for all they have expended in Afghanistan. Reconstruction efforts have been pricey—and largely unsuccessful.
Take for instance, the effort to rebuild the Afghan Army. In October, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported to Congress that Afghan security forces faced significant war casualties and high attrition rates. Between March 2012 and August 2014, over 2,850 Afghan troops died in combat, and between September 2013 and August 2014, over 36,000 soldiers deserted or were dismissed.
As for the capabilities of the Afghan military, the public will never know them exactly because that information was abruptly classified by the United States-led coalition. A U.S. Army spokesman explained that the decision was intended to fulfill coalition forces’ “responsibility to protect data that could jeopardize the operational security of our Afghan partners” during the transfer of security responsibilities. It was more likely intended to obscure the prospect that the Afghan Army—like the Iraqi Army, and the South Vietnamese Army before it—will collapse after Western forces leave.
That will leave behind a population once again in the bloodstained hands of the Taliban, whose religious leaders commit suicide bombings, enslavement, starvation, systematic massacres, rape, torture, murder and terrorism—mostly funded by extorting a narcotic crop and making it available for heroin addicts.
Speaking of the Taliban’s favorite cash crop, has the coalition curbed Afghanistan’s poppy production? Unfortunately, even after $10 billion spent on counternarcotics over the past decade, the opium hectarage in Afghanistan has more than doubled—from 91,000 hectares in 1999 to 209,000 hectares in 2013. That’s enough opium to supply 90 percent of the world’s demand—while bankrolling the Taliban. And which Afghan province grows 48 percent of the nation’s opium-producing crop? Helmand province.
Afghanistan’s leadership crisis has been another shameful debacle. A presidential election was supposed to have facilitated Afghanistan’s first-ever peaceful democratic transfer of power. And yet, when rival candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani refused to accept the results of a run-off election, they essentially pushed the nation to the brink of ethnic civil war.
This turmoil was another demonstration of a supposedly liberated nation coming unhinged, and the Taliban reveled in it. After bombing government buildings on September 4, it released a statement taunting the leaders gathered at nato’s summit in Wales: “Their 13-year-old occupation is now seen as a historical shame.” The Taliban sneered, “It was planned that Afghanistan’s next leader would participate in the Wales summit. Now their plans have come to naught.”
After three months of squabbling, a power-sharing government finally emerged on September 21 with Ashraf Ghani as its leader. Ghani replaced Hamid Karzai—Afghanistan’s only president since 2001. After 13 years and all the efforts of the United States, Britain and their allies, Karzai made this stunning observation during his farewell address, September 23: “We don’t have peace because Americans didn’t want peace. … If the U.S. wants Afghanistan to be a good friend, it needs to match its words with actions.”
In other words, even America’s supposed allies—the people we went over there to help—despise it.
In The United States and Britain in Prophecy, Herbert W. Armstrong thoroughly explained the roles of America and Britain in Bible prophecy. He explained how these nations inherited the national blessings promised to Abraham precisely at the time the Bible reveals they would!
“Between them,” he wrote, “the British and American peoples had acquired more than two thirds—almost three fourths—of all the cultivated physical resources and wealth of the world [by 1804]. All other nations combined possessed barely more than a fourth. Britannia ruled the waves—and the world’s commerce was carried on by water. The sun never set on British possessions. … And yet, precisely as prophesied, Britain’s sun has now set.”
And so has America’s. “Today America finds herself heir to just about all the international problems and headaches in this post-World War ii, chaotic, violent world,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “And the United States has won her last war—even little North Vietnam held her at bay.”
In the Plain Truth newsmagazine, predecessor to the Philadelphia Trumpet, Mr. Armstrong wrote in October 1961: “[U]nless or until the United States as a whole repents and returns to what has become a hollow slogan on its dollars, ‘In God we trust,’ the United States of America has won its last war!” The United States and Britain may have won battles and skirmishes since World War ii, but they have never won a war—from Korea to Cuba to Vietnam to the Balkans to Somalia to Iraq to Libya and now Afghanistan.
The United States and Britain were powerful empires because God can, and desires to, bountifully bless mankind. Afghanistan shows that He is definitely not blessing America and Britain anymore. In fact, this graveyard of empires shows how much God is now cursing these nations.
And yet, as surely as He blessed them in the past, He will bless them again in the near future once these nations learn to obey God. The difference is that then—in the new world established after Christ’s return to Earth—those blessings will be grander, and they will be permanent. That is the prophesied future of the United States and Britain.