Americans not doing enough on security - GulfToday

Americans not doing enough on security

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

US troops

US Marines watch during the change of command ceremony at the Task Force Southwest military field in the Shorab military camp of Helmand province, Afghanistan. Associated Press

The withdrawal from Afghanistan could be the worst US debacle of the 21st century. The first was, of course, the war on Iraq, which destabilised the whole of this region. Other debacles could follow as this century is still young. The rapid collapse of Afghanistan as the Taliban has advanced across the country exposes the US as a useless security provider and nation builder as well as an untrustworthy partner in hard times and a country with no respect for values and human rights.

The situation in Afghanistan mirrors the panic in South Vietnam in April 1975 when, as the Viet Cong entered Saigon, US diplomats, civilians and Vietnamese were helicoptered from the roof of a building used by the CIA before being flown out of the country.

It is ironic that, having pulled out most of the 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan, the Pentagon — which opposed withdrawal — has dispatched another 5,000 troops to protect evacuations of US citizens and Afghans who aided the US occupation. An additional 1,000 have been deployed to Qatar, allegedly, to interview Afghans for visas and several thousand will be on alert in Kuwait if required.

Personnel from Washington’s Nato partners – Britain, Canada, Italy, and Germany — have been fleeing while Turks are staying put, for the time being. Turkey, China, Russia, and Iran have been talking to the Taliban.

There is a major difference in the military situation between the cases which makes the US pullout from Afghanistan far more humiliating than the desperate flight from South Vietnam.

Taliban fighters have been seizing territory and cities across Afghanistan while residual US forces, contractors, and civilian embassy staff have remained in the country. US troops left South Vietnam two years before the Viet Cong took over, leaving 7,200 defence contractors to aid the south’s army in its losing battle to halt the Viet Cong advance.

There is also a key political difference between the two situations. The Taliban may be poorly prepared to govern the country while the Vietnamese Communists had been ruling the north since 1954.

US President Joe Biden is primarily to blame for the precipitate and disorganised retreat.

Biden, who has wanted to pull out for more than a decade, did not need to follow his predecessor Donald Trump who launched the disastrous process of withdrawal. Trump reached a bilateral deal with the Taliban for US withdrawal in exchange for cessation of attacks on US troops, a pledge to prevent Daesh and Al Qaeda from operating in territory under Taliban control and an agreement to negotiate with the Afghan government over the future of the country. The Taliban delivered only by halting operations against US forces. Daesh and Al Qaeda fighters are deeply involved in the Taliban offensive and the Doha talks between the Taliban the government have achieved nothing.

Biden has justified his decision by claiming that the US has provided government forces with the means to defend the country and saying that the Afghans have “to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”

He is wrong about the US preparing the Afghan army for the existential battle with the Taliban. Although the US spent more than $80 billion on building the Afghan military, it was not properly equipped to take over the fight against the insurgents who have readied long and well for this offensive.  While there is general agreement that the Afghan leadership shares responsibility for the debacle, the US is largely to blame. When President George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001, his cheapskate Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld not only deployed too few troops to eliminate the Taliban but also did not commit enough resources to build competent Afghan security forces.

Instead of focusing on the task in Afghanistan, Bush and Rumsfeld invaded Iraq with too few troops to pacify that country, demobilised the Iraqi army, and dismantled the civil service. Chaos and unrest ensued. The US recruited, trained and armed Iraqi defence forces which were never up to the task of protecting the country from anti-occupation resistance groups that came to be dominated by Al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq. It gave birth to Daesh, which conquered 30 per cent of Syria and 40 per cent of Iraq, and Jabhat Al Nusra (now Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham) which has made its base Syrian’s north-western Idlib province. Fighting wars on two fronts is too great a strain for the world’s global hyperpower.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq security forces were under strength because of “ghost soldiers” (recruits who did not exist invented by officers to collect salaries) and corruption.

Afghan and Iraqi forces were dependent on the US not only for funding, training and arming but also on logistics, intelligence, communications, maintenance, air support, and leadership without which no army can function. Troops were paid too little and often not on time, food and ammunition were not delivered, and morale was low.

Washington’s aim was to maintain indefinitely its politico-military presence in both strategic countries by making itself indispensable. In 2011, the US withdrew from Iraq but was compelled to provide “advisers,” special forces, and air power to battle Daesh between 2014-19 as the movement menaced the entire region. Several hundred US troops still remain in eastern Syria to counter Daesh remnants and prevent Turkey from waging war on Washington’s Kurdish allies.

Biden has failed to take the Iraq lesson on board. The resurgent Taliban is certain to destabilise neighbouring countries, starting with Pakistan and Tajikistan, while Daesh and Al Qaeda, protected by the Taliban, will expand operations in this region, Africa and further afield.

Whatever trust the US enjoyed internationally has evaporated, thanks to Trump who pulled out of global treaties and institutions and Biden who abandoned Afghanistan and its people to the Taliban. Biden’s slogan, “America is back,” is hollow. The US, as he has promised, has not assumed a positive role on the world scene.

Biden will be held solely responsible for the fate of millions of Afghans who will, once again, fall under the rule of the medieval Taliban, and the millions who will flee their country although adjacent countries have already closed their borders.

Kabul is overwhelmed by more than 250,000 terrified refugees who are camping in parks and public buildings. Biden and members of his administration cannot escape satellite television images of these Afghans who have fled their homes and have nowhere to go. Afghanistan is on the brink of another man-made humanitarian catastrophe. This time it has been caused by Biden.

During the two decades since the Taliban was swept from power, Afghanistan has changed greatly. The capital has expanded and developed into a modern city of 5-6 million, provincial towns have become cities, infant mortality rates have fallen and a health care system has been established. Schools admit girls as well as boys, colleges, technical institutes and universities have opened and some offer MA and PhD degrees. The Taliban, which is rooted in the deeply conservative countryside, wants to obliterate the intervening 20 years, crush the spirit of the briefly liberated Afghan people, and return to the rule of the mullahs, the law as they interpret it, and the scourge as their enforcer.

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