U.S. history in Afghanistan dates back seven administrations – SC Times
Imagine a remote, mountainous country that is extremely poor, is largely rural but has few agricultural crops, suffers frequent drought and whose people have a life expectancy of about 45 years.
Imagine also this country being devastated over the past 40 years by a Communist revolution, a Soviet invasion and occupation and a guerilla war fueled by outside forces and you have Afghanistan, who this August went from a semblance of a Western democracy to a fundamentalist Islamic state.
That was the result of the United States removing its military presence in Afghanistan after 20 years spent trying to form an Afghan army capable of defending the country from the various terrorist groups who have swarmed there in past decades.
The U.S. got there in 2001 in search of terrorist Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, in which over 3,000 people died. When Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government didn’t cooperate with handing over bin Laden, coalition forces invaded Afghanistan. They didn’t find bin Laden there (it would take another 11 years and a trip to Pakistan for that) but they did overthrow the Taliban government of the past five years.
While the Taliban became insurgents in the new democratic state, they have since 2015 been battling another Islamic fundamentalist group, ISIS. While both ISIS and the Taliban are Sunni Islamic extremist groups seeking to form authoritarian states run by Sharia law, there are two key differences, according to “What is the difference between the Taliban and Isis?” by Joe Sommerlad in the Sept. 1, 2021, Independent.
The Taliban has been more successful in Afghanistan because it is composed of Afghans and was founded there in 1994, while ISIS attracts Islamic extremists from many countries. The other difference is that ISIS feels the Taliban isn’t strict enough about following traditional Islamic teachings. One area of contention is the opium poppy trade, which ISIS disapproves of but that the Taliban has used to fund their military expenses.
While few Afghans were fond of the Taliban government and its Sharia law, neither were they impressed with the unstable successor in Kabul. Backing up this government was an equally shaky Afghan army.
But nobody expected the Afghan army, reported as 300,000 soldiers, to collapse in 11 days after the American troops pulled out. Many predicted the Afghan army could hold out for weeks, months, even years. But the chronic problems of the Afghan army did them in, as detailed in “The Afghan Army Collapsed In 11 Days. Here Are The Reasons Why” by Tom Bowman and Monika Evestatieva, in an Aug, 20, 2021, National Public Radio story.
Afghan soldiers felt they were treated poorly by their leaders. For example, there were no death benefits; if an Afghan soldier died, there was no help given to his family. Corruption was rampant; Afghan officers took the money given them to buy firewood to keep their troops warm and simply pocketed the money, or bought substandard food with the money supplied for better quality provisions. When corruption was discovered, another equally corrupt officer was appointed to the position.
Some of the Afghan military leaders couldn’t read or write, which meant they had trouble maintaining equipment, ordering supplies or doing paperwork. This is not surprising in a nation with only a 47 percent literacy rate for men. (The women are at 15 percent!)
American soldiers in the field with Afghan soldiers saw these problems firsthand but were not listened to, nor did American reports to Congress citing these issues get heard.
All along, the Taliban fought with Ideological fervor to rid the country of foreign invaders while the Afghan army saw themselves as a tool of the Kabul government, in which they had little faith. In addition, “many Afghans saw the troop withdrawal deal that (then-president) Donald Trump signed with the Taliban in February 2020 as ‘the end’ and that the U.S. left the Afghan military to fall,” according to “How the Afghan Army collapsed under the Taliban’s pressure,” by Max Bot in an Aug. 18, 2021, report of the Council of Foreign Relations.
In the last year, more and more Afghan soldiers defected and the high death rates as well meant the Afghan army was losing 5,000 men a month but only recruiting 300 to 500 new soldiers a month.
With all of this in mind, the United States, like so many countries before, decided to pull out its military presence. Maybe the U.S. should have left earlier, after it had taken out bin Laden and many of his top aides. But the U.S. should acknowledge this is not just a failure of this administration but of every administration back to and including Ronald Reagan, who in the 1980s was supplying arms to the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets and who now are the Taliban who turned Afghanistan into an Islamic state.
— This is the opinion of Times Writers Group member Lois Thielen, a dairy farmer who lives near Grey Eagle. Her column is published on the first Tuesday of the month.