America’s Forgotten War
Remember Afghanistan? That’s the country the British and the Russians were never able to subdue. It’s the place where the U.S. war on al Qaeda started following 9/11. It is where the United States fought the rebel Taliban but never defeated it. It’s the place where, each year since the U.S.-led coalition initiated operations, the Taliban has carefully rebuilt its forces, its political and religious influence, and, in particular, its opium trade, the source of so much of its funding. A record bumper harvest is expected this year.
With Americans so focused on Iraq, as well as a new crop of global crises that command our attention, Afghanistan can be easy to overlook. But it is proving to be a massive problem that just won’t go away.
Rise of the Taliban
Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks and the Mongols sought control of this crucial Eurasian crossroads over time. Afghanistan gained complete independence from foreign occupation in 1919 following the Anglo-Afghan wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Apart from a period of reasonable stability during the reign of King Zahir Shah (1933-73), Afghanistan has since been riven by factional fighting.
A bloodless coup in 1973 headed by Sardar Mohammed Daoud, the king’s brother-in-law, led to a Communist-inspired counter-coup that consummated with the overthrow and assassination of the royal dynasty. This in turn led to Soviet occupation. Russia withdrew in 1989 after significant troop losses suffered at the hands of the U.S.-backed anti-government mujahideen guerrilla forces. This led to the rise of factional warlords, with various interest groups weighing in with guns and money. This was the seedbed of the Taliban movement.
The Taliban—with backing from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the U.S.—developed into an influential politico-religious force, obtaining almost total power in Afghanistan in 1996. With most of the country under its direct governance, the Taliban controlled a huge center of the world’s illegal poppy and heroin trade. Of great concern to the U.S. after 9/11 was the fact that the Taliban provided safe haven to extremist Muslim groups, in particular al Qaeda—hence the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan by coalition forces in 2001.
The trouble is, America’s invasion forced the Taliban’s retreat, not its defeat. Taliban leaders and supporters melted into the rugged, impenetrable hills, licked their wounds, and planned their return.
In 2002, Hamid Karzai was elected president of Afghanistan. Ever since, each spring, the Taliban has emerged from its hilly dugouts to descend on opposition forces to wage a seasonal insurgency designed to break the will of the occupying forces and of Karzai’s government. After a major Taliban offensive in the middle of May, Stratfor commented: “It is essential to understand that the Taliban were not destroyed in the 2001 invasion. … [T]hey systematically returned—each year, increasing their tempo of operations and, each year, extending their reach. As the combat season begins every spring, Taliban activities increase. So it follows that, in the fifth spring since Kabul’s fall, the intensity of fighting should be the greatest yet” (May 19).
And so it has proven to be.
If only it had a mind to history, the U.S. could have avoided this whole mess. But, as a nation, it doesn’t. Hence, as one who does acknowledge the importance of history comments, “The Soviets, with hundreds of thousands of troops, were unable to subdue insurgents in Afghanistan; the United States—with perhaps a tenth of the number of forces that the Soviets had there—doesn’t have a chance” (ibid.).
No one, certainly not the United States, wants to be caught on the wrong side of a war in Afghanistan. For a start, the U.S. simply lacks the ability to mobilize sufficient military strength to wage such a war at the same time as it continues the fight in Iraq and is diverted to any number of other emergencies, not the least currently being the security of its own borders.
That America is losing its collective will to continue in Iraq is obvious. The question right now is, from which theater will the U.S. first withdraw? It is a question predicated not on if, but when!
“If the United States is perceived to have been defeated in Iraq, and if it appears the United States is losing its will to fight in Afghanistan—which will be measured by its willingness to increase forces to match the Taliban’s operational tempo—then the strategy of coalition-building collapses. While everyone is focused on Iraq, a crisis is … emerging in Afghanistan. It will play itself out politically, as warlords shift their alliances. It will then emerge militarily, with increasing pressure on forces in Afghanistan. In fact, that is what is happening now, except for the fact that most of the world has not yet noticed it” (ibid.; emphasis mine).
Slowly, the truth is dawning. The Taliban is now emerging militarily! Gradually more space is being devoted in the newsmedia to the Afghanistan theater as the body count has escalated since spring.
In May, the Taliban incited sporadic rioting in the capital, Kabul, resulting in 17 dead. On June 4, a suicide bomber killed four civilians and just missed the governor of Kandahar province and a Canadian military convoy. Concerned at their intelligence indicating deterioration in the Afghan security effort, defense ministers announced on June 8 plans to expand nato’s control of southern Afghanistan. Seven days later, a bomb exploded on a bus that was transporting workers to the Kandahar U.S. military air base in southern Afghanistan, killing eight Afghani workers. The very next day, two U.S. soldiers were on patrol in the provincial capital when a remote-controlled bomb in a road exploded, killing both. Two days later, June 18, the U.S.-led coalition commenced a major offensive, its largest since 2001, against insurgents linked to the Taliban, killing dozens of suspected militants.
The Age newspaper reported, “Five years after the West promised to rebuild Afghanistan, the country is facing its worst crisis since the Taliban was overthrown. President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers are disillusioned with each other, while the Islamist militia is resurgent. People are being killed at a rate not seen since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion” (June 28).
With Taliban militants sighted only 40 kilometers from Kandahar, “Every day in Afghanistan a girls’ school is burnt down or a female teacher killed by the militants, according to the United Nations” (ibid.).
Though Canada declined to participate in the Iraq wars, the Canadian government has been a major contributor to the ongoing Afghan campaign. In fact, Canada is upping its deployment of troops and military hardware to support the effort to stabilize Afghanistan.
In reaction to this, during June and July the regrouping Taliban hit the Kandahar airfield, where the Canadian forces are based, with multiple rocket attacks. As if to make a mockery of the liberal’s theme that Islam is a “religion of peace,” Talibani fired upon foreign troops on more than one occasion from an Islamic mosque. In July, the battle for control of Afghan’s southern provinces see-sawed as the Taliban seized a number of southern cities, only to be, in turn, ousted by coalition forces following fierce fighting.
Associated Press reports that the annual costs of U.S. equipment devoted to the Afghan and Iraq campaigns are set to triple to more than $17 billion. There is a limit to just how much the straining U.S. budget can cope with such cost escalations. There is a limit to just how many body bags, returned from each of these theaters of action, the U.S. public is prepared to stomach before people withdraw majority support for continuing U.S. troop deployment in these seemingly unwinnable wars.
The reality is that, in keeping with its consistent, misguided policy practiced since the Korean War, the U.S. simply refused to vanquish the enemy in Afghanistan, a policy that America still plays out in Iraq to this very day.
Of a truth, as Herbert W. Armstrong long ago declared, following World War ii, “[T]he United States has won its last war!”
The Taliban is back in Afghanistan. It is there to stay and, with the arrival of each fighting season, gradually wear down the resistance of the U.S.-led coalition forces and American public opinion. This deliberate strategy will, no doubt, be aided by the fifth-column journalists and commentators of our so-often-treasonous media. In the meantime, the Taliban simply “believe that the Americans—like the British and Soviets—will not be staying long. They can afford to be patient” (Stratfor, op. cit.).
It is time to remember that ancient prophecy God declared against a rebellious nation caught up in deepening moral and spiritual decline: “And I will break the pride of your power … And your strength shall be spent in vain … if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me” (Leviticus 26:19-21).