The First Mistake – OpEd


Establishment journalists and politicians are despairingly asking: Why did we fail in our well-meaning efforts to help the Afghan people? What were our mistakes?

But they ignore their first mistake: creating the Taliban.

The USA’s attempts to dominate Afghanistan and its resources began 40 years ago when Jimmy Carter in one of his last acts as president approved a CIA plan to overthrow the Afghan government. That government was no more dictatorial than others in the region, and it was implementing most of the humanitarian programs the USA later claimed it wanted to do: Women had equal rights and access to education, the country had freedom of religion and a well-functioning healthcare system. The rural infrastructure was being improved, and the standard of living was increasing. But the government was communist, and that meant it had to go, no matter how many people had to die.

The people most willing to die killing communists were the fanatical Muslims, who hated this secular government. The CIA helped them attack it, starting with raids on outposts and assassinations of local officials. The government asked the Soviet Union for help, and they sent in troops. The CIA stepped up its involvement, recruiting thousands of mujahideen fundamentalists, financing them, turning them into an army, and launching a full-scale war that brutalized the country for ten years and left two million dead, many of those children who starved in all the chaos. All the young people growing up knew was war. Atrocities were their norm, and they duplicated that later when they became Taliban fighters.

Osama bin Laden and others who later formed the al-Qaeda and Taliban were all on the CIA payroll then fighting the communists. After they won the war, it was inevitable they’d take over the country. They were the strongest force.

Once the Taliban were in power, the USA wasn’t concerned they were persecuting women, gays, and non-Muslims. They were just one of the many dictatorships the USA does business with and doesn’t object to.

That changed, however, when the Taliban became anti-capitalist, as they shifted away from a corporate-dominated economy and towards Islamic socialism. That made them a danger to Western interests. The final straw was when they refused to allow a US company to build an oil pipeline through the country.

Suddenly the Western press was full of atrocity stories – some true, some lies – about how terrible the Taliban were. They became monsters who must be destroyed before they take over the world.

The USA invaded with a massive land and air assault, conquered Kabul, and installed a figurehead president who had previously worked for the US company that wanted to build the pipeline. He was their guy, and the pipeline was at the top of his agenda.

The Taliban merged back into the rural population, where they have deep roots. To find and kill them, the USA and its NATO partners unleashed a campaign of terror – house raids, brutal interrogations, drone strikes, infantry sweeps – that divided the rural population into two groups – the dead and the determined. The survivors were filled with the will to resist, and that proved stronger than American bombs and bullets. With the support of the people, 60,000 Taliban fighters triumphed over 300,000 soldiers in the government army and thousands of NATO troops financed by trillions of US dollars. 

The minority who didn’t support the Taliban retreated to Kabul, and now the stories of their trying to flee the country are being used as propaganda to build the myth that the USA, although it unfortunately failed, was trying to do good and defeat evil. But now in the countryside most people are celebrating their victory over mighty America.

This was truly a people’s war, as in Vietnam. The Afghans and Vietnamese proved that the USA can’t win a war against a country in which the majority of the people oppose them. Their victories are a tribute to the strength of the human spirit and a damning judgment of the USA’s attempts to destroy it.

Defeated on earth, the USA is now planning to wage war in space. 

In the meantime, the surviving earthlings have learned a valuable lesson: If you unite, organize, and fight long and hard enough, you will win and free yourself from oppressors, whether it’s the USA or the forces it helped create: the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

*William T. Hathaway is a Special Forces veteran of the US war on Vietnam. He is the author of Radical Peace, People Refusing War, which tells the experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists from the USA, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and of Lila, the Revolutionary, a fable for adults about an eight-year-old girl who sparks a world revolution for social justice:

One thought on “The First Mistake – OpEd

  • September 7, 2021 at 5:28 am

    Taliban may be owned by the Afghani people whose sovereign feelings we must respect, but taliban cant keep on telling the world that they wud have ‘Sharia’, a sharia that is undefined till date and a shariah that is subjective to the people in governance. they havent told of Shura that has to be highly inclusive as mandated by Quran. they havent even declared that they will be guided by the universal values of luv tolerace and humanity exhorted in the Quran. and are they evasive of elections? am not telling is that countries with elections are democratic and that democracy is best form of governance. but afghan governance has a chance to come out with model that weeds out the present failures of democracy and elections found in democracy claiming countries. Further, wud economic interventions from china and ussr allow afghans to retain the socialism factor in the ‘islamic emirates’.


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