AFGHANISTAN: An all-Western military and humanitarian disaster

In these days also the Italian media are following the escalation of violence that led the Taliban on Sunday, August 15 to finally take Kabul and thus regain full control of the country. This after 20 years of a massive Western presence that should have favored the construction of a democratic regime in a country torn apart by more than 40 years of war.  

Some useful data related to the “democratization process” 

  •  Military expenditures of $2000 billions, including:  
  1. United States: over $1000 billion. Note that the U.S. has not paid directly with its own state funds but, as in all wars in which it has participated, has resorted to federal sovereign debt. This means that military spending has been paid for by the USA’s major creditors, first and foremost China which has a credit of 1180 billion dollars (figure updated in August 2020).  

2. Italy: about 8 billion dollars  

– Civilian development cooperation projects, aimed at the construction of schools, roads, hospital and training and remuneration of local personnel (mediators, interpreters, workers, engineers): just $ 792 million  

  • Two military operations in total:   
  1. Enduring Freedom: the objective of the operation was to kill Bin Laden. The leader of Al Qaeda, in fact, had taken refuge in Afghan territory and the Taliban had refused to hand him over to the United States. Bush, persuaded that it would have been a blitzkrieg, on 7/10/2001 ordered the first bombings on Kabul and Jalalabad.  The objective of the mission was achieved on 2/05/2011 and on 28/12/2014 Barak Obama announces the formal termination of the operation.   
  1. Resolute Support Mission: mission started on 1/01/2015 with the dual objective of training and supporting both the Afghan army and democratic institutions in the fight against Taliban extremism on the one hand and in the establishment of a democratic system on the other. These are objectives which, despite Biden and Blinken’s declarations to justify the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan, have never been achieved. This is made even more evident by the rapidity with which the Taliban managed to arrive in Kabul despite being numerically much inferior given that:  

b.1) military official Afghan army trained by NATO: about 325 thousand units  

b.2) Taliban fighters: about 65 thousand units    

  • Western military presence concentrated in the cities, with little penetration into the villages and almost zero contact with the most isolated villages. The Taliban have taken advantage of this opportunity to reorganize themselves over the years, camouflaging themselves among the population and feeding the population’s hatred towards the western contingents – perceived as real occupiers  
  • At least 241,000 victims in about 20 years of war (underestimated number), many of them civilians  
  • UN Assistance Mission stated that the number of civilian casualties in 2021 is likely to be the highest ever recorded since the Organization was founded  
  • Internally displaced persons (IDPs) according to UNHCR: approximately 600,000.00, 80% of whom are women and children  
  • About 1,000 people a day cross the border with Turkey illegally, for this reason Erdogan is accelerating the construction of a wall on the border with Iran. This follows the American request last August 13 – judged hypocritical by the Turkish government – to allow refugees to take refuge in Turkey because they fear a humanitarian catastrophe resulting from their rapid withdrawal from the territory  
  • Some EU member states (including Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Greece) continue forced repatriations to Afghanistan despite the fact that countries such as Germany, Holland and France have suspended them precisely because the country is not safe  

Analyzing these data it is natural to wonder if the actual intention of the NATO coalition led by the United States was really to provide the country with democratic structures since almost nothing has been done in this direction. On the other hand, the purchase and sale of armaments and military spending in general have proved to be a profitable business on Afghan soil.  

This is confirmed by the lack of interest in the living conditions of civilians, understandable from:  

1. paucity of development projects implemented over the years;  

2. blind cynicism of some EU countries towards the latest news coming from Afghanistan;  

3. ineffectiveness of the Joint Statement signed by 60 countries of the world (including Italy, USA, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Qatar and Great Britain) where it asks “those in positions of power and authority in Afghanistan” to ensure the protection of human rights and property of civilians, without specifying who are these people in positions of power. The statement then calls for Afghan citizens who wish to leave to do so, stating that the international community is ready to assist them.   

So far, however, no humanitarian corridor has been created; on the contrary, as we have seen, rejections towards Afghanistan continue. 

Why did the military of the official Afghan army not resist? 

These days there are many questions about why, despite the great discrepancy in the allocation of resources in favor of military spending rather than the implementation of activities aimed at the real development of the country, the Afghan military has found itself unable to react to the Taliban advance.   

In many villages and towns, in fact, the official army surrendered even before engaging in battle or at most they negotiated the surrender. In the areas where they fought, the army suffered real defeats with a large number of people – both civilians and military – who reached Emergency’s clinics with obvious war wounds. 

In order to understand why this extreme weakness of the official military is so prevalent, we need to take a step back and take a closer look at the kind of support that NATO operations were providing to the Afghan military. 

As a detailed and well-structured analysis of  Il Post points out in, and to which we refer for completeness, the collapse of the army is attributable to:  

1. corruption of the Afghan government and army commanders, who “inflated” the numbers of soldiers actually recruited so as to justify the huge funding received from NATO – the actual destination of which appears doubtful;  

2. the living conditions of the soldiers were so poor that many could not afford to buy the rifles with which they were equipped because they were worth several months of their salary. Moreover, the government had suspended payments in recent months and had stopped sending ammunition and food rations sufficient to sustain the troops (on the other hand, the Taliban pay their militia handsomely);  

3. the American military presence positively affected the morale of the army, which was convinced that without the support of the United States they would never have been able to win against the Taliban. For this reason, Trump’s and Biden’s decisions, which effectively sanctioned an unconditional withdrawal from Afghan soil, were interpreted by the military not only as an desertion of Afghanistan but also and above all as a withdrawal of Western political support for the Afghan government created by the United States itself.   

Soldiers, therefore, began to question whether they should risk their lives for a government deemed corrupt and unable to formulate a strategy for the country’s rebirth that included the inclusion of various ethnic and tribal groups. 

Many soldiers in the now former Afghan army, therefore, have followed the “advice” of Taliban leaders to surrender their weapons and join the new government that is emerging. In exchange for this declaration of loyalty, the Taliban promise the Afghan soldiers to spare their lives – and those of their families – and their property. The names of those who agree are placed on a reserves list that the Taliban government says will be called upon to fight if needed. 

All these factors have contributed to the rapid rise of the Taliban which has been witnessed in the last 10 days and which has led them to occupy territories and to take possession of the weapons abandoned by the soldiers (including weapons they never had before such as tanks, helicopters, planes). This represents a serious threat not only for the Afghan people but also for the rest of the world since, among their ranks, there are also Isis and Al Qaeda terrorists. 

Taliban with a “new and democratic” face? 

As we will see better in subsequent insights, the justification provided by the U.S. administrations (first Trump and then Biden) for the unconditional withdrawal of troops was that, through the signing of the Doha Accords in 2013, the Taliban had guaranteed respect for human rights – including those of women.   

This drastic change of mentality with respect to the Taliban of the 90s seems to have been confirmed by one of the guerrilla spokesman Mohammad Naeem, who stated at the microphones of Al Jazeera: “The war in Afghanistan is over. We have achieved what we wanted to achieve, that is the freedom of the country and the independence of the Afghan people”.   

Naeem then added that the Taliban no longer wants to live in isolation and will respect women’s rights and freedom of the press within the principles established by Sharia. Large Movements has already dealt with these issues in previous articles. Waiting for further updated insights, we invite you to read our contribution to find out more about women’s rights violations related to the application of Islamic law. 

And again, Mullah Baradar Akhund (number two of the Taliban), stated “This is the time of trial. We will provide the services to our nation, give serenity to the whole nation and do our best to improve the lives of people.” 

On the figure of Akhund it is worth lingering for a second because he is the co-founder, together with the historical leader Mullah Omar (died in 2013) of the Taliban and he is the one who was in charge of declaring the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Already this foreshadows a continuity with the approach that the Taliban had in the 1990s towards the civil rights of the population. 

What’s more, Baradar Akhund was imprisoned by Pakistani intelligence for almost 6 years (5 years and 10 months to be exact) and was released at the behest of the United States as they considered him a key figure in bringing the country back together. 

This is another element that made it clear to the military of the official Afghan army that the United States was progressively withdrawing political support from the government, which they themselves had created, and entrusting it to those whom they had always declared they wanted to annihilate (in fact, in order to achieve this declared objective, U.S. troops occupied Afghan territory for 20 years). 

Despite the Taliban’s declarations, the reality on the ground already turned out to be quite different and it seems that it will only deteriorate. 

As reported by Afghan filmmaker Saharaa Karimi via social, the Taliban have already kidnapped children, sold little girls in marriage, murdered some women for their clothing, tortured and murdered one of Afghanistan’s most famous comedians, murdered an Afghan historical poet, murdered the head of culture and media for the Afghan government, murdered people affiliated with the fallen government, and are publicly hanging men. 

Unfortunately, the news that continues to arrive from news agencies only confirms the increase in Taliban violence, at least in the villages, but the tangible fear is that, once they gain strong international legitimacy, these atrocities will occur throughout the country. 

Large Movements will follow with attention the developments of the humanitarian crisis as well as the geopolitical ones and appeals to everyone not to drop the silence on the dramatic situation in Afghanistan. But above all we appeal to Western powers to open humanitarian corridors as soon as possible to allow the safe exit of all Afghans who fear for their safety and / or the future of the country since this disaster could have been avoided. And those responsible for these egregious errors of judgment are the Western governments themselves.   

We cannot therefore turn our backs on the Afghan population who believed in the promises of democratization made by NATO and we cannot think that we have done the maximum possible in our power by signing a Joint Statement that in fact says nothing or by continuing to meet to discuss the situation, without ever deciding on concrete action, while people are dying trapped in Afghanistan with no way out. 

Martina Bossi

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