Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires and it is looking increasingly likely that as America declines, Afghanistan may be remembered as America’s quietest but most thorough defeat.
In 1979, Afghanistan descended into war as the previous year’s socialist Saur Revolution faced resistance from local reactionary tribes.
These tribes were augmented by foreign fighters who became the Afghan Mujahideen or the Seven Party Mujahideen Alliance. The Mujahideen was strongly backed by the United States based on a policy spearheaded by Jimmy Carter’s powerful National Security Advisor, the Polish born Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Early in the war Brzezinski was infamously filmed giving a motivational war speech to the Mujahideen who in the 1990s became al-Qaeda, the terrorist group led by Afghan war veteran Osama bin Laden.
Brzezinski’s policies were followed into the Reagan years and after a tense war of ten years, the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.
In 1992, the socialist government fell and Afghanistan officially became an Islamic State(no relation to the group commonly known as ISIS which formed decades later in Iraq). In 1996, a more radical group known as the Taliban effectively took over the country. The Taliban claimed to represent the interests of Pashtund, the largest ethnic group in the country. As part of the Taliban’s extreme rule, the former socialist leader of the country, Mohammad Najibullah was gruesomely executed before he was dragged through the streets by a truck and hung lifeless from a post.
As the Taliban took power, the Islamic Republic factions formed the Northern Alliance, a government backed by Russia, Iran, India, Turkey, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. By contrast the Taliban received support from elements in Pakistan, at that time a strong US ally.
After 911, the US became actively opposed to the Taliban and united with the Northern Alliance to oust it from power in 2001. The proximate cause of the US war was the fact that the Taliban had aided and sheltered members of the terror group al-Qaeda.
Since 2001, the Taliban have both factionalised and perversely regained a substantial deal of influence in the country even as the leadership of two main Taliban factions remain at odds with each other. Al-Qaeda and other Salafist groups remain generally loyal to the Taliban. At the same time, terror cells loyal to the so-called Islamic State have also arisen in Afghanistan.
While President Obama formally handed over control of military operations in the country to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in 2014, the internationally recognised government in Kabul, American forces for all intents and purposes remained in position with little noticeable change on the ground.
Donald Trump inherited a quagmire where a divided central government is facing a factionalised Taliban and various terrorist groups including ISIS.
What has changed is that as America proves totally incompetent in respect of bringing peace and stability to the country, other countries including China, Russia and Iran are becoming increasingly seen as possible peace keepers and economic partners in spite of historical enmity between Kabul and Tehran and the fraught war the Soviet Union fought in the country during the 1980s.
The Taliban have asked the US to leave and Pakistan is growing increasingly irritated by the US presence. Pakistan’s increasingly good relations with Russia combined with its historically good relations with China mean that there are many in Islamabad who now see Russians as part of an Afghan solution rather than as part of a prolonged problem.
On the 21st of August, Donald Trump is to address the nation in a speech concerning Afghanistan. Many are wondering whether Trump will announce a pull-out or a final military push that may very well result in few tangible results.
Steve Bannon who has recently left the White House was known to be a proponent of total withdrawal. His absence may mean that those in favour of a US troop ‘surge’ may win the argument.