The US withdrawal from Afghanistan was a dramatic failure and, I believe, the first of several dominos about to fall. No amount of money and weapons could subjugate one of the least developed of the West Asian countries. The installed puppet regime could not last more than a few days after US withdrawal and the whole world saw at Kabul airport just how ruthlessly the US occupation would abandon its collaborators. Importantly, the Taliban dominated and devastated country left behind has clearly signaled it will not be used as a base to destabilize either China or Iran. That is a further slap in the face for US ambitions.
The Afghan army was trained by the Americans. It was armed with U.S.-made vehicles and the government was on international bankrolling. However, the government and army collapsed within a couple of weeks and failed to confront the Taliban. Indeed, the Afghan Army of the installed regime was neither trained nor motivated to be a force for defense of the country, but rather to remain subordinate in technology and command to the occupation forces. Just as the Iraqi army failed in the face of DAESH in 2014 (until Hashid al Shaabi was formed), so the Afghan puppet regime forces collapsed very rapidly in 2021, facing patriots (whatever else we might think of the Taliban) who had expelled a great foreign army from their country.
The lesson should be that no foreign occupation power either wants, or is capable of forming, a patriotic defense force. Remember how, when Iraq was under great threat from DAESH, the US withheld fighter jets which had already been purchased by the Maliki government? Expect nothing but treachery from an occupation power.
Iraq invasion is another US failure in the world. Iraq never posed a threat to the USA, except in the sense that the Saddam Hussein regime was a ‘loose cannon’, not fully embedded in the US dream of a subservient Middle East region, controlled by its lieutenants the Israelis and the Saudis. From the early 1990s onwards (in the absence of its rival the USSR) the US oligarchy began to believe it had a chance to destroy all independent political will in that region.
As we know from General Wesley Clark, after the invasion of Afghanistan there was a Pentagon plan to overthrow the governments of seven countries. That was the ‘New Middle East’ plan spoken of by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem in 2006, just before the failed Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Yet in its arrogance the US seems only capable of learning by failure. It has recognised its failure in Afghanistan and it knows very well that it is also failing in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
I believe Afghanistan, devastated by the occupation and war, will pass through a difficult period. The country is emerging from another colonial period. It has the good fortune of China’s offer of reconstruction assistance, presumably mainly in infrastructure. The Taliban has changed in the last 20 years but it is not yet clear to what extent. The key problem has been its vicious sectarianism, and there have been some recent sectarian killings. On the other hand it has recruited leaders from some other (non-Pashtun) Afghan communities, notably Tajik and Hazara. It has also pledged to allow women to remain in the workforce and in the professions. All this remains to be seen.
However they have also spoken in depth with their two big neighbors, China and Iran (relations with Pakistan are long standing), and clearly the Taliban have an interest in maintaining goodwill there, for future development. But responsible, indigenous social structures have been set back decades by the occupation. Only Washington and its collaborators, out of spite, want to see civil war in Afghanistan. All the country’s neighbors want to see an inclusive regime, without civil war; but I suspect this will be long and difficult process. Most importantly, it must be carried out by the Afghan people.