Panaji: In 2009, when then-Vice President Joe Biden returned from a trip to Afghanistan, he told President Obama, “If you ask 10 of our people what we’re trying to accomplish here, you get 10 different answers. This has been on autopilot.”

That unfortunately is the brutal truth that the US did not know what it was trying to accomplish in Afghanistan.

The Taliban is a narco-Islamic terrorist organization. Normalizing the brutal past of Taliban and non-changing brutality in the present is an exposure of one’s abnormality.

The thought of a terrorist organization ruling a nation must scare us all because if global leaders accept Taliban today it will set a terrible precedence for the future in most nations.

You do not negotiate with terrorists.

Shaharzad Akbar, chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), briefing the United Nations Security Council on 6 August 2021 said: “The first six months of 2021 have been the bloodiest six months for Afghan civilians since the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission started recording in 2009. 1677 civilians including women and children have been killed and 3644 are injured.  If the current rates of violence continue, I am heartbroken to note that there might be a grim new record of civilian harm by end of this year.  With districts and now a provincial city falling to the Taliban, millions of Afghans are waiting in terror to see what comes next. Women in particular remember the past and present abuses of the Taliban against their freedoms and their persons, and dread what is to come. As you know, many are joining the ranks of those trying to flee this worsening storm.”

The Taliban is the most active perpetrator of terror acts in the world. In 2019, the Taliban accounted for 1,375 terrorist attacks, according to data study by Statista. In 2021, in the first six months alone the deaths are reported at 1,677 people, according to AIHRC.

The rise of the Taliban is the sole failure of the US government. For 20 years, the US government through its Department of Defense (DOD) had also spent $837 billion on warfighting, during which 2,443 American troops and 1,144 allied troops have been killed and 20,666 US troops injured. Afghans, meanwhile, have faced an even greater toll.

At least 66,000 Afghan troops have been killed. More than 48,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, and at least 75,000 have been injured since 2001—both likely significant underestimations.

At various points, the US government hoped to eliminate Al Qaeda, decimate the Taliban movement that hosted it, deny all terrorist groups a safe haven in Afghanistan, build Afghan security forces so they could deny terrorists a safe haven in the future, and help the civilian government become legitimate and capable enough to win the trust of Afghans.

But the US failed to do so because dealing with Afghanistan required a detailed understanding of the country’s social, economic, and political dynamics. However, US officials were consistently operating in the dark, often because of the difficulty of collecting the necessary information.

The US government also clumsily forced Western technocratic models onto Afghan economic institutions; trained security forces in advanced weapon systems they could not understand, much less maintain; imposed formal rule of law on a country that addressed 80% to 90% of its disputes through informal means; and often struggled to understand or mitigate the cultural and social barriers to supporting women and girls.

Unfortunately, as pointed out by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGA) in its recent reports, “US officials often empowered powerbrokers who preyed on the population or diverted US assistance away from its intended recipients to enrich and empower themselves and their allies. Lack of knowledge at the local level meant projects intended to mitigate conflict often exacerbated it, and even inadvertently funded insurgents.”

The decision by US President Joe Biden and the subsequent march of the Taliban into Kabul will make the world an even more dangerous place fuelled by terrorism now. Afghanistan will become a safe haven and base for terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Thousand are fleeing Afghanistan and will join Afghan refugees who have already been forced to leave over the past four decades of conflict. The number of internally displaced people is also surging, as people all over Afghanistan stand to lose their family members, homes, schools, and workplaces to the Taliban terrorists.

The US government continuously struggled to develop and implement a coherent strategy for what it hoped to achieve according to the SIGAR report on August 16, 2021. The report elucidated: “The challenges US officials faced in creating long-term, sustainable improvements raise questions about the ability of US government agencies to devise, implement, and evaluate reconstruction strategies. The division of responsibilities among agencies did not always take into account each agency’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Department of State is supposed to lead reconstruction efforts, but it lacked the expertise and resources to take the lead and own the strategy in Afghanistan. In contrast, DOD has the necessary resources and expertise to manage strategies, but not for large-scale reconstruction missions with significant economic and governance components. This meant no single agency had the necessary mindset, expertise, and resources to develop and manage the strategy to rebuild Afghanistan. For the US government to successfully rebuild a country, especially one still experiencing violent conflict, civilian agencies will need the necessary resources and flexibility to lead in practice, not just on paper.

“This poor division of labor resulted in a weak strategy. While initially tied to the destruction of al-Qaeda, the strategy grew considerably to include the defeat of the Taliban, an insurgent group deeply entrenched in Afghan communities, then expanded again to include corrupt Afghan officials who undermined US efforts at every turn. Meanwhile, deteriorating security compelled the mission to grow even further in scope. US officials believed the solution to insecurity was pouring ever more resources into Afghan institutions—but the absence of progress after the surge of civilian and military assistance between 2009 and 2011 made it clear that the fundamental problems were unlikely to be addressed by changing resource levels.”

The US government was simply not equipped to undertake something this ambitious in such an uncompromising environment, no matter the budget. After a decade of escalation, the United States began a gradual, decade-long drawdown that steadily revealed how dependent and vulnerable the Afghan government remains.

There is no doubt, however, that the lives of millions of Afghans have been improved by US government interventions. By 2018, life expectancy had jumped from 56 to 65, a 16% increase. Between 2000 and 2019, the mortality rate of children under five plummeted by more than 50%. Between 2001 and 2019, Afghanistan’s human development index increased 45%. Between 2002 and 2019, Afghanistan’s GDP per capita nearly doubled, and overall GDP nearly tripled, even accounting for inflation. Between 2005 and 2017, literacy among 15- to 24-year-olds increased by 28 percentage points among males and 19 points among females, primarily driven by increases in rural areas.

The US government had less influence over Afghan institutions than it hoped—not due to the amount of resources it gave, but due to how the US government used them. The US government’s goals were often operationally impractical or conceptually incoherent, meaning US officials and their implementing partners often tried to:

* Root out corruption, but also to jumpstart the economy by injecting billions of dollars into it;

* Improve formal governance and eliminate a culture of impunity, but also to maintain security, even if it meant empowering corrupt or predatory actors;

* Give Afghan security forces a competitive edge against the Taliban, but also to limit them to equipment and skills that they could sustain after a US departure;

* Direct considerable reconstruction funds through the Afghan government to help officials practise public financial management, but also to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse;

* Build a credible election process from scratch, but also to respect Afghan sovereignty;

* Focus on making immediate progress on security and governance, but also to build the long-term capacity of Afghan officials;

* Reduce the cultivation of poppy, but without depriving the farmers and laborers who depend on it;

* Empower women to become more educated and economically independent, but also to be culturally sensitive and respect Afghan traditions.

After coordinating Afghanistan strategy at the National Security Council from 2007-2013, Douglas Lute told SIGAR in their report:

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan. We didn’t know what we were doing. We’re going to do something in Afghanistan with $10 billion? Haiti is a small country in our own backyard with no extremist insurgency and we can’t develop it. And we expect to develop Afghanistan with $10 billion?… What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking. It’s really much worse than you think. There was a fundamental gap of understanding on the front end, overstated objectives, an over-reliance on the military, and a lack of understanding of the resources necessary.

The US government refused opportunities to reconcile with the defeated Taliban and declined to implement an inclusive, post-conflict peace process, so the Taliban soon rebuilt itself as a powerful insurgency.

In simple words the US said “Bye Then” to Afghanistan front at the onset. Joe Biden just completed the mission.


Savio Rodrigues is the founder and editor-in-chief of Goa Chronicle.