The US withdrawal from Afghanistan was a mistaken exercise that left the Government of the Republic of Afghanistan exposed and at the mercy of the Taliban, writes Christopher Pyne.
Since 1980, the Taliban have now defeated the United States and its coalition and Russia. Not bad for a junky, ragged bunch of guards.
What does this mean for the United States and the West, and what is happening now?
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan was a mistaken exercise that left the Government of the Republic of Afghanistan exposed and at the mercy of the Taliban.
The Afghan army was isolated in garrisons scattered across the country, which had been cut off by the Taliban months before the collapse of the Afghan government as the Taliban took control of the road network and border crossings.
Without the revenue from customs duties levied at official government border crossings, the Afghan Ministry of Finance was starved of funds and unable to supply and in some cases even pay its military.
While the United States continued to support aircraft, maintenance and upkeep of military platforms and hold large airfields, the Afghan government was able to keep in touch with its commanders and soldiers and keep the Taliban away. When the United States withdrew this support, Afghan morale completely collapsed. Once morale goes, it is a quick slip to defeat. That’s exactly what happened.
Knowing that the garrisons were isolated, the Taliban handled the situation wisely. They surrounded the garrisons and sent in a trusted local to tell the Afghan soldiers, many of whom were half starved and devoid of hope, that if they surrendered, they would live, but if they did not, everyone would be slaughtered. It was not a difficult choice for men who felt neglected by their own government and abandoned by their allies.
The Afghan government in Kabul was unaware of how serious the situation in the country had become and was governed as a World Bank government, while the Taliban won victories in the field, the bureaucrats in Kabul fussed about the UN Millennium Development Goals! I am not sure that the new government in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be too concerned about achieving the Millennium Development Goals, despite their obvious merits.
The Afghan commandos were ready to fight and hold Kabul. But with US promises to carry out airstrikes and support the Afghan military, which is not equivalent to ‘a hill of prayers’, and their president’s late night flight from the capital and the country, the collapse was inevitable.
“This is a humiliating defeat on the battlefield of the West.”
This is the opinion of the Australian anti-insurgency expert, Dr. David Kilcullen, who is currently based in the US, who is joining me this week on Global focus on Sky News.
Kilcullen also describes the characterization of the Afghan military since the collapse as unwilling to fight for their country as “nausea”. The truth is that the United States promised to support the Afghan government and the military and withdrew that support almost from one day to the next, leaving the Afghan people at the mercy of the Taliban.
It is a gloomy and confrontational assessment.
The consequences will be lasting.
Kilcullen believes the West’s defeat in Afghanistan will put the war on terror back a decade because terrorist groups around the world will see the Taliban defeat the world’s superpower. They will question the impact of technology and extraordinary missile and air power against a hidden, agile and committed ground-based enemy. They will reject the promises the United States makes to its opponents, and instead believe that the West cannot sustain a long-term conflict.
Kilcullen reveals further Global focus that he was in Kabul meeting with Taliban leaders during a negotiation process that evening, when former President Barack Obama declared that there would be an increase in coalition forces, but also announced the end of the offensive scheduled for July 2011.
As Kilcullen tells the story: “The Taliban guys started laughing and one of them said to me, ‘Are you trying to lose weight … we’ll go out on the streets tomorrow and we’ll ask people, hey, maybe you could like Americans, but they travel in July, what are you going to do in August. “
That’s a compelling point.
The future is uncertain for the Taliban and Afghanistan. History tells us that they are not a single entity, but a pluralistic and in many ways disparate group. Without a foreign presence on their land to unite them, there is no telling how long the current faltering alliance of common interests will last.
There are, of course, persistent elements of the former Afghan government that endure in the Panjshir Valley. The Northern Alliance remains a strong military force and has not yet been included in peace talks.
There are moderate and extreme Taliban groups with divergent views on how the country should be run, whether girls should be educated or women should be allowed to work.
None of these issues have yet been resolved and the country is always a drought or financial collapse from a humanitarian catastrophe.
One thing is for sure, the West has lost all leverage there. We are completely incapable of influencing the direction of the new government and will have to rely on their generosity for the continued repatriation of Afghans who have dual citizenship or the right to work elsewhere.
After listening to David Kilcullen, it is easy to conclude that the exit from Afghanistan has not been our finest hour.
Hon Christopher Pyne is a former Secretary of Defense and a longtime member of the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament.
Watch Global Focus with Christopher Pyne every Sunday at 17.30 AEDT on Sky News Australia. Watch Foxtel and stream on Flash.