Why did the US fail in Afghanistan (the country is also known as the graveyard of empires)? Why the US failed to bring peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan? What went wrong? Nowadays, these and other similar topics form center of international political discussions inside and outside the United States. It is understandable that the US government will not agree on its failure in Afghanistan, but its failure is pretty obvious to suffering Afghans and rest of the world.
There is a general consensus all over the world about the US failure in Afghanistan and their possible embarrassing defeat in its longest war of the history. The reasons of the US failure in Afghanistan are now being debated by many people all over the world. People present contrasting insights regarding the US failure in Afghanistan. However the real reasons for failure of the US are as follows:
1. Legitimacy of the war
Today most of the educated and elite people all over the world are reluctant to agree on 9/11 as reported by the US. Hardly, few people think that 9/11 was actually carried out by Al-Qaida from Afghanistan. Many people across the world even think that 9/11 was an insider job. Even if one agrees that Al-Qaida was responsible for 9/11, what was the point of invading Afghanistan? If the US wanted to remove Al-Qaida from Afghanistan, they could easily do that without invading the country. They could use various available cost effective and less risky alternative ways.
Another important point is that when Taliban were agreed to talk and negotiate with the US government about Al Qaida, then why would the US decide to take an extra dangerous move to invade the country? Therefore, some people around the world and most of the Afghans think that the war in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) does not have justifiable legitimacy. Even many well-known western scholars including Americans have raised suspicion about the legitimacy of the current war in Afghanistan. This allegation was further supported when the US committed some unnecessarily mistakes that were used as arguments against the US presence in Afghanistan. I strongly believe that one of the reasons for majority of Afghans not being happy for the US presence in Afghanistan is the lack of legitimacy. Most Afghans including the educated individuals think that the US invaded Afghanistan for their own hidden interests.
2. Stabilizing Afghanistan was not a real strategic priority to US
US invaded Afghanistan without even having a wise strategy to stabilize the country. For example; in recent years, the regime change strategy has proved to be a destabilizing strategy all over the world but the US greatly relied on it. If you spare some time and thoroughly review the US strategic moves in Afghanistan, you will easily find out that state building and stabilization of Afghanistan were not real strategic priorities to the US. Perhaps the US wanted to gain access to the strategic location of Afghanistan for its own goals. That is why when the Bonn conference was held, they were not serious about the state building efforts in Afghanistan. This was the main reason that in the Bonn Conference the ruling power was conferred to warlords of minority groups especially Northern Alliance. This was in fact an indicator of poor thinking of the US about state building and stabilization goals in Afghanistan. Unwisely, the US heavily relied on warlords of minority groups. It is worth to mention that this model of state building (ruling by minority) is a common failure wherever it is applied.
3. The US didn’t go all-out to win the war
One of the reasons behind US flopped to win the war in Afghanistan is that they didn’t go all-out to win. My point is, if winning the war in Afghanistan was a strategic priority to the US, then they would have fought it quite differently. It looks like that the US used Afghanistan’s territory for military practices rather than achieving its mission of removing global terrorism. This was the reason that they have been rotating commanders, soldiers and civilian manpower in and out of the theatre very often.
If in a war the US vital interests are at stake, how can they ignore assessing their success and leaving the country to become once again insecure? In fact, the war in Afghanistan needed much greater commitment of resources, while the US and its allies were not willing for that level of commitment. In simple words I would like to say that for the US and NATO, winning the war was not a strategic priority; that is why they have not drawn appropriate actions to win the war in Afghanistan. Existence of hidden agenda is also quite possible, since nobody will believe that the US with support of all the major powers of the world can be defeated by a small group of uneducated tribal Afghan fighters.
4. The US proved to be a flash in the pan
At the beginning, the US government promised to bring peace, democracy, stability and prosperity to Afghanistan but then; disappointed the people of Afghanistan. Afghans were strictly monitoring the situations but found out that a little was actually done by the US for Afghanistan. Even the money flooded to build Afghanistan was not managed effectively and efficiently by the US. These types of mismanagement resulted into Afghans believing that the US is not committed to its promises and there might be some hidden interests that refrains the US to stick to their original promises and commitments in Afghanistan.
5. Over Reliance on Northern Alliance
Right from the Bonn Agreement, the US government heavily relied on northern alliance. But the fact remains that northern alliance was having a dark history like other Mujahideen leaders and unfortunately most of their leaders were among well known war criminals. This policy led to social exclusion of Pashtuns which ultimately improved the agenda of insurgent groups. To provide an example, the US went after the northern alliance suggestions and bombed places where mostly civilians were killed or injured.
The US jailed all those that were advised to be jailed by the northern alliance, not knowing that northern alliance were removing their political opponents and implementing a fascist agenda using the opportunity. It is worth to mention that over reliance on minority groups is not only a proven failed approach in state building in the history of the world, but also morally and ethically a flagrant immoral strategy and goes against the basic tenets of social justice. Hence this decision was socially, morally and politically an incorrect decision and has greatly helped Taliban and other insurgent groups in expanding their social base which eventually added more complexity to the war and made the war difficult for the US to win.
6. Lack of Comprehensive and inclusive strategy to achieve meaningful victory in Afghanistan
A meaningful victory in Afghanistan can be defined as defeating Taliban and Al-Qaida and bringing peace, stability and prosperity with a western-style government in Afghanistan. This didn’t happen because the US stepped in Afghanistan without having a comprehensive strategy and nicely drawn policy conclusions. There was no system of controlling the targets versus achieved goals as per the smart plan or maybe the US deliberately wanted to leave the country instable for their own interests. Actually it seems that there was no proper planning at all. The only plan was to overthrow the Taliban administration while everything else went wrong.
7. Exporting Democracy and Free Market Economy to Afghanistan
The US didn’t have any analysis to test the applicability of western style democracy and economic system for Afghanistan. Afghans who are among one of the most extreme Islamist nation didn’t approve democracy and termed it as a pagan system. This led to wane in social participation of people in the government. I strongly believe every nation has to develop its governmental system based on their civilization and phases of social development. The best system for a country is a system that is based on the majority vote of the people of that country. Also the market economy which is obviously based on some certain prerequisites was incorrectly applied in Afghanistan.
A more contextualized and mixed economic system was needed to recover and strengthen the fragile economy of Afghanistan. When President Karzai was asked about his biggest strategic mistake in Afghanistan, he also pointed out the mistake of applying market economy in Afghanistan. Though I don’t believe it was the biggest mistake of his government but at least it shows that his experience about the economic system in Afghanistan was similar to my understanding.
8. Killing of Civilians
The US missions were not at all well coordinated. They went to bombing places without confirming if the Taliban really existed there. They also jailed people from Madrasa and villages and went to investigate people houses and abused people unnecessarily. Sometimes drunk veterans have end up in collisions while driving tanks which resulted into killing of common people. These were in fact, egregious mistakes committed by the US. These mistakes made majority of Afghans acrimonious and distraught about the US presence in Afghanistan. A large number of politicians during these years including the former President of Afghanistan have criticized the US night bombing missions. But the Afghan unity government has never been chagrined though the US has several times accepted their mistakes and asked for forgiveness in this respect.
9. Ignoring of the Peace Process
To me the war in Afghanistan has only one solution that is ‘by a peace process’. I believe that the Afghan war can’t be won only by army interventions, however it can be ended by an inclusive peace process that involves Afghans from all strata of society. I am sure if real efforts of bringing peace in Afghanistan are taken by the US, regional countries and the Afghan government, then peace in Afghanistan will become a reality.
The peace deal recently negotiated with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (a warlord and leader of Hizbe Islami) is one example of successful peace deal in this regard. The peace process was not successful because the US blindly relied on the northern alliance, and the northern alliance didn’t want the peace process to be successful because a possible peace deal could decrease their share in the government of Afghanistan. The peace council has been usually under the control of northern alliance or warlords that is why no real efforts were taken to bring peace rather they have shown that peace with insurgents is wastage of resources and maybe not possible. There is also a hypothetical thinking that the US deliberately didn’t want the process to be successful because they wanted Afghanistan to be instable up to certain point of time or till their interests are not met.
10. State building without nation building
Looking at the decades of internal wars in Afghanistan and the ground realities, the US should have tried to focus on nation building and state building together. Inauspiciously the US has hardly taken any effort for nation building, rather they have stood against the majority of the country and unnecessarily relied on warlords of minority groups.
This, in the long run, resulted in the US failure in nation building and adversely impacted state building as well. Even in the army they were reluctant to give admissions to Pashtuns because they were told that the majority of Pashtuns are Taliban and they are threat to national security. Afghanistan needed to be united not divided. The US policies in Afghanistan have actually divided a historically united nation. Many people consider these moves as examples of divide and rule policy being implemented by the US in Afghanistan.
11. The troops strategy mistake
The war in Afghanistan could only be won by military intervention if the US would have sent huge number of troops. The troops’ levels in Afghanistan never approached the ratio of troops/population observed in successful examples of nation-building. This deficiency was also compounded by Afghanistan’s ethnic divisions, mountainous terrain, geographic isolation, poor infrastructure, and porous borders. Wining war in Afghanistan is not easy. The US should have invested in Afghan national army and equip them properly to lead the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan. The US has only focused on the number of Afghan army not the quality and that is one of the reasons why they have lost the war in Afghanistan. Also the US did the fishing for Afghans but not showed the art of fishing to Afghans. It is important to note that the US night missions was inappropriately managed. They not only implemented these missions without the support of ANA but also committed war crimes. These mistakes created further social unrests and anger in public against the US.
12. Pakistan was not a worthy ally to US
Pakistan was never a worthy ally to the US. This statement was first seems to be absurd or self-contradictory for the US policy makers, however it was a paradoxical statement that eventually turned true. Pakistan has not only supported the Taliban and other terrorist groups but also created some of these groups. Pakistan has been a great stymie in bringing peace, stability and prosperity to Afghanistan. Though the US knew that Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism to weaken Afghanistan government because of their vile interests; still the US kept quiet and supported Pakistan. This situation has created doubts and raised several questions
13. The Policy of Duplicity
Though the US knew that Pakistan has not been a worthy ally still they have supported them and kept reticent for their support to terrorist groups. When the US troops were going out of Afghanistan, they granted their armored vehicles and other military equipments to Pakistan and destroyed their bases in Afghanistan. Pakistan for several years provided Taliban and other terrorist groups effective sanctuaries, but the White House have never put pressures and force on Pakistan to halt its support to Taliban and other terrorist groups.
The US has never opted to castigate or admonish Pakistan deliberate policies interventions to destabilize Afghanistan throughout these years. Similarly there is an allegation that the US deliberately supported warlords in Afghanistan, they not only did not support the agenda of bringing these culprit warlords to justice, but also largely helped them to gain political and economic power. Now most of these warlords are major threats to the security in Afghanistan. Several of them lead drug economy and mafia in the country and are involved in killing, corruption, money laundering and breaching the rule of law. Looking at these, one can say that the US deliberately wanted to keep these war lords for the rainy day. There are even allegations that the US created Daiish (ISIS or ISIL) or they allowed the Daiish to be created. The former President of Afghansitan, Karzai has recently talked about this allegation with Aljazeera TV.
Some Afghans and central Asian countries including Russia think that the US created ISIS to destabilize the central Asia. However the US government has strongly repudiated such allegations.
14. No Appropriate State Building Strategy
Hamid Karzai as a president for the second time was a perverse mistake by the U.S. I understand that Karzai was not an indiscriminate and arbitrary choice for the US. I am pretty sure that the US might have debated Karzai selection for in the White House. I believe that the US should have found an alternative after the first term of president Karzai. Opposite to what US is saying that Karzai was the only game in town, the US could easily find another suited person to lead the country after the first term of Karzai.
The problem with Karzai was that he was supporting northern alliance and has never tried even thinking about reforms in the government. He was a mere accommodator who never wanted bring reforms which was a pernicious strategy to sustain in power. It is important to note that successful counterinsurgencies require effective and legitimate local partners, but US never could find one in Afghanistan. Also White House was never able to build an effective process and systems within Afghan government. They didn’t give importance to good governance in Afghanistan and actually reinforced the insurgents in some way or other and led to wastage of the US’s resources in Afghanistan which greatly exacerbate the situation further for the US to win the war in Afghanistan.
15. The Fundamental Mismatch
The existence of fundamental mismatch between the US interest (still unknown) and its stated goals (state building, peace and prosperity and nation building for Afghanistan) was one of the rudimentary reasons that the US failed in Afghanistan. For wining the war like the one in Afghanistan a clear mission with nicely drawn strategy and effective system with trusted local partners is required.
16. Failure in Oversight of Corruption
The US have poured billions of dollars in projects in Afghanistan however with no or inadequate oversight. They have always passed the buck towards Afghan government, but in reality they manage the funds poorly. The Watchdog group Transparency International rates Afghanistan one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. This in many cases fueled corruption in Afghanistan which ultimately undermined American’s mission in Afghanistan. But the question is when you inject billions of dollars in a small, underdeveloped and failed state like Afghanistan without system and effective oversight, what could be expected? For sure it will end up expanding corruption. A quite large number of studies show that even the US and other expats were also involved in corruption. There are also allegations that US deliberately wanted to make some people corrupt and diluted because of their hidden interests. Anyhow, Afghanistan is now among the most corrupt states in the world and US and Afghan government couldn’t do a lot to bring transparency in this country. Corruption becomes one of the major challenges before Afghan government which even threat the security and state building mission in Afghanistan.
17. Formation of Unity Government
When you export democracy to a country like Afghanistan, things will not go right because democracy needs culture, rigorous processes, systems and mechanisms to function properly. When the 2014 elections in Afghanistan went wrong, the US could identify the problem and support the democracy. While it didn’t happen, Washington has taken the easiest way and formed a unity government and reprimanded president Ghani’s proposal to establish a strong government. This was one of the most strategic mistakes the US committed in Afghanistan. It not only reflected the lame of the US commitment to democracy in Afghanistan, but also destroyed the 14 years of fragile democratic system of Afghanistan. This solution was also totally unconstitutional.
18. Lack of Regional Cooperation
At no point Washington tried to achieve regional cooperation and consensus. The US only focused on Pakistan and Pakistan was not a worthy ally to U.S. Countries like Iran, India, Russia and China could contribute a lot in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. Some people think that the reason why Washington didn’t involve regional powers was because they were not committed to their goals in Afghanistan and had an ax to grind.
For the past few years, the US is trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan, however it cannot because its hegemony and international reputation is totally at stake. It is because almost all the US recent interventions in countries created crisis for those countries. The joint efforts of US which started with the Mujahedeen forces in defeating and driving Al Qaida and Taliban forces out of the country has been a massive failure.
Today a considerable percentage of the land is under Taliban’s control and it is a big embarrassment for Afghan government and its strategic allies especially the US. Today, it seems that Afghanistan is sinking back into a quagmire of chaos; an atmosphere which encourages insurgent forces such as ISIS and resurgent Taliban. Corruption, mafia and warlords are threatening the rule of law and the situation of Afghanistan has been worsening overtime.In the heart of state building the US strategy is still ‘Ruled by Warlord’ which further raises doubts on the US intention of bringing peace, stability and prosperity to Afghanistan. Corruption was not a head before 9/11, today it is the norm in the country and a huge challenge for the government. It is claimed that the US themselves deliberately wanted the corruption to be a norm in the country. The democracy has been failed and little has been done for good governance in Afghanistan.
With the new administration of the US, and its role in world security and international relations, Washington still has a chance to reconsider its strategies toward wisely resolving issues in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration should realize that sacrificing thousands of civilians and troops lives and spending of billions of dollars and getting nothing, but bleak reports from Afghanistan should not be accepted anymore. The US should know that creation of further conflicts will not only sink back Afghanistan to a huge crisis, but it will also damage the US international hegemony and reputation. Because the world is impatiently waiting at least for one successful mission of the US to preserve its position of the leader of the free world. Although the US knows that, at the end of the day this will be a very pyrrhic victory, still they are avid to continue their mission in Afghanistan. Recently the Trump administration has put pressures on Pakistan government which is indeed a good progress towards understanding the problem in Afghanistan. Afghans largely welcomed such moves from the U.S.
To be successful and end this interminable war in Afghanistan, the US should immediately bring fundamental reforms in Afghanistan. They should focus on improving social participation, they should pour oil on the troubled waters and stop supporting ethnic divisions in Afghanistan. They should try to achieve peace goals by an Afghan process supported by regional countries. They should immediately think about alternative of unity government and restore democracy in the country. Washington should also stop ‘Rule by Warlord’ strategy and create atmosphere for transitional justice in the long run. The US has to reaffirm their stated goals and identified ways to achieve them. Finally Washington must re-evaluate the mistakes they have made in the past, and utilize it as lesson learned to bring peace and stability for the country.
In just three weeks before more than 500 civilians lost their lives and the US wept crocodile tears. The Taliban and Daiish (ISIS or ISIL) are throwing down the gauntlet but the Afghan government and the US administration are watching and present their lame excuses to the people of Afghanistan.
The current situation in Afghanistan is totally a disaster and looking at this one can easily conclude that the US has to seriously revisit their thinking and strategies about Afghanistan. As of now, the US is failed because Taliban seems inexorable. However, nobody can accurately prognosticate the situation in Afghanistan, since it is too complicated. Are these Afghans that are belligerent or other countries invading the country? Will one day Afghanistan once again become a stable state and regain its international glory and reputation? Will the US win this war and should the US eat humble pie for their failure in Afghanistan are some questions which will be answered over the time. Currently the situation in the country is rampantly worsening by passing of each day.
I understand that one swallow does not make a summer, hence I potently believe that the US government will have its own reasons for their failures in Afghanistan. It is quite possible that the US government wouldn’t buy its failures and say that the war in Afghanistan entered to the third phase and it can be by no means considered a failure. Because the fact remain that the US are still fighting. However, the US should revisit their policies and strategies otherwise they will need to swallow a bitter pill and get out of Afghanistan like USSR saying that the grapes were sour.
*Zarif Aminyar is a professor, writer and politician lives in California, USA. He can be reached via [email protected]