Friday, Jun 14, 2024 | Last Update : 04:39 AM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  08 Oct 2021  Saeed Naqvi | US doesn’t really want to know why it lost in Kabul

Saeed Naqvi | US doesn’t really want to know why it lost in Kabul

The writer is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi
Published : Oct 9, 2021, 1:55 am IST
Updated : Oct 9, 2021, 1:55 am IST

The macabre headlines about US Marines urinating on a pile of dead Afghans made Page One in many newspapers

Not only did the Afghan Army not fire a shot, in places it virtually spread out the red carpet for the Taliban to enter. (Photo: AFP)
 Not only did the Afghan Army not fire a shot, in places it virtually spread out the red carpet for the Taliban to enter. (Photo: AFP)

The Taliban victory in Kabul and America’s humiliating defeat in Afghanistan should have led to deep introspection within the United States, but so far there is no evidence of that happening. The top US military brass was on one of its frequent visits to its confessional, otherwise known as the Senate Armed Services Committee, revealing just enough to reassure the American people that they have an open system. The US defence secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin, must by now be in drill rattling off boo-boos by the military on more occasions than one. I can never forget his being grilled by the same committee during the Syrian war when he was a four-star general.

The issue then was a relatively small matter. Gen. Austin was responsible for the training of Syrians who would fight Bashar al-Assad’s “militants”. An initial $500 million had been set aside for their wages, plus the state-of-the-art military hardware. Having received strenuous training, the Americans trained as a mirror image of Jabhat al Nusra just melted away exactly as the celebrated Afghan National Army did. There was an uproar. The then defence secretary, Ashton Carter, wept before the TV cameras. It fell to Gen. Austin’s lot to then face the Senate committee.

Senator: “How many of the men you trained are still with us, fighting?”

Gen. Austin: “Four… or… five.”

The general, now defence secretary, was not as embarrassingly exposed this time on the Afghan withdrawal. He had the entire top brass for company to face the senators. As on the earlier occasion, he was candid.

“We have to consider some uncomfortable truths. We did not fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership in the senior ranks.” Did he mean that had the senior ranks not been so corrupt, the foot soldiers, all 300,000 (three lakhs) of them would have been loyal?

There were lamentations galore over the “unexplained rotation of commanders” by President Ashraf Ghani. Gen. Austin said “we did not anticipate the snowball effect caused by these deals”. This enabled the Taliban commanders to strike deals with local leaders. In brief, he told the senators: “The Afghan Army that we trained simply melted away, in many cases without firing a single shot.”

This kind of a hearing is like a parade of American democracy in action. It can cause millions of viewers watching the show to suspend critical faculties. Not only did the Afghan Army not fire a shot, in places it virtually spread out the red carpet for the Taliban to enter. But why did it end this way?

President Joe Biden was right. Any end to a 20-year-old involvement that was unpopular with the people would end in a mess. It is just as well that it has ended. But that is President Biden’s point of view. The rest of the world is running around trying to cope with the void left behind.

“American troops cannot and should not be fighting and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight themselves,” said President Biden? Can this statement be disputed? “We could not provide them with the will to fight for their future.”

The patronising tone in the last sentence does reek of the quantity called American exceptionalism. This exceptionalism was obsequiously accepted by all in the days when the US was the paramount power. But today, even in a grouping like AUKUS, the US stands out as the only country that does not play cricket.

The withdrawal, despite the clear military advice to the contrary, reflects on Mr Biden decisiveness. His boss in an earlier era, President Barack Obama, also became aware of the futility of extending the Afghan expedition, as early as 2010, but he allowed Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus to talk him out of decisive action. They were looking for the perfect occasion, like the Philanderer, postponing his rendezvous until the wife is in another city, the servants have taken leave, there is a pitter-patter of rain and, at hand, a hubble-bubble with aphrodisiacs. The stars were never going to be in such perfect constellation. To that extent, Mr Biden is right.

One could have written the script from the earliest days of the Afghan occupation when the Americans were raining yellow packets of food to soften the population. The goodwill thus earned would breed informants with solid facts on the location of Al-Qaeda operatives. Or so the theory went. “Red-hot” information would be passed on to the US military chain of command right up to the fighter unit, airborne in a jiffy with lethal ordnance. An Al-Qaeda posse were on the march on the other side of the hill, whispered the informant. The group was bombed to smithereens. The field reports next morning revealed that the Americans had bombed a wedding procession. The “informant” had taken revenge on a rival tribe. Such mishaps were common.

Should not the senators know how many wedding processions were bombed in this fashion? Would such episodes not augment the ranks of US haters by geometrical progression? Lynddie England became the notorious military officer, smiling over a pile of naked Iraqis tortured at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. This happened within a year of the US occupation of Iraq. How many Lynddie Englands posed with tortured Afghans by way of trophies over the past two decades? Torture cages at the Bagram base near Kabul were televised recently.

The macabre headlines about US Marines urinating on a pile of dead Afghans made Page One in many newspapers. A clipping from the Guardian is a bleak page in my scrapbook. Thousands of doors crashed open, men kicked and punched in front of their women.

The 300,000 Afghan soldiers being trained by the United States came from these homes. Green on Blue attacks were a consequence: Afghan trainees would turn upon their trainers, killing them. The collaborating media stopped reporting these incidents because these would demoralise the occupation forces. This and much, much more needs to be conveyed to the US senators in full public view in order to cleanse the very soul of America and restore to it the élan which was once its pride.

Tags: saeed naqvi, taliban, kabul, us defence secretary, us military, afghan national army