It is paradoxical, but true: the billions of dollars spent by the United States on the Afghan army ultimately brought distinct benefits only to the Taliban’s militants (a terrorist group that is banned in the Russian Federation). A US Department of Defense spokesman confirmed that the military equipment delivered by the US for the Afghan army – and seized by the Taliban – was “huge”. Created and allegedly trained over two decades, at a cost of 83 billion USD, the Afghan army collapsed so quickly and completely – in some cases without firing a single shot – that the Taliban wound up being the ultimate beneficiary of those American investments.
The Taliban captured an enormous amount of firepower: weapons, ammunition, helicopters, aircraft, and a lot more. They also seized a great deal of advanced military equipment from government forces, which were unable to even defend the country’s regional centers. This was followed, among other things, by combat aircraft as the Taliban seized capitals and military bases throughout the country’s provinces at stupefying speed. This kind of failure, according to officials with the Joe Biden administration, is “an annoying consequence of the wrong assessment done on the viability of the Afghan government forces by the US military,” and on the Afghan intelligence services that had been trained by Washington.
The inability of the United States to create a combat-ready Afghan army, police force, and intelligence service, and the reasons why they collapsed, will be studied by military analysts for years to come. However, the main aspects involved are clear, and differ little from what happened, for example, in Iraq. The soldiers trained by Washington turned out to be “nonentities”, equipped with superior weapons but largely devoid of the most important component in the motivation for combat. “Money cannot buy the fighting spirit. You can’t buy leadership,” stated John Kirby, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, quite aptly summing up the low morale present in the Afghan army. Doug Lute, a retired army lieutenant general who helped lead the Afghan war strategy during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, said that the Afghans have received a lot in terms of materiel, but that their morale is low. “The principle of war stands — moral factors dominate material factors,” he stated. “Morale, discipline, leadership, unit cohesion are more decisive than numbers of forces and equipment. As outsiders in Afghanistan, we can provide materiel, but only Afghans can provide the intangible moral factors”.
In contrast, the Taliban insurgents, fewer in number and with less sophisticated weaponry and no air force, proved to be a superior force. US intelligence services have largely underestimated the magnitude of this superiority. And even after President Joe Biden announced in April that he was withdrawing all US troops, the intelligence services did not foresee the final Taliban offensive, which culminated in such an impressive success. “If we wouldn’t have used hope as a course of action, … we would have realized the rapid drawdown of US forces sent a signal to the Afghan national forces that they were being abandoned,” said Chris Miller, who fought in Afghanistan in 2001 and was acting secretary of defense at the end of Donald Trump’s presidential term.
Stephen Biddle, a Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and a former adviser to the US military command in Afghanistan, correctly assessed the Afghan situation by declaring that Joe Biden’s announcement led to its ultimate collapse. He stated that before April the Afghan government forces were slowly but steadily losing the war. When they learned that their American partners were returning home, the impulse to surrender without a fight “spread like wildfire”.
However, the failures of the reckless schemes in Afghanistan, which the Washington administration never did grasp, run much farther and deeper. The United States has tried to build a robust Afghan defense industry over the years, even as it fought the Taliban, tried to expand the political base undergirding the government in Kabul, and sought to establish democracy in a country rife with corruption and clanship. Year after year, US military leaders downplayed the problems, and insisted that success was not far off, and would arrive any day now.
Others, whom officials did not want to listen to because of their stupidity and narrow-mindedness, clearly saw the outcome of the tragedy in Afghanistan. In 2015, Chris Mason, professor at the Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College, wrote about the military’s failure to learn from past wars. After writing a book on the subject, he titled it Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold. “Regarding the future of Afghanistan, in blunt terms, the United States has been down this road at the strategic level twice before, in Vietnam and Iraq, and there is no viable rationale for why the results will be any different in Afghanistan,” Chris Mason wrote. He added, presciently: “Slow decay is inevitable, and state failure is a matter of time.”
Some elements of the Afghan army did fight hard, including commandos whose heroic efforts are yet to be fully documented. But as a whole the security forces created by the United States and its NATO allies amounted to a “house of cards” whose collapse was driven as much by failures of US civilian leaders as their military partners, including those that are part of NATO. Anthony Cordesman, an Afghanistan war analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, spoke about this in a fair amount of detail. “The Afghan force-building exercise was so completely dependent on American largesse that the Pentagon even paid the Afghan troops’ salaries. Too often that money, and untold amounts of fuel, were siphoned off by corrupt officers and government overseers who cooked the books, creating “ghost soldiers” to keep the misspent dollars coming”.
According to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a congressionally created watchdog that has tracked the war since 2008, out of the approximately 145 billion USD that the US has spent to help rebuild Afghanistan, about 83 billion USD went to develop and support the army and police force. These 145 billion USD are in addition to the 837 billion USD the United States spent fighting the war, which began with the invasion in October 2001. Incidentally, the 83 billion USD invested in Afghan forces over 20 years is nearly double last year’s budget for the entire US Marine Corps, and is slightly more than what Washington budgeted last year for food stamp assistance for about 40 million Americans.
In his book The Afghanistan Papers, journalist Craig Whitlock wrote that US trainers tried to force their Western ways on Afghan recruits, and gave scant thought about whether US taxpayers dollars were investing in a truly viable army. “Given that the US war strategy depended on the Afghan army’s performance, however, the Pentagon paid surprisingly little attention to the question of whether Afghans were willing to die for their government,” he wrote. And now it turns out that it was the United States has ultimately armed the Taliban with very cutting-edge weapons that can, apparently, can take shots at any location in the Middle East. And, perhaps, at the United States itself.
After the events in Afghanistan, all that remains is to pity America and its worthless rulers. First, there was the Japan Syndrome in the form of Pearl Harbor, then the Vietnam Syndrome, and now finally the Afghanistan Syndrome that has shattered American society and run through all these so-called experts, specialists, politicians, and diplomats. As the saying goes, if the system breaks, then cracks start running in all directions.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.