Ebrahim Moosa – Comment | 04 Muharram 1435/29 October 2014
An affair that began with much pomp and fanfare over a decade ago hurtled to its demise this week, with the subdued announcement of the withdrawal of thousands of British forces from Afghanistan, in a process that is said to conclude by the end of the year.
Few would forget the bombastic pronouncements made by US war criminal George W Bush of his “crusade” in the days leading up to October 7, 2001, the day whereon a supposedly global coalition began plumelling Afghanistan.
Operation Enduring Freedom, as it was called, purportedly targeted Afghanistan seeking retribution for the 9-11 events in the USA. Stated objectives included the destruction of ‘terrorist’ training camps and infrastructure within Afghanistan, the capture of ‘al-Qaeda’ leaders, and the cessation of ‘terrorist’ activities within the country.
In the brouhaha that ensued following the tragedies in New York and Washington, the campaign was an easy one to sell, and the voices of reason were almost effortlessly drowned out. Sincere offers made by the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden to face justice were rebuffed, questions about Western energy interests in the region went unanswered, and alleged Afghan involvement in the events of September 11 were never proven.
Back then, even sworn US allies such as the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf were warning America and her allies of the devastating consequences of getting embroiled in an intractable conflict in a country known to be the ‘Graveyard of Empires’.
“In no way will we use our troops to invade and attack Afghanistan,” Musharraf reportedly informed then US Secretary of State Colin Powell. “You [Americans] will leave soon after and we will be left with the rage of the indomitable Afghans”.
But Bush and Co. were in no mood to see their meticulously drafted ‘Plan for a New American Century’ derailed. In his typical gung-ho manner, the Texan President spent much time mouthing threats of seeking out the manufactured ‘fugitives’ dead or alive, and smoking the bad guys outta their holes. Through aerial bombardment, boots on the ground, bribery, massacres and collateral damage, people(Afghan, Brit and American alike) were sacrificed for profits, but all throughout the architects remained stubbornly oblivious of any potential consequences.
Fast forward to 13 years and a few days later, and the world has evolved rapidly from the foundations of tyranny with Bush erected. Bush no longer rules America, and the Taliban are no longer governing the whole of Afghanistan.
But what is overwhelmingly clear, as was foreboded, is that the rage of the Afghans has revealed itself with a scornful vengeance.
Already in 2012, a secret US military report was confessing that the Taliban were confident they can win in the Afghanistan conflict, and that they had the popular support that was needed to govern again.
The report, The State of the Taliban 2012, concluded that the Taliban’s strength and morale were largely intact despite the Nato military surge, and that significant numbers of Afghan government soldiers were defecting to them, in stark contrast to Nato’s far more bullish official line, that the insurgent movement has been severely damaged and demoralised.
According to published excerpts reported on by the Guardian, the report also found that Taliban commanders, along with rank and file members, increasingly believed their control of Afghanistan was inevitable. Though the Taliban suffered severely in 2011, the report said, its strength, motivation, funding and tactical proficiency remained intact.
There were fears expressed in the West already back then, that the alarm prompted by such candid assessments would inevitably get members of the Nato coalition panicky and see them rush for the earliest exit from the quagmire.
These were soon realised, with France leading the way, and other coalition partners keenly following suit.
Even Britain, described by the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall as “Washington’s most loyal satrap”, made it known that it will not be left “holding the baby” in Helmand province as others pull out.
And pull out it sure did.
This week it was reported that British troops ended combat operations in Afghanistan as they and US troops handed over two huge adjacent bases to the Afghan military, 13 years after signing up to the US-led invasion of the mountainous country.
The troops, said the Associated Press, handed over the baton to Afghan forces on Sunday at camps Bastion and Leatherneck, in the southwestern province of Helmand.
Such was the peril the Brits had grown accustomed to facing in the country that even the timing of their withdrawal had not been announced for security reasons.
The Britons were reluctantly drawn into one final encounter with the Taliban, but their military and political top brass were unequivocal: British combat troops will not be deployed in Afghanistan again ‘under any circumstances’.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon vowed: ‘We are not going to send combat troops back into Afghanistan. We’ve made that very, very clear. Under any circumstances, combat troops will not be going in there.’
It was reported that Camp Leatherneck resembled on Sunday a dust-swept ghost town of concrete blast walls, empty barracks and razor wire.
Offices and bulletin boards, which once showed photograph tributes to dead US and British soldiers, had been stripped.
These were the skeletons of empire laid bare by the indomitable resilience of Afghanistan.
Over the decade, the British had experienced their heaviest fighting of the Afghan campaign in Helmand, losing hundreds of soldiers.
Even the injection of additional US troops to the region in recent years failed to plug the wounds.
General John Campbell, the head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged Helmand “has been a very, very tough area” over the last several months.
In all, according to official counts, 2 210 US and 453 British soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. And a total of 37 billion British pounds(approximately R650 billion) had been expended to maintain the burdensome conflict.
And what of the much demonised Taliban, whom the campaign sought so robustly to eject from the country?
The resistance movement on Sunday was waiting in the wings(in the mountains, in the villages, in the cities – everywhere) greeting the announcement with attacks all around the country, and a triumphant message of their own.
In a statement posted to their website, the movement thanked Taliban fighters for their “immense sacrifices”.
“No doubt, the bloodiest attacks by mujahedeen during the past 13 years, forced the invading enemy to leave. The official statistics by the enemy puts British casualties at 500 soldiers, however the actual number of casualties is more than the official figures,” it said.
“These are the figures of life losses; the number of the handicapped soldiers reaches tens of thousands of troops.”
Already looking forward, the Taliban called upon Afghans to turn their backs on the current government which was working in the interests of Western powers.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on all those people who are fighting against their people as proxy of the invaders that they should use their sagacity. Do not fight in support of the enemy of Islam and the enemy of ours and your forefathers.”
68 percent of Britons sampled in a recent poll indicated that they believed the UK’s military campaign in Afghanistan was not “worthwhile.” A further 42 percent of those surveyed believed Britain was “less safe” as a result of the war.
The cost the campaign incurred to individual British households amounted to some £2,000 (R35000) over the decade. The much romanticized notions of inaugurating Western style democracy in Afghanistan and ‘emancipating’ its women were never realized. The opium trade continues to boom(no doubt, deliberately). At present, approximately 77 Afghan police officials and soldiers are killed per week by the Taliban. Many schools also remain shut indefinitely due to the instability.
I don’t understand when they say their mission is finished,” a senior Afghan army officer in northern Helmand told The Times of the weekend’s announcement. “The situation is the same as before. The (Taliban) is still strong.”
“Clearly the numbers weren’t there at the beginning, the equipment wasn’t quite good enough at the beginning, and we have learnt an awful lot from the campaign,” the UK Defence Secretary said, attempting to rationalise the defeat.
Fallon and cronies would have been spared the philosophizing had they just heeded the admonition of a British officer sounded from Afghanistan over a century ago.
In 1890, Sir James Livingworth, who served in the Queen’s British Army ruminated:
“The usual custom of divide and conquer worked well for our forces in other places, but the Moslem hordes of Afghanistan know of no division in times of war and the foam at their mouths does not cease to froth until the invader of their land is dead”.
The same picture emerges as one files through the chronicles of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Soviets and all others who tampered with Afghanistan through history.
But the Brits and other yes-men to the imperial agenda have no time to read history. Even as the humiliating Afghan file is slammed shut, the same nations of the world are lining up to enlist with another coalition.
Operation Inherent Resolve and the showdown with the Islamic State beckons