After US withdrawal: Will Afghanistan become Vietnam 2.0?

by Dr Matin Baraki*, Marburg

Prehistory

After the end of the real existing socialism, the “end of history”1 was proclaimed by a writing mercenary of the capitalist system, which emerged victorious from the Cold War, and the New World Order was announced by the highest representative of the USA, George Bush senior, at the end of the US-led war against Iraq in early 1991. Within the framework of the Greater Middle East Strategy (GME) of the neo-conservatives around George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, the entire region of the Middle East, from the Caucasus to North Africa and from there to Bangladesh and the Hindu Kush, was to be brought under the control of the United States. The attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York thus provided just the right occasion to implement the GME strategy.
  With the Taliban regime isolated nationally, regionally and internationally, US fighter jets began bombing Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. After sweeping away the Taliban regime in four weeks, US units moved on to Iraq as early as the beginning of 2003. There, the war was still in full swing when the Taliban, strengthened again, returned.
  The USA and its NATO allies, however, did not succeed in defeating the Taliban, even with the deployment of up to 150,000 soldiers. At its peak, in the years between 2001 and 2014, the war cost USD 1.5 billion every week. Apart from 2500 fallen US soldiers, it was no longer financially viable in the long run. According to a publication by Statista Research Department on 22 March 2021, a total of 3,596 soldiers of the Western alliance lost their lives in Afghanistan between the years 2001 and 2020.2 The USA had to recognise the limits of its military capabilities and accept defeat.
  This also shattered the GME strategy on the mountains of the Hindu Kush. Only then did they negotiate secretly for years and officially for two years with the Taliban in Doha, the capital of the Emirate of Qatar, and sign an agreement in February 2020. Therein, they committed to withdraw their soldiers from Afghanistan by the end of April 2021. With this, the Taliban literally diplomatically pulled the USA over the table and their surrender was contractually sealed. As a consolation, the Taliban [promised] “in a secret annex to the US-Taliban agreement of February 2020 to protect foreign military bases from attacks by other militant groups”3, which they are hardly in a position to do. Nevertheless, in January 2021, the Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai wanted to give the impression of “giving safe passage to a foreign invasion force”4.

Joe Biden’s manoeuvre

The new US President Joe Biden had initially questioned the withdrawal until the end of April 2021 set by former US President Donald Trump and ordered a review of the agreement shortly after taking office. The idea was to talk to the Taliban about postponing the date in order to be allowed to stay in the Hindu Kush “a little longer”5. “You can’t somehow withdraw more than 10,000 soldiers in six weeks”,6 stated Adam Smith, chairman of the Security Forces Committee of the US House of Representatives, on 24 March 2021. At the end of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced: “No final decision has been taken [...]. For the time being, all options remain open.”7 Moreover, a withdrawal by the end of April, as the previous US administration had agreed with the Taliban, could not be guaranteed even for logistical reasons. We will “decide together”8 to leave Afghanistan “when the time is right”,9 said a representative of the US NATO ambassador in Brussels. On 29 March 2021, President Biden stressed that he did not want to put himself under pressure because of the agreed deadline. Yet, he could not imagine having US soldiers stationed in the Hindu Kush next year either. “We will go. The question is when we go,” Biden emphasised.10
  The Taliban, however, insist that the USA must abide by the agreement of February 2020. The Islamists’ spokesperson reported via Twitter that if the Biden administration did not abide by the concluded agreement, “the problems would certainly be intensified as a result, and those who did not abide by the agreement will be held accountable for it”.11 As every year, the Taliban have announced their spring offensive in order to force the USA and NATO to withdraw this year. This would be a de facto expulsion of the world power from the Hindu Kush, and an orderly withdrawal of US and NATO units from Afghanistan would hardly be possible. It threatens to “look more like an escape”, said FDP defence politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann.12 This is precisely the scenario the US wants to avoid at all costs. There must not be a second Saigon.
  US President Biden had to realise, nolens volens, that the USA no longer had any prospects in Afghanistan and on 13 April 2021 ordered the withdrawal of his soldiers for September 2021, as reported by the “Washington Post”. By 11 September, all US units must be unconditionally withdrawn from the Hindu Kush without any consideration from the Taliban.13 “It is time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American soldiers to come home,” President Biden emphasised.14 He pointed out that he was the fourth president to have US units at war in Afghanistan during their term in office. “I will not hand over this responsibility to a fifth.”15 It is hardly possible, Biden stressed, to drag out the war effort “in the hope that at some point the circumstances will be right for an ideal withdrawal”.16 There will never be “ideal conditions”17 for this.
  This is how even a loser can articulate his defeat in a comforting way. “The defeat of the West is so comprehensive that the Taliban do not even have to participate in peace talks for appearances’ sake. The foreign forces are now leaving almost head over heels.”18 There are no plans for a farewell ceremony for the 10,000 NATO and 1,100 Bundeswehr soldiers (German army).19 The withdrawal of NATO units from Afghanistan officially began on 1 May 2021.
  What happens to the foreign mercenaries operating in Afghanistan on behalf of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other NATO intelligence services? Assadullah Walwalgi, an expert on military affairs in Kabul, estimates that there are about 40,000 mercenaries under contract to about 50 different, mostly US military companies,20 who “do the dirty work”.21 There is no mention of their departure or withdrawal anywhere.

“Together in, together out”?

This slogan of the Federal Minister of Defence Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is more than an untruth. “Truth is something so precious that politicians use it only very sparingly.”22 For since the incorporation of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), Germany’s political and military class has once again harboured great power ambitions. This is clearly evident from the Defence Policy Guidelines for the Portfolio of the Federal Minister of Defence of 26 November 1992, 21 March 2003 and 18 May 2011, as well as from the 2004 and 2006 White Papers on Germany’s Security Policy and on the Situation and Future of the Bundeswehr. The border of Germany’s defence is no longer the one prescribed by the Constitution (Art. 87a) – the operational area is the whole world.
  Remarkable is the Berlin speech of the then Federal President Roman Herzog at the Hotel Adlon on 26 April 1997, in which he emphatically referred to Germany’s great power ambitions: “A great global race has begun: World markets are being redistributed, as are the chances for prosperity in the 21st century. We must now start a race to catch up.”23
  Afghanistan was also once again, now for the third time, included as a chessboard for Germany’s global ambitions. However, a suitable occasion was awaited. 11 September 2001 was an excellent opportunity for this. If it had not existed, it would have had to be invented. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) announced Germany’s unrestricted solidarity with the United States of America. Against this background, the “case of alliance” was declared for the first time, in accordance with Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. “We must also not forget: It was not least Germany that pushed the NATO to make Afghanistan a NATO operation in 2002. That was the Schröder/Fischer government,” explained the former Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, Klaus Naumann.24 This opened up the possibility for Germany’s political and military class to participate in the war against Afghanistan.25
  The militarisation of German foreign policy created the preconditions for the pithy formulation of the Social Democratic Federal Minister of Defense, Peter Struck, after the adoption of the Defense Policy Guidelines in the spring of 2003: “German security is being defended in the Hindu Kush”,26 a sentence that has been quoted again and again. “The sentence is one of the most foolish sentences in German postwar history,”27 remarked Heribert Prantl, then head of the domestic policy department of the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. Struck’s statement is also wrong because the Taliban have only a regional agenda. They are not international terrorists and “do not want to attack Hamburg and New York”.28 Germany’s military” engagement” in the Hindu Kush, on the one hand, militarised German foreign policy and, on the other, opened the door for future worldwide operations of the Bundeswehr.
  In its 20-year military “engagement” in the Hindu Kush, the Federal Republic of Germany has had a total of 160,000 soldiers in combat, most recently 1,100. 59 soldiers have paid for this with their lives.29 This Bundeswehr mission has cost more than 12 billion euros since 2001. This was reported by the Federal Foreign Office in response to a question from the Die Linke parliamentary group in the Bundestag.30 Even if one were to assume that this sum has doubled, one would not be wrong. This is because the German government does not specify all expenditures.
  Despite the financial and human losses, the current German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) believes that “it has not been in vain”31 and announced further German political and financial involvement in the Hindu Kush. “The peace process needs a new diplomatic push,” Maas said.32 For the current year, the FRG has promised 430 million euros “and the same amount for the years until 2024”.33 But the disbursement is made dependent on how the “peace process” between representatives of the Kabul administration and the Taliban will develop. Whether the federal government would also cooperate with a Taliban government is not clearly stated. This is because “as early as January [2021], American considerations had become public about forming a transitional government for Afghanistan that included the Taliban.”34
  Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was also cautiously optimistic about the Taliban’s future strategy. He said that they “have understood that Afghanistan has changed. And that they have to accept this change.”35 Since the Taliban leadership always coordinates its strategy with the Pakistani government, it may be that it would consider this reality in addition to its military strength.

Women’s rights as an alibi

In Afghanistan, the US imperial power has from the beginning been concerned neither with women’s rights nor with human rights, let alone with Afghanistan itself, but only for their strategic interests in the region, for the encirclement of the Russian Federation and regime change in Iran. The country in the Hindu Kush was turned into an unsinkable aircraft carrier by the USA. Now, however, the framework conditions have changed and with it the priorities of US strategy. In the foreseeable future, the People’s Republic of China will be able to catch up with the USA, if not overtake it economically, but also militarily.
  At the end of 2017, the US “National Security Strategy” classified the People’s Republic of China as a “strategic rival”. The USA will now also try to militarily surround the People’s Republic of China under President Biden and to, if not prevent, at least delay the country’s rise to a future world power. Former US President Barack Obama and his Vice President Joe Biden had already called for a US-led Pacific Century in November 2011. This strategy is clearly directed against the People’s Republic of China. To realise this option, the USA has already forged regional military alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the nuclear power India. The regional conflict over the South China Sea, of which the People’s Republic of China claims 80 % for itself and has even occupied individual islands, citing “historical arguments going back as far as two thousand years”, could be instrumentalised by the USA as leverage for a larger conflict against China.
  Afghanistan has been written off for the time being. The USA wants to concentrate its forces on what will be an important geostrategic region. An Asian century is beginning. The place where supremacy is being fought for is the Pacific Ocean region. The forces in and around Afghanistan are being withdrawn precisely to build a bulwark against China on the Pacific.

Balance Sheet of a Disaster

Twenty years of US and NATO war have caused “devastation”36 in Afghanistan. “The noble claims of the past, the stabilisation and democratisation of the country, have been forgotten. And the balance sheet is a disgrace for the superpower that will certainly reverberate: More than 2,000 Americans have lost their lives in the Hindu Kush. In addition, there are at least 100,000 dead Afghan civilians.”37 According to a report by the news channel TOLO-TV on 18 April 2021, 160,000 people are believed to have died since 2001, according to counts by the Afghan and US governments and the UN.38 In addition, “66,000 Afghan security forces, four thousand international soldiers and 80,000 Islamists” have been killed.39 In addition to this, corruption, nepotism, ethnic fragmentation, drug cultivation and trafficking, demonstration of power and even kidnappings (there was talk of a kidnapping industry by 1st Vice President Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim under the US-imposed President Hamid Karzai) were the order of the day due to the cooperation and direct support of the warlords by the NATO countries. The entire state apparatus, both the judiciary and the executive and the legislature, as well as the security agencies, are completely contaminated with the virus of corruption. Forced prostitution to get posts is commonplace at the highest levels. Posts are traded like at a bazaar. The posts with the highest corruption potential pay the most. Ambassadorial posts are offered for up to 40,000 US dollars.
  Of course, girls can attend school, but the graduates hardly find jobs. The elite have long since transferred their dollars to banks in Dubai and are now sitting on packed suitcases. Those who can, are leaving the country. Already in 2020, “more than three hundred women journalists have given up their jobs or left the country altogether”.40 These women have the most enemies: the government, the warlords, the Taliban and also NATO. “There is a great risk that the Taliban will want to seize power in Afghanistan again after the withdrawal of the USA. This is also indicated by the increase in violence. The population will suffer the most, not least women and girls. The USA bears a great responsibility for this development. The invasion 20 years ago was based on false expectations. Moreover, in all these years, it has not succeeded in providing stability and rebuilding the country. A stable and democratic Afghanistan will probably remain a utopia”, stated the Swedish newspaper “Skånska Dagbladet”.41

What will become of Afghanistan?

At the beginning of 2021, experts from the Afghanistan Study Group, appointed by the US Congress, warned that “an ill-considered withdrawal could lead to a ‘collapse’ in Afghanistan.”42 Such a “perspective is a disaster for the USA and its allies in Berlin, London and Paris”.43 The withdrawal date of the US and NATO units is now fixed. Why should the Taliban negotiate with the Kabul side at all? They “only have to wait a few months before they blow the whistle on Kabul”.44 This is factual proof of “the failure of the West in this war” in the Hindu Kush.45
  “Only when one knows all the factors is a scientific prediction in the true sense possible.”46 We know much, but not everything, about US strategy in and around Afghanistan. Nevertheless, one could assume the following options:

  1. Immediately after the withdrawal of NATO units, the Afghan political and military elite could take flight, preferring a quiet and nice life in exile rather than getting involved in another war with the Taliban; then the Taliban would be the sole rulers of the country, as they were from 1996 onwards.
  2. If the US administration succeeded in winning the Taliban over to a coalition government with the Kabul administration by making a variety of financial and developmental offers, a relatively smooth transformation by Afghan standards could take place.
  3. If this does not succeed, it is very likely that there will be a civil war like the one in 1992, when Kabul was largely destroyed and more than 50,000 people lost their lives.
  4. After us, the deluge. The USA does not seem to have a plan B for Afghanistan. At least they have not revealed one so far. In my opinion, it would be absolutely necessary to deploy a UN blue-helmet force, consisting of the non-aligned states and the Organisation of Islamic States, which should replace the NATO units and, for once, be equipped with a robust mandate, in order to ensure peace for a transitional phase until the inner-Afghan conditions have stabilised.  •


1 The term End of History was put into the world by the political scientist Francis Fukuyama in an article published in The National Interest in the summer of 1989 and in a book entitled The End of History and the Last Man in 1992.
2 As of March 2021, cf. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/2006/umfrage/gefallene-oder-verunglueckte-soldaten-der-westlichen-koalition-in-afghanistan/
3 “Die Nato zieht ab, die Taliban greifen an” (Nato withdraws, the Taliban attack), In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 3 May 2021, p. 5
4 Meier, Christian. “Was wollen die Taliban?” (What do the Taliban want?), In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 30 April 2021, p. 3
5 USA bitten um Aufschub (USA asks for postponement). Reuters, 25 March 2021
6 “USA bitten um Aufschub” (USA asks for postponement). Reuters of 25 March 2021
7 “Nato: Alle Optionen offen in Afghanistan” (All options open in Afghanistan). In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 23 March 2021, p. 5
8 “Nato: Alle Optionen offen in Afghanistan” (All options open in Afghanistan). In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 23 March 2021, p. 5
9 “Nato: Alle Optionen offen in Afghanistan” (All options open in Afghanistan). In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 23 March 2021, p. 5.
10 Matern, Tobias. “In der Defensive” (On the defensive). In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 30 March 2021, p. 7
11 “Nato beginnt mit Abzug aus Afghanistan” (Nato begins withdrawal from Afghanistan) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 15 April 2021, p. 1
12 “Früherer Afghanistan-Abzug?” (Earlier withdrawal from Afghanistan?) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 22 April 2021, p. 5
13 Cf. Gutschker, Thomas. “Bedingungsloser Abzug” (Unconditional withdrawal) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 16 April 2021, p. 1.
14 “Nato beginnt mit Abzug aus Afghanistan” (Nato begins withdrawal from Afghanistan) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 15 April 2021, p. 1.
15 Brössler, Daniel/Kolb, Matthias: “Wenn einer geht, gehen alle” (If one goes, they all go) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 15 April 2021, p. 7
16 Brössler, Daniel/Kolb, Matthias: “Wenn einer geht, gehen alle” (If one goes, they all go) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 15 April 2021, p. 7
17 Gutschker, Thomas: “Bedingungsloser Abzug” (Unconditional withdrawal) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 16 April 2021, p. 1.
18 Carstens, Peter. “Eine Abschiedsfeier ist nicht geplant” (A farewell party is not planned) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 24 April 2021, p. 8 The USA had invited the Taliban to a peace conference in Istanbul on 24 April 2021. The Islamists had no interest in this and refused to participate.
19 cf. Carstens, Peter. “Eine Abschiedsfeier ist nicht geplant” (A farewell party is not planned) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 24 April 2021, p. 8; “Return in July instead of September” In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 22 April 2021, p. 5.
20 cf. Gerner, Martin. “Das Geschäft mit der Sicherheit” (The business with security) In: Der Tagesspiegel of 28 October 2010; Michelis, Helmut. “Afghanistan – Krieg der Söldner” (Afghanistan – War of the Mercenaries). In: Rheinische Post of 18 November 2010.: https://rp-online.de/politik/afghanistan-krieg-der-soeldner_aid-12561151
21 Heilig, René. “Von Lügen getragen” (Carried by Lies). In: Neues Deutschland of 17/18 April 2021, p. 4.
22 This was once aptly said by the US writer Mark Twain.
23 Bissinger, Manfred (ed.). Stimmen gegen den Stillstand – Roman Herzogs “Berliner Rede” und 33 Antworten (Voices against standstill – Roman Herzog’s “Berlin speech” and 33 responses) 2nd ed. Hamburg 1997, p. 28; www.bundespraesident.de. (as typescript in the author’s archive).
24 Naumann, Klaus. In: Deutschlandfunk interview of 2 July 2009 (typescript).
25 Cf. Struck, Peter. “Mögliches Einsatzgebiet ist die ganze Welt” (Possible area of operation is the whole world). In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 14 January 2004, p. 1.
26 O-Ton Peter Struck, Federal Minister of Defence: Topics of the Day, HR 1, 18 December 2003, 22:07; O-Ton Peter Struck: Mittagseche (Midday Echo), WDR 5 of 13 January 2004, 13:35
27 Prantl, Heribert. “Krieg und Wahlkampf” (War and election campaign) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 8 September 2009, p. 4.
28 Schwennicke, Christoph. “Die Qual der alten Krieger” (The agony of the old warriors) In: Der Spiegel, No. 24/2010 of 14 June 2010, p. 91
29 Cf. Brössler, Daniel. “Es ist nicht umsonst gewesen” (It has not been in vain), In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 30 April–2 May 2021, p. 10.
30 Cf. Afghanistan-Einsatz kostete 12 Milliarden Euro (Afghanistan mission cost 12 billion euros), dpa of 18 April 2021.
31 Brössler, Daniel. “Es ist nicht umsonst gewesen” (It has not been in vain) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 30 April–2 May 2021, p. 10.
32 “Maas sichert Afghanistan weitere Hilfe zu” (Maas assures Afghanistan of further aid) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 30 April 2021, p. 1.
33 Brössler, Daniel. “Es ist nicht umsonst gewesen” (It has not been in vain) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 30 April–2 May 2021, p. 10.
34 Gutschker, Thomas. et al. “Augen zu und raus” (Eyes closed and out) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 15 April 2021, p. 3
35 Meier, Christian. “Was wollen die Taliban?” (What do the Taliban want?) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 30 April 2021, p. 3
36 Wetzel, Hubert. “Verwundete Seele” (Wounded soul) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 19 April 2021, p. 4
37 Gutschker, Thomas. et al. “Augen zu und raus” (Eyes closed and out) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 15 April 2021, p. 3
38 Cf. Matern, Tobias. “Die Truppen gehen, die Angst bleibt” (The troops leave, the fear remains) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 19 April 2021, p. 7.
39 Wiele, Jan. “Ein Trauerfall” (A case of mourning) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 17 April 2021, p. 11
40 Wiele, Jan. Ein Trauerfall. (A case of mourning). In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 17 April 2021, p. 11
41 Skånska Dagbladet, Malmö, Sweden of 10 May 2021.
42 Brössler, Daniel. “Wenn einer geht, gehen alle” (When one goes, they all go). In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 15 April 2021, p. 7.
43 Matern, Tobias. “Der Krieg bleibt” (The war remains) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 15 April 2021, p. 4.
44 Frankenberger, Klaus-Dieter: “Nach zwanzig Jahren” (After twenty years) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 15 April 2021, p. 1
45 Matern, Tobias. “Schadensbegrenzung” (Damage limitation) In: Süddeutsche Zeitung of 30 March 2021, p. 4
46 Bernal, John Desmond. Die soziale Funktion der Wissenschaft (The Social Function of Science). Cologne 1986, p. 408

(Translation Current Concerns)

* Dr phil. Matin Baraki, born in Afghanistan in 1947, worked there as a teacher before coming to Germany. Today he is an expert on Afghanistan and development policy and a member of the Centre for Conflict Research as well as a lecturer in international politics at the Philipps University of Marburg.

 

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