As we keep hearing reports of a possible withdrawal agreement with the Taliban being imminent, it’s a good time to take note of a few facts about the U.S. military presence in that country and its effects.
At the end of 2019, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft reported on the Asia Foundation’s periodic Survey of the Afghan People. Unsurprisingly, Afghans want U.S. forces to leave their country and fear them as much as the Taliban:
Foreign military occupations are known to increase resentment among the local population. After 18 years of war, Afghans experience similar levels of fear when encountering American-led international forces as they do Taliban forces. At the same time, they are increasingly optimistic about the prospects for peace but don’t see the foreign forces as important to that process, according to the latest iteration of the Asia Foundation’s Survey of the Afghan People. For the United States, this raises serious questions about the utility of its continued military presence in Afghanistan.
The intent of the survey is to gauge the opinions of the Afghan people over time and provide useful data for policymakers and stakeholders. This year’s survey conducted in-person interviews with over 17,000 Afghans in all 34 provinces from July 11 to August 7 of 2019. Significantly, this year’s survey included, for the first time, questions related to the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban. An overwhelming majority of the Afghan people support the negotiations (89.0 percent)….
…Afghans have been asked over the past few years how fearful they would be when encountering various security forces. When taken as an average score, Afghans experience similar fear when encountering both Taliban forces and international forces. The Taliban have sympathy from only about 13 percent of the population according to this year’s survey and target civilians as a deliberate strategy, and yet, Afghans still fear foreign forces at near similar levels.
As Nichols J. Davies recently wrote in an article in which he compiled published reports of why Afghans join the fighting in the conflict – whether its on behalf of the government forces, the Taliban or other militias. The reasons, it turns out are similar in all of the military conflicts in which the U.S. has current involvement:
Afghan government troops and police who are suffering the worst casualties on the front lines of this war told the BBC they are not fighting out of hatred for the Taliban or loyalty to the U.S.-backed government, but out of poverty, desperation and self-preservation. In this respect, they are caught in the same excruciating predicament as millions of other people across the greater Middle East wherever the United States has turned people’s homes and communities into American “battlefields.”
In Afghanistan, U.S.-trained special operations forces conduct “hunt and kill” night raids and offensive operations in Taliban-held territory, backed by devastating US airpower that kills largely uncounted numbers of resistance fighters and civilians. The US dropped a post-2001 record 7,423 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan in 2019.
But as BBC reporter Nanamou Steffensen explained (listen here, from 11:40 to 16:50), it is lightly-armed rank-and-file Afghan soldiers and police at checkpoints and small defensive outposts across the country, not the U.S.-backed elite special operations forces, who suffer the most appalling level of casualties. President Ghani revealed in January 2019 that over 45,000 Afghan troops had been killed since he took office in September 2014, and by all accounts 2019 was even deadlier.
Steffensen traveled around Afghanistan talking to Afghan soldiers and police at the checkpoints and small outposts that are the vulnerable front line of the US war against the Taliban. The troops Steffensen spoke to told her they only enlisted in the army or police because they couldn’t find any other work, and that they received only one month’s training in the use of an AK-47 and an RPG before being sent to the front lines. Most are dressed only in t-shirts and slippers or traditional Afghan clothing, although a few sport bits and pieces of body armor. They live in constant fear, “expecting to be overrun at any moment.” One policeman told Steffensen, “They don’t care about us. That’s why so many of us die. It’s up to us to fight or get killed, that’s all.”
…In the final interview in Steffensen’s report, a policeman at a checkpoint for vehicles approaching Wardak town from Taliban-held territory questioned the very purpose of the war. He told her, “We Muslims are all brothers. We don’t have a problem with each other.” “Then why are you fighting?” she asked him. He hesitated, laughed nervously and shook his head in a resigned manner. “You know why. I know why. It’s not really our fight,” he said.
The attitudes of the Afghan troops Steffensen interviewed are shared by people fighting on both sides of America’s wars. Across the “arc of instability” that now stretches five thousand miles from Afghanistan to Mali and beyond, US”regime change” and “counterterrorism” wars have turned millions of people’s homes and communities into American “battlefields.” Like the Afghan recruits Steffensen spoke to, desperate people have joined armed groups on all sides, but for reasons that have little to do with ideology, religion or the sinister motivations assumed by Western politicians and pundits.
….In 2015, the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), interviewed 250 combatants from Bosnia, Palestine (Gaza), Libya and Somalia, and published the results in a report titled The People’s Perspectives: Civilians in Armed Conflict. The researchers found that, “The most common motivation for involvement, described by interviewees in all four case studies, was the protection of self or family.”
In 2017, the UN Development Program (UNDP) conducted a similar survey of 500 people who joined Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and other armed groups in Africa. The UNDP’s report was titled Journey To Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping-Point for Recruitment. Its findings confirmed those of other studies, and the combatants’ responses on the precise “tipping-point” for recruitment were especially enlightening.
“A striking 71%,” the report found, “pointed to ‘government action’, including ‘killing of a family member or friend’ or ‘arrest of a family member or friend’, as the incident that prompted them to join.” The UNDP concluded, “State security-actor conduct is revealed as a prominent accelerant of recruitment, rather than the reverse.”
Read the complete article here.
Meanwhile, a recent report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) revealed that not only has little actual reconstruction occurred in the country considering the amount of money provided by U.S. taxpayers, but thousands have been killed and wounded as a result of the project:
2,214 people were killed overall, 216 of them American soldiers and 68 others American civilians. 2,921 others were wounded, and 1,182 ominously just “went missing.” This is again, for the sake of a reconstruction which mostly didn’t happen, and failed even where things weren’t built.
SIGAR John Sopko was asked to put a letter grade on the US reconstruction effort, and said he believes even a D- would be too high for it. He added that the US got credit for attendance and that was it.
It seems safe to say that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has been an unmitigated failure and it’s way past time for us to leave.