The departure of American troops from Afghanistan will commence without ceremonies or celebrations. They will leave nearly with their tail between their legs. When the Taliban were defeated, ambitions were high, but the situation has developed into a disturbing repeat of the Vietnam War. Will the closing scenes be the same?
Despite the symbolic Sept. 11 deadline, when the U.S. left the Bagram airfield the other day it practically signaled the end of America’s longest war. The Daily News dealt with the matter in a 24-line post.
Such is one way a war can end.
When the U.S. decided to overthrow the Taliban as punishment for the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, much focus was put on the fact that the war should not develop into a new Vietnam.
Therefore, a local army, the Northern Alliance, was allowed to carry out the task on the ground, while support came in the form of artillery and a small number of elite soldiers behind enemy lines.
Taliban forces fled from Kabul after three weeks. Victory appeared absolute. However, thousands of foreign troops were stationed in the country to support the Western-oriented regime installed by the U.S. and NATO. Swedish troops were also present.
The mission was to build democracy in Afghanistan and ensure that the country would not function as a base for future terrorist attacks against the West. The situation spiraled into hell almost immediately.
The U.S. failed to capture Taliban-protected al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban did not disappear. Instead, they engaged in guerrilla warfare with foreign troops whom even many of the locals viewed as occupiers.
Since then, the situation has devolved into an almost constant downward spiral, in which the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan has gradually begun to resemble the catastrophic American involvement in Vietnam to stop communism.
It was as if the Americans and NATO soldiers had forgotten the lessons of the Vietnam War. It is very difficult to defeat an ideologically motivated guerrilla army even while possessing superior firepower and aerial support. It is impossible to bomb a path to democracy.
Donald Rumsfeld recently passed away. He was the secretary of defense under George W. Bush and the architect behind both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the start of the invasion of Afghanistan, he promised that the war would not turn into a larger entanglement. However, that’s exactly what happened.
When Western troops were challenged, America answered exactly as in Vietnam by deploying additional troops. The “primitive” enemy was to be defeated by an overwhelming show of force.
However, despite the U.S. and NATO’s best efforts, the situation only worsened and democracy in Afghanistan turned increasingly fragile and corrupt.
Desire To Whitewash
I dare not think about how many billions the West has devoted to building peace in Afghanistan. The figures are monstrous. The bill for the U.S. alone stands at 20 trillion kronor.
What has been achieved apart from death and destruction? Almost nothing.
Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, or any other NATO representative who supported the war with money or soldiers, would naturally not agree.
They wish to whitewash reality. They do not want the 20-year adventure in Afghanistan to come across as a complete waste of life and tax money. Because what was the alternative?
They correctly point out that young girls have been able to attend school due to the prolonged Western presence in the country, and that women have been able to pursue professional careers and live freer lives.
But such victories appear highly temporary in the face of extremely high costs.
Signs indicate that the Taliban will return to power in some manner when Western troops depart. It could take six months; it could take two years. But I do not hear any experts claim that the peace agreement with the Taliban will hold, or that the democracy the West has tried to build will survive.
Eight years in Vietnam was not enough. The U.S., despite 20 years of war with 2,500 dead American soldiers and another 1,500 from NATO countries, has yet to guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a hub for future terrorist attacks against the West.
The Afghan army, trained and equipped by the U.S. for years, is collapsing like a house of cards. The soldiers are surrendering without a fight. Taliban forces have claimed 50 out of 400 provinces since May.
Advanced weaponry is falling into the Taliban’s hands.
The only missing aspect to complete the Vietnam comparison is a chaotic helicopter escape from the roof of the American embassy, when the Taliban come knocking on the gates of Kabul.
The U.S. has left 650 Marines to protect the embassy. We shall see how it unfolds.