Lessons from US Military Exit

US troops leaving Afghanistan [Source: Flickr/Morris]

Last week when President Joe Biden declared that forever war in Afghanistan has to end, much of the commentary offered a negative outlook of the things that might happen after the American and NATO troops are gone home by September 11 this year. There would  be no victory trophy in their hands on their way back home, because there is none to carry.

There could have been a  better story  at the end of the day but what prevented that from happening  was the constant shifting of goal posts. And ultimately  America is left with only one goal  to achieve to take the troops home . In short , no more body bags  to be ferried to the homes of soldiers .

For all what we know America had launched the war in Afghanistan to punish al-Qaeda, the global terror network, that had  struck and challenged the might of the United States of America  with 9/11, the terror attack embedded in the minds of all Americans who watched it happen and those brought up with the real-time stories of horror.

Alongside, Taliban, the protector of al-Qaeda, was, too, to be dismantled. Now, when  the US is calling it a day in Afghanistan,  these long-cherished results  are not there. For its own ego, Americans may  draw some solace that, as Joe Biden  counted the elimination of Osama bin Laden  among the accomplishments.

America’s war in Afghanistan was christened as war on terrorism. That would lead the world to conquer the forces of terrorism forever, as the world recognised and appreciated the American right to retaliate against the terror network in Afghanistan that had grown so much in ideological and technological strength that from the obscure caves of Afghanistan, it could  plot and execute the strike at the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York,  Pentagon, leaving the only superpower in the world with the shame of not having anticipated  this horror.

The return journey of the American troops leaves  many lessons  in its wake. Apart from what will happen in Afghanistan;  there is a real fear that  Taliban  having both  military power  and large swathes of territory, can  take control  of  the country. That means that  Taliban can rule Afghanistan yet again.

That legacy of leaving the forever war in between will have to be pondered over by the American policy makers, but there is something more in store. The world  has become more vulnerable to the forces of violence that believe they can overrule everything  and get their own way.

First, it has demonstrated  that  no war can be won  by any country or group of countries howsoever powerful  they might be in terms of military power and  latest technology.

Such wars are won only with the support of the people .

If the people traumatized by Taliban and sick of the ways of al-Qaeda  and other extremist-ideology-driven groups did not see Americans as their benefactors  that means that there were certain other underlying reasons which brought the things to such a pass, where Americans are  leaving out of compulsion rather than out of choice.To comprehend those underlying reasons, a people-oriented interaction and study is important; out of the shadow of guns and drones only then gaps can be bridged.

There was a gap and that could not be bridged even after two decades and investment of huge fortune there, that raises the question, why? This is not something that Americans alone should try to understand, it is a matter for all those claiming to be fighting for peace and stability in the  region to understand. The military power backed infrastructural development  cannot change the hearts and minds of the people.

In any war, big or small, blind strategies are bound to fail. America was supposed to show the way how the war against terrorism could be won, but it ended landing on the opposite side of the objective. Th world has not failed to notice it.

Going to  war in Afghanistan  in October 2001  was demonstrative of the quick reaction to 9/11. The  goal appeared to be simple, to  rid Afghanistan of  terror networks that were spread all across. The bombardment of rocky caves of Tora Bora and troops on the ground  hunting the terrorists   and drones targeting the hideouts simply showed that what kind of war machinery  America  possessed and could use against its adversary .

The real strategy to  keep Afghanistan  out of bounds for the terror groups or to create an ecosystem  where no  new recruits were available  for these sort of groups  was missing. Twenty years is a long time, and all these years Taliban has expanded because it could attract  radicalized  groups of  Afghans to its ideology  and the goals that it had set for itself. The conclusion that the Afghans resented foreign boots on their soil and the corruption in the system helped Taliban to regain more than what it had lost  is too simplistic. These fail to address that how America went as a blind man in Afghanistan and ended up in making compromises and changing the goalposts. The most shocking part, a great departure from its original goal, was to  negotiate with Taliban  and accept its terms.  The reality changed so much that  the whole thing is now dependent upon how Taliban would behave.

The argument that  any early withdrawal  would have left the country  vulnerable to civil war; fast forward it to 2021, is the scenario any different today.

There is a message for all  that terrorism is not a military problem, it is something different. And old theories have been left with limited relevance. There is a need  for newer and effective strategies where military power  is used with care and discretion  only. The anti-Americanism in the Islamic world has shown that guns, bombs, drones alone cannot solve all the problems vis-à-vis terrorism.