One can often hear the Syrian conflict being compared with the war in Afghanistan, while the latter is often mentioned together with Washington’s aggression against Vietnam. In the second half of the 20th century, Washington deeply mired itself in Vietnam only to face imminent defeat. The same fate, it seems, is awaiting Western elites in Afghanistan. As it turns out, there’s a very particular reason why Afghanistan is often described as the “graveyard of empires.”
According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), for the fourth year in a row Afghanistan has lost 10,000 civilians, with people being murdered and maimed amid the ongoing conflict. Among the main reasons for such a death toll the UNAMA lists continuous air strikes carried out by Washington against residential areas.
This year, the number of civilian casualties will also surpass the 10,000 mark. This conclusion can be drawn from US President Donald Trump’s announcement made last year about the Pentagon taking a different approach to Afghanistan. The essence of this approach is simple: Washington’s policy will pursue the same goals with the same methods but this time around it will be much more ruthless. Trump’s administration hasn’t only failed to fulfill Trump’s pre-election promises about withdrawing US troops from the war-torn country, but chose to deploy another 14,000 servicemen instead.
There’s no arguing that America has paid dearly for its military aggression against Afghanistan. American taxpayers have wasted over 74 billion dollars on the training of Afghan security forces alone over the last 17 years. To make matters worse, it’s enough to mention that the deployment of a single American serviceman in Afghanistan exceeds 1 million dollars a year. This results in war costs reaching more than 20 billion annually for Washington, says Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. This amounts to double the annual budget of the whole UN Peacekeeping Department. In total, according to independent analysts from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Washington has wasted well over one trillion dollars on its military adventure in Afghanistan…
It should also be pointed out that the production of opium in Afghanistan is soaring, amid all the efforts Washington has allegedly taken to put an end to it. Poppy fields can be easily found in pretty much every corner of the country. In 2017, opium production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), increased by 87% – to 9,000 metric tonnes – from 4,800 metric tonnes in 2016.
That is why many people continue questioning Washington’s true intentions behind its ongoing military presence in Afghanistan, along with the total lack of transparency and interest towards the concerns that other states have regarding Afghanistan’s future. Those factors have already dealt a massive blow to the influence that Washington had previously exerted in the region.
One may recall that last February the Pentagon announced that upon defeating ISIS in Iraq it was planning to redeploy its troops to Afghanistan. At the same time, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohammad Bagheri linked an abrupt increase in the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan with the gradual transfer of radical militants to this state, initiated by Washington. Moreover, last month it became known that US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, paid a surprise visit to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. That’s when Washington announced that NATO would bring reinforcements to Afghanistan, while Trump announced his intentions to spend some 5 billion dollars more on Afghanistan this year alone.
These facts show that Washington fails to come to grips with the fact that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict, since there’s no defeating of the Taliban forces on their home ground. The continuous attempts by Washington over the last 17 years serve as testimony to this fact. Nevertheless, the US is not planning to reduce its presence there, nor change the nature of that presence.
In recent years, military supply lines that NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan have relied consisted primarily of the so-called Durand Line from the ports of Pakistan to Afghanistan directly. However, the reliability of this route may be compromised due to recent growing tensions between Washington and Islamabad.
Had Washington not plunged itself into a new US-Russian Cold War, the Pentagon would have had the chance to take advantage of the transit route it used in the early 2000s, across Russia and a number of Central Asian Republics to Afghanistan. However, as of now there’s little to no chance Moscow would agree to this, as the Kremlin does not want to put its relations with Islamabad at risk and Washington is keen to push the blame on Moscow for his failure in Afghanistan. The Iranian corridor that Washington used to rely on doesn’t look viable either, as relations between Tehran and Washington have recently hit a new low.
In this situation, the only alternative for the Pentagon is the Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan corridor. The desire to create a so-called northern supply route has forced Washington to step up its diplomatic efforts in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. However, if the latter demonstrates its willingness to go along with Washington’s plans, the former is reluctant to put its relations with Russia at risk. Predictably, this resulted in Washington announcing new sanctions against Kazakhstan that are aimed at persuading Astana to change its mind, with US banks announcing the freezing of well over 22 billion dollars of the National Fund of Kazakhstan.
In a bid to preserve the vision of Sir Halford John Mackinder, Washington is determined to keep Afghanistan a hostile security threat to both Russia and China no matter what. And the fact that both Moscow and Beijing are facilitating the peace processes in Afghanistan can seriously jeopardize Washington’s plan of protracting the bloodshed in the region indefinitely.
That is precisely why Washington formed the Greater Central Asia Partnership for Cooperation and Development, which is designed to facilitate its contacts with regional players, while excluding Russia, China and Iran. Experts believe that such a union can provide the US with a continuous presence in Central Asia for many years to come and the subsequent development of the Central Asian region along with its plans. Afghanistan in this case can be used as a springboard with its own system of warehouses, airfields and military bases in place for years.
Thus, establishing a network of military bases in Afghanistan, the United States may put Russia, China, and Iran’s borders at risk, while conducting military operations outside Afghanistan through the use of locally trained troops. It’s possible that soon Iran may become the first to test the readiness of those troops firsthand.
Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”