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The Taliban's Dramatic Military Victory
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Now that President Joe Biden has pulled the U.S. military out of Afghanistan, it’s clear that we have little to show for more than $2 trillion and thousands of soldiers killed over two decades of occupation. We will soon be back where we were on Sept. 10, 2001, when the Taliban governed Afghanistan.

Afghan government troops have neither the will nor the training to protect their corrupt leaders in Kabul. The defeat of an Afghan government sinking in passivity and denial will occur within weeks or months.

Soldiers of the regime installed by the administration of President George W. Bush that were propped up by his successors are deserting and fleeing across the border to Tajikistan. Taliban troops have surrounded and briefly taken over both Kunduz, a city whose wobbly back-and-forth allegiances make it an Alsace-like wartime bellwether, and Herat, long considered unconquerable because it was controlled by Ismail Khan, a former Northern Alliance warlord long considered the nation’s fiercest and most competent opponent of the Taliban. The Taliban can and will return for good.

They recently captured key border crossings with Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. The Iran border post alone generates about $20 million per week in customs duties — revenue that now belongs to the Taliban.

Kabulis await the inevitable triumph of the Taliban, resigned to whatever fate awaits them.

Even the tongue-shaped Badakhshan province on the remote northeastern border of China is “on the verge of falling completely” to the Taliban. Badakhshan was the Northern Alliance’s last redoubt, the only section of the country that successfully resisted the Taliban when the militants ruled between 1996 and 2001.

Media coverage about the coming transition will focus on the plight of women, the role of ISIS, reprisals and the return and style of Sharia. What will be lost but deserves to be noted as well is that the Taliban have just achieved a stunning military victory.

Never in recent history, not even in Vietnam or in Afghanistan against the British in the 19th century, has a rural guerilla army achieved such a dramatic defeat against a colossus that held every military, political and economic advantage.

With the most sophisticated fighter jets in the world, hundreds of cruise missiles and a huge fleet of assassination drones, the U.S. enjoyed complete dominance of the skies throughout the war. The Taliban didn’t have a single plane. Whereas the Viet Cong were enthusiastically armed and trained by China and fought alongside the nation-state of North Vietnam, poorly sourced reports allege that the Taliban may have received — at best — sporadic, extremely limited support from Iran and Russia. They were forced to live underground, constantly hiding from American forces.

ORDER IT NOW

Not only did the Taliban win a protracted war against the world’s biggest superpower, but that superpower is leaving them a brand-new nation built from the ground up. Twenty years ago, Afghanistan was a failed state with 14th-century infrastructure. Roads, all unpaved, didn’t even have names. There was no electricity, phones, sewage or running water. There wasn’t even a banking system.

The United States is leaving them $8 billion worth of roads and highways, a $1 billion power grid, dams, canals, levees, drainage systems, bridges, tunnels, airports, the internet, you name it. Eighty-five percent of the country’s population is covered by cellphone service; that’s not even true of the Hamptons.

We have gifted the Taliban $36 billion in infrastructure spending.

You’re welcome.

Military historians will study the Taliban insurgency for years to come. In the meantime, empires such as the U.S. and resistance movements such as the Taliban can each draw important lessons.

Whether they are an indigenous movement such as the Taliban resisting foreign invasion or a revolutionary organization seeking to overthrow a domestic government, anyone who seeks to take on a state with superior manpower, training and weapons should take the failure of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as proof that an inferior force need not be intimidated by such daunting disparities. From the revolutions in France, Russia and China to the anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Asia, many notable regime changes have succeeded despite the odds. If you have the support of the people and relentless dedication to fight steadfastly through countless setbacks, you can prevail in an asymmetric conflict. This is particularly true if your adversary is foreign and requires domestic political will to maintain long and expensive supply lines.

Big powers like the U.S. can impose their will overseas within limits. It is possible to imagine an alternative scenario in which the U.S. might have succeeded in Afghanistan. First and foremost, the United States should have allowed Afghans, a fractious people united only by their opposition to foreign domination, to choose their own leaders rather than sidelining the exiled king at the 2002 Loya Jirga. Installing Hamid Karzai, a paid CIA operative, as president was a catastrophic misstep. Brazenly interfering with Afghanistan’s internal politics relegitimized the Taliban’s message that Westerners are corrupt and exploitative hypocrites, which exposed our rhetoric about self-determination as hollow.

Allowing democracy to run its course would have been risky but smart. Walking our talk and keeping our thumb off the scale would have outweighed the downside risk that Afghans might have elected the “wrong” leaders.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer,” now available to order.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, American Military, Taliban 
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  1. How much of that $36 billion was raked off in graft.

    Most of it, I bet.

  2. ThhTtaliban is completely defeated —-a job only taking a million Iraqi citizens and 4 trillion dollars. Next comes a real hard nut —to conquor —–

  3. Now they’ll have to run the place, and that may be more difficult than winning the war. But I wish them well.

  4. Ted overlooked a number of issues here.
    Non 1 was the role of Pakistan which has supported the Taliban for decades — weapons, asylum, logistics etc.
    Non 2 — the Taliban had access to a very valuable commodity — opium & it’s main derivative heroin. Of course the whole country exploits heroin, so why not the Taliban?
    Not is the new Taliban the same as the old one.
    These new guys know that their future lies with China, the BRI, russia etc. They know which side their bread is buttered.

  5. Rahan says:

    Whether they are an indigenous movement such as the Taliban resisting foreign invasion or a revolutionary organization seeking to overthrow a domestic government, anyone who seeks to take on a state with superior manpower, training and weapons should take the failure of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as proof that an inferior force need not be intimidated by such daunting disparities. From the revolutions in France, Russia and China to the anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Asia, many notable regime changes have succeeded despite the odds. If you have the support of the people and relentless dedication to fight steadfastly through countless setbacks, you can prevail in an asymmetric conflict.


    Me thinks that in the coming months, if Mr. Rall were to write this in an SMS text message, he’d be fact-checked and fast.

    “Ted Rall falsely claims….”

  6. TG says:

    As has already been pointed out, the Taliban had the support of Pakistan – which the United States was also funding. I mean, we were funding the people who were supporting our enemies? And this is what passes for modern statecraft???

    But as far as infrastructure, not so fast. In 1990, Afghanistan had a population of about 12 million. It was about 22 million in 2000, and getting up on 40 million by 2020. Even if the US investments had not been almost totally consumed by graft, the effective usable infrastructure of Afghanistan per person (such as the availability of fresh water) must have gone down, not up!

    I mean, California’s population has been quadrupled from 1950 to the present day. There has been massive investment in infrastructure of all sorts – but still, the availability of fresh water per capita has been declining, despite no downwards trends in rainfall (yes, really).

    Sure more people can be accommodated as long as there are sufficient investments – but once you no longer have an open frontier, these investments get progressively more and more expensive. $36 billion in infrastructure spending is next to nothing. That’s less than $1,000 per person. You are not going to buy a lot of modern nuclear-powered desalinization plants with that…

  7. anon[980] • Disclaimer says:

    The Taliban should consider filtering internet content if the U.S. left it wide open. That would be a cultural trojan horse left on purpose by the CIA. One really has to fight for the hearts of each generation, because it only takes one bad one to put a nation in a bind.

  8. GayDad69 says:

    The rules of engagement for the war were absurdly forgiving. The implication that because the US Deep State gave up on Afghanistan is misleading because they won’t pussyfoot around when they fight us – the rules of engagement will be actual counter-insurgency as practiced by the Romans, and the British in Ireland vs the Irish and South Africa vs the Boers. Kill all the military aged men you can find, depopulate/despoil the countryside, put civilians in concentration camps and starve them until the insurgents surrender.

    Fun fact: the British invented the concentration camp in their wars against the Boers, which makes me think that God is delighting in the punishment their Pakistani pets are dealing them.

    Anyways, it’s very likely that the US Deep State is also pivoting from overt power to covert power, and seeking to arm insurgents to use them against China. This is why they are abandoning their bases with all those neatly packed military goodies in them – they want to supply any insurgents they can, and they want plausible deniability for any future American-made weapons found on dead insurgents in China – “oh hey, those were looted from those based we abandoned, whoops!”

    I’m not saying that I support this potential gay op, or that I think it will work (it won’t work). I’m just explaining why the US Deep State would inexplicably turn tail and run when their apparent goal of getting military aged American fighting men killed for no good reason was going so well. I guess they’re really scared of China, and worried about political unrest at home.

    If the former, I expect they’ll start arming states that border China to the south. If the latter, they’ll probably move troops out of more bases and station them in the USA in anticipation of real British-style counter-insurgency rather than the “hearts and minds” love taps they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. As an American, I’m not looking forward to it, but that’s what I think will happen.

    • Replies: @J
    , @SaneClownPosse
  9. I would imagine H.R. McMasater’s next book will explain why Afghanistan was actually a victory–but that victory was squandered by Donal Trump and other Republicans.

  10. KA says:

    By the end of bush regime, the war was lost and that it was lost was known to that Moron -In Chief clown who needs to be sent to ICJ. The war was illegal to begin with but the world acted in “good faith” and lent support including Pakistan . War was never limited to or aimed solely at Afghanistan. Along with 7 other countries,Pakistan was also a target but never admitted or said explicitly . War started on Pakistan from the very beginning . Its border’s areas were targeted nonstop from the early days of the war .

    It is incorrect and self -serving for the war -hawks ,for Indian government, for neocons ,for lobbyist to claim that war could have won had Pakistan did not provided help .

    Taliban -2 came on the heels of the corruption and violence unleashed by the conquerer through its paid bribed quisling Karzai just like Taliban -1 came in 1996 to power only after the violence and the corruption had become unbearable for the common people of Afghanistan ruled by Soviet appointee and by the feuding warlords . The difference that lies are 2 fold – Nazibuddin was more patriotic and brave and 2 Pakistan was the place where this resistance took shape .This Taliban-2 is homegrown and regrouped.

    Taliban -1 melted away following Oct 2001 attack . America had the entire country ,NATO had it’s balls ,and the population was entirely behind America +NATO . In reality the entire word was behind America +NATO. That condition lasted another 8 years or so . (Pakistan might have started supporting after 2008 or 2010 ) .But the bastard couldn’t win the war . They couldn’t achieve peace and stability despite 7 billion’s peoples support.

    That 2001-2008 failure or inability rests on the shoulders of NATO+America . War could have been won much cheaply and much quicker instead of the costly insulting defeat . We don’t have any non -NATO nor Non -American actors or factors to blame . Next time America goes to war ,it should first neuter the war lobbyists and war propagandist and then should shut the warmongering platform of countries who want USA stay engaged in the .war. Money and careerism ,loot, booty and luxury without paying for it or suffering for it form the core of these activities . USA should ask why it was defeated or why the war was prolonged . It should ask the neocons .

    Taliban’s rise is as much the product of the religious fervor as it is of the reaction against torture, violence, corruption and patriotism expressed in the language of the religion .

    Pakistan’s covert role is significant for Taliban ’s win but insignificant for USA+NATO’s defeat .

    Pakistan suffered as much Afghanistan did . Karzai never left . Pakistani Karzai—Nawaz Sharif ,Musharaff and Zardari were all ready and prepared to continue the US game within Pakistan and they did with aplomb .Despite all the starts aligned in US-NATO’s favors ,the war of lies ( this is illegal war according to UN ) was lost to the forces of positivities .

  11. SafeNow says:

    The U.S. objectives were achieved: (1) Cram a multitude of soldiers into planes; and (2) Thereby spend a lot of money. An aircraft carrier is another example – – 5,000 sailors and marines, an expensive city of crammed sardines.

  12. R.C. says:

    Excellent! Thanks.
    A suggestion: You would get a LOT more comments and reads if you changed your Unz subtitle away from “A Cartoonist Sketches America.” People routinely bypass you because they don’t come here to read cartoons, and they think that they’re only skipping a cartoon.
    R.C.

    • Replies: @Badger Down
  13. @R.C.

    Agreed! I only blundered in here because it’s about Afghanistan. I always skip cartoons; I find them freakish and disturbing.
    And there’s a duff sentence:

    the tongue-shaped Badakhshan province on the remote northeastern border of China

    It’s nowhere near northeast China. Try southwest.

  14. America would have been much better off if it had just ended all Muslim immigration to the USA, better secured its borders and deported some troublemakers then the two stupid, draining wars with Afghanistan and Iraq. Do not invade the world and do not invite the world.

    • Agree: ruralguy
  15. J says: • Website
    @GayDad69

    If the main adversary is Communist China, it makes sense to stop fighting the Taliban, which is a fanatical Islamist movement and a natural enemy of Communism. The Taliban cannot but sympathize with the Uyghur Muslim rebellion. Since the enemy of my enemy is my friend, they can be turned and work with the CIA. The Chinese South West is populated by Muslim minorities, a growing headache for Beijing.

  16. GayDad69 says:
    @J

    I agree, but it is unlikely that the Taliban will willingly host Uyghur insurgents.

    The Taliban understands exactly what the USA is trying to do because the USA did the same thing before, using the Mujahadeen against the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s. While they may sympathize with the Uyghurs, China needs trade routes through Afghanistan and central Asia. China will do a lot to please whoever runs Afghanistan, and if the Taliban has any sense they’ll persuade their cousins in China to pipe down and get paid by China while the getting is good.

    The Taliban and Afghanis in general do not benefit in any way from another insurgency, or another decade of civil war. That they went out of their way not to kill Shia and non-Pashtun, and that they are apparently a pan-Islamic Afghan nationalist movement, demonstrates that they are very wise and that they have a help in figuring out how to extricate themselves from the USA’s schemes diplomatically from Russia, China, Iran, and their other neighbors.

    China understands poverty, war, drug abuse, exploitation, and colonization. There are also several other Muslim ethnic groups in China – both Sinocized and not – who can help negotiate peace in Afghanistan and deescalate tensions with the Uyghurs.

    Furthermore, the actual Deep State assets are Al Qaeda and Islamic State. Everyone who isn’t clueless knows this, and those guys stick out like a sore thumb compared to the fairly normal looking Taliban.

    I doubt that the US Deep State’s schemes for a Muslim insurgency in China will work out, for the reasons stated above and because the Deep State is busy purging all competent people (straight white Christian men) from the US military, intelligence services, and all power centers.

    It’s definitely going to suck dealing with hyperinflation here in the USA, along with open borders, Wall Street bullshit, and rioting niggers/antifa. But if I and mine simply hunker down long enough we can just wait for the retards who cling to power in Washington DC to destroy themselves. The more time they spend backstabbing each other, the sooner they can destroy what’s left of their power base.

    • Thanks: Ann Nonny Mouse
  17. Malla says:
    @J

    P.R China will buy off the Taliban, they are smart that way. Also their Pakistani allies and their secret agency the ISI, have a lot of influence over the Taliban.
    However the CIA (with possible help from Indian secret agency RAW) can cause trouble, lots of American weapons lying around. Last time American weapons were used by ISIS in Iraq/Syria.

  18. Next, US troops out of Iraq. The government and the people want you out.

    • Replies: @Malla
  19. @J

    Chinese Communism is no longer worth fighting! And Talibans may be ignorant, but not fools. Everyone around China is in awe, no one ready to pick a real fight. It will take them two decades more to understand and join the factions inside China; then may be some will be ready to pick a quarrel with China. Not now. Fighting China now is equal to fighting US in 1910 – a country sure of itself as a big power, but not exactly aware how big, while others knew it is too big.

  20. @GayDad69

    Any insurgency in USA will be a fake, created and funded by US Intelligence agencies.

    Just like Antifa, Proud Boys, BLM, Black Panthers, SDS, Weathermen, Hutatree, Symbionese Liberation Army, et al.

    • Replies: @GayDad69
  21. Malla says:
    @Commentator Mike

    Have US troops not left Iraq? I think they did.

    • Replies: @Commentator Mike
  22. Malla says:

    With the most sophisticated fighter jets in the world, hundreds of cruise missiles and a huge fleet of assassination drones, the U.S. enjoyed complete dominance of the skies throughout the war. The Taliban didn’t have a single plane. Whereas the Viet Cong were enthusiastically armed and trained by China and fought alongside the nation-state of North Vietnam, poorly sourced reports allege that the Taliban may have received — at best — sporadic, extremely limited support from Iran and Russia. They were forced to live underground, constantly hiding from American forces.


    America abandoned its strategic ally India in Afghanistan?

    According to Lieutenant General Tariq Khan, HI(M) of the Pakistan Army, a Pakistani war hero who led the Frontier Corps to victory against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in the Battle of Bajaur in 2009, (25:03 minutes in the video) the Americans have not lost a single tactical battle in Afghanistan, not one. It is just the whole cost of maintaining the operation, the Americans made a political decision as it was not worth it, not a military decision.

  23. Malla says:

    anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Asia,

    Most of those anti-colonial “struggles” had the support of rival Empires like the Kaiserite Germans etc… or the clandestine support of the USA (Wall Street).

    Never in recent history, not even in Vietnam or in Afghanistan against the British in the 19th century, has a rural guerilla army achieved such a dramatic defeat against a colossus that held every military, political and economic advantage.

    This is a myth floating around, the British Empire never had that much trouble handling Afghanistan compared to the USSR and USA later on. Afghanistan was a British protectorate till 1926 and a frontier state against the Tzarist Russian Empire. Afghanistan was never a graveyard of Empire for the British Empire indeed the Brits handled Afghanistan extremely well.
    From the video I posted of Pakistan War hero General Tariq Khan, who is himself of Pathan ancestry BTW, there is a myth of Afghan “Graveyard of Empire” meme floating around by pointing out how both the Sikh Empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the British Empire had repeatedly defeated and humbled the rulers of Kabul when it made Afghanistan a frontier buffer state against the expanding Tzarist Russian Empire up North to protect India.
    (At 16:18 minutes) he says that when we speak about the British Empire, the British went into Afghanistan because they wanted to use Afghanistan as a buffer State against the Russian Empire, which was the Great Game. They went there to put their own guy King Shah Shuja on the throne as the rival royal competitior to the throne, Dost Mohammed was a Tzarist Russia’s proxy. And they succeeded in putting Shah Shuja on the throne in 1839 and they stayed there till 1942. Their Army was destroyed and routed during a withdrawal, suddenly and treacherously attacked by Akbar Khan near Khyber Pass and Jallabad. But it only led to the British Imperial retribution under Frederick Roberts who went up to Kabul and they never left a tree standing, the British took their revenge for this treachery. That was followed by the Second Anglo -fghan War, where the British went in and defeated the Afghans and got the treaty of gandamak where the British gained a lot of territory from the Afghans, like Balochistan. In the Third Afghan war, the Afghans (allied, funded and armed by the Kaiserite German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottomans) attacked British India territory during the WW1. The tactical victory was a British victory and strategic victory was a Afghan victory, as the Afghans could now have their own official foreign policy. Till 1926, Afghanistan was a British protectorate.
    At 18:17 minutes, he talks about the Sikh Empire under Emperor Ranjit Singh taking territory from the Afghans too. Later when the British conquered the Sikh Empire, Abdur Rehman, the Emir of Afghanistan wanted the borders recognized with the British Empire at its borders. So he wrote a letter to Lord Dufferin.It was an Afghan initiative to have a British commission to come down and mark out the territory boundaries which gives us the Durand Line in between Pakistan and Afghanistan today. Abdur Rehman, Emir of Afghanistan wrote a letter to Lord Dufferin who instructed Viceroy of India Lord Lansdowne to go ahead with it. Mortimer Durand who was head of the British border commission went to Kabul.
    The British of the earlier centuries were far more skillful, capable and brave than the idiots we have in Washington today or Moscow in the last days of the USSR.

  24. GayDad69 says:
    @SaneClownPosse

    This sounds like demoralization propaganda.

    I certainly son rise to the bait and talk about such things, regardless of any attempts to demoralize me.

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