By: Francesco Cirillo and Bianca Ferrazza

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

America’s longest war is worth analysing when in possession of an accurate chronology ofevents, from the very start to the newest events.

Tracing the beginning of US involvement in Afghanistan in 2001 might not be the right starting point. Going all the way back to the 1950s would help understanding much more of the conflict. At that time, Afghanistan was invested with many modernizing projects financed from the West in order to rebuild the country into a modern nation state.

Throughout the Cold War period, the US and the Soviet Union, being sworn enemies, would fight over any share of territories that might be useful for their cause. Afghanistan was one of them, representing a strategic area for the Soviets and having been the main actor during the Great Game between UK and Russian forces once century before.

The Cold War fight for Afghanistan initially began with soft war measures, such as investments from both parties, only to result much later in an actual military conflict.

The US and the Soviet both got involved in the modernizing of the country through infrastructure building.

In the 70s, Daoud Khan, then President of Afghanistan, began to establish closer alliances with the URSS. In 1978, the Saur Revolution, a marxists-leninist coup overthrows Khan and gives birth to the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The newly-established government engaged in some progressive policies, such as land redistribution, enhancing gender equality and expanding education. Regardless of their efforts though, they ended up upsetting autonomous leaders. At this point, the U.S. started to fuel some revolutionary groups who did not approve of the communist switch occurring in the country. By deploying money to put a stop to the spreading of communism, engaged in massive fundings of both tribalist and islamic groups well before the Soviet invasion in December 1979.

The period of time that goes from 1979 to 1992 is characterized by massive involvement of US forces in the region resulting in America investing 3 billion dollars, channeled into various mujahideen groups fighting the Afghan regime.

The Reagan administration managed to increase US spending in the country by using lobbies as a couverture (e.g. Afghan American Educational Fund).

In 1999, the United Nations Security Council, in light of the recent events, decided to proceed with the adoption of Resolution 1267. By making this move, the Council aimed at creating the Taliban Sanctions and the al-Qaeda Committee, containing more than 300 names, all identified as suspects.

After the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in the financial district of New York City, the US response was going to fuel the longest ever war fought by the United States of America.

U.S. forces entered Afghanistan in order to proceed with their War on Terror policy, ideated by then-President Bush. Following the Tora Bora cave bombing, in December 2001, where Osama Bin Laden was thought to be hiding, on December 6th the Taliban government was defeated and left Kabul.

Operation Anaconda, a major ground assault launched from the US against al-Qaeda and Talibans, results in a failure. The Pentagon begins to convey US resources (both intelligence and military) in Iraq.

In 2003, the US’s attention completly switches to Iraq, in order to overthrown former President Saddam Hussein, invading the country and leaving the Taliban and other islamist groups the time to regroup in the southern regions of Afghanistan, on the border with Pakistan.

The 2004 elections after the fall of Kabul are considered to be part of the “Reconstructing Afghanistan” project, consisting in various efforts brought alive by countries, ONG and OIG after the U.S. invasion. 

Intensive investments in the country were made after the fall of Kabul. World Bank statistics show huge investments made in the country, with 0,5 billion dollars in 2001 to more than 4,2 billion in 2015.

In the 20 years since 9/11, the US has invested more than 2 trillion on Reconstructing Afghanistan and Nation-Building in the area. That makes it 290$ everyday, for 7.300 days.

Eventually, the money invested in the country went on to fuel a number of projects which in most cases remained incomplete. As for the rest of the money, according to Ryan Crocker, US ambassador in Afghanistan, it has gone into a vortex of endemic corruption.

After Afghanistan’s elections in 2004 and Taliban’s insurgency in the south, the area witnessed an increase in the presence of NATO troops, given the fact that US troops were still deployed in Iraq. This leads to various more insurgencies from the Talibans and to the deployment of British forces.

In 2009, newly-elected President Obama proceeded with the doubling of US troops, bringing the number to 68.000 only to reach 100.000 a year later.

Washingtons intelligence errors regarding Afghanistan, with an eye on Beijing

In the assessments of US intelligence agencies, the scenarios regarding Afghanistan posed a worrying scenario. In the months leading up to August 2021, most intelligence reports analyzed that the Afghan government and its government forces would not be able to offer adequate resistance to the Taliban forces, which in those months were advancing rapidly, without the air or ground support by US or NATO forces.

In early August, according to the Washington Post, the White House received a latest report from its intelligence services which stated that Kabul would only hold up for 90 days.

The report, however, will be denied when between 14 and 15 August the Taliban forces surround and enter Kabul, after the Afghan government, President Ghani himself flees the capital to take refuge in the Arab Emirates, capitulates to the Taliban forces occupying Kabul without any resistance from the government armed and security forces.

In the days after August 15, both US public opinion and NATO itself are surprised by the rapid collapse of the Afghan military forces and the Ghani government, opening up a strong discussion in the corridors of Washington. The Associated Press itself wonders how it is possible that an army of 350,000 men between military and police forces has collapsed, despite the fact that the US has spent about 83 billion dollars on training and training Afghan forces.

However, Biden’s US administration had received worrying signals from Kabul, months before August 15.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken had received internal reports in July from officials at the US Embassy in Kabul, warning of the imminent collapse of Afghan forces.

The errors of assessment, however, were accompanied by the willingness of President Joe Biden to want to withdraw his forces from Kabul, to end the twenty-year war that began in 2001, without considering the consequences of a speeded up withdrawal, which began in early 2021, but confirmed by the Doha agreements of February 2020 ratified by the previous administration led by President Donald J. Trump.

In the plans of the Biden administration, the scenario of the immediate collapse of the government forces in Kabul had been excluded from the beginning, as they assessed that they would be able to counter effective resistance to the Taliban militias, an assessment that the US intelligence itself had not analyzed in depth, given that the forces of Kabul, it appears some units of the Afghan special forces, withdrew from the urban centers, without resisting the advance of the Taliban.

In Washington's assessments of the strategic interests of the new administration, Afghanistan was no longer part of the plans. Washington is now looking to reinforce its forces (economic and politico-military) in the Indo-Pacific area to contain the rise of the People's Republic of China and its aggression, especially in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait area. 

On the Afghan events the same Global Times, the English edition of the main Chinese Communist Party newspaper, stated that Taipei must now reflect on the ability of the United States to protect its allies, both in Europe and in Asia. Even if Washington, on Taiwan, both on the part of the White House and on the part of the Congressional leadership, the ideas are clear and precise.