President Joe Biden has set the September 11 deadline for all American troops to leave Afghanistan, winding up 20 years of the invasion by the United States.
GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbours, Foreign Policies and Developments affecting India’s Interests)
Dimensions of the Article:
- About the U.S. Afghanistan War
- America’s Mistakes
About the U.S. Afghanistan War
- The United States invasion of Afghanistan occurred after the September 11 attacks in late 2001 and was supported by close US allies which had officially began the War on Terror.
- Its public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.
- US President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda; bin Laden had already been wanted by the FBI since 1998.
- The US and its allies rapidly drove the Taliban from power by December 2001, and built military bases near major cities across the country. Most al-Qaeda and Taliban members were not captured, escaping to neighboring Pakistan or retreating to rural or remote mountainous regions during the Battle of Tora Bora.
- Donald Trump’s 2017 policy on Afghanistan, was based on breaking the military stalemate in Afghanistan by authorising an additional 5,000 soldiers, giving US forces a freer hand to go after the Taliban, putting Pakistan on notice, and strengthening Afghan capabilities.
- However, the US realised that the Taliban insurgency could not be defeated as long as it enjoyed safe havens and secure sanctuaries in Pakistan, the US changed track and sought Pakistan’s help to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.
- The negotiations began in September 2018 with the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to initiate direct talks with the Taliban. After nine rounds of US-Taliban talks in Qatar, the two sides seemed close to an agreement.
Learning from History
- First, the U.S. went into Afghanistan without considering history sufficiently – i.e., from when Afghanistan was invaded by great powers in the 19th and 20th centuries as well.
- The British empire, which feared a Russian invasion to India via Afghanistan, sent troops to the country in 1839, ousted its ruler Dost Muhammad and established a client regime of its ally, Shah Shujah. But the British had to withdraw in the face of Afghan resistance, mostly by Pashtun warriors; while retreating in 1842, all of the British and Indian troops, except one doctor, were massacred by Afghans.
- In 1979, the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan to salvage the country’s nascent communist regime, orchestrated a coup and established a friendly regime. The Soviets, faced with a bloody Mujahideen resistance (which was bankrolled and trained by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan), had to pull back in 1989 in ignominy.
- Once they invaded Afghanistan, the U.S., given the mistakes the British and the Soviets committed, could have had a strategically focused campaign, targeting its enemy, al-Qaeda, which was behind the September 11 attacks.
- The U.S. should have gone after the terrorists, destroyed their networks and then withdrawn, but it wanted to topple the Taliban and rebuild a centralised “democratic” state in Afghanistan.
- After the Taliban regime was toppled and al-Qaeda driven back into the caves and mountains, the U.S. still had a chance to stabilise the country with help from its different factions and leave.
- The Taliban sought modest terms — Mullah Omar, their leader, should be allowed to return home. But the Americans rejected the offer and promised to destroy the Taliban in every corner of the country.
- The Taliban are an indigenous militancy with deep roots in Afghanistan’s Pashtun majority. Toppling them from power was easy, but defeating them in their country was not.
- The U.S. took Pakistan’s tactical support for its war on terror for granted, overlooking the fact that Pakistan had deep strategic ties with the Taliban.
- When the U.S. declared victory in Afghanistan prematurely and went on to invade Iraq in 2003, it became easier for Pakistan to assist the Taliban’s regrouping, at a time when the Afghan government was grappling with corruption and infighting on ethnic lines.
Surrender to the Taliban
- For the U.S., with the war becoming increasingly unpopular at home, President elects of the U.S. had to promise to wind it up. The U.S. has also been shifting its focus to East Asia where China is rising.
- The U.S. could have opted for a more orderly withdrawal. Instead, it surrendered to the Taliban’s terms to pull back its troops
- The Taliban have not defeated the Afghan troops yet. The Afghan government has about 200,000 battle-hardened soldiers, including the U.S.-trained elite special forces. The government still controls most of the country’s population centres. The U.S. should have used this stalemate, coupled with mounting pressure on Pakistan, to extract concessions from the Taliban.
-Source: The Hindu