Story by Will Chappell / Contributing Writer
Photo by The Nation
As Afghanistan crumbled in the face of the Taliban takeover last month, American media and political leaders have descended into a maelstrom of recriminations. There is plenty of blame to be leveled at four presidential administrations of both parties and the 20 sessions of Congress that enabled this rudderless quagmire in Afghanistan.
However, two other aspects of the American journey in Afghanistan remain less examined.
The first is America’s pivotal role in empowering the Taliban. Many are familiar with the origin story of the Taliban, known as the Mujahideen, who rose in resistance to the communist government of Afghanistan in the 1970s.
These fighters believed in the institution of an Islamic Caliphate that would rule according to the tenets of Sharia law, effectively transforming Afghanistan into a feudal state where women had few rights and the justice system was draconian.
When this group destabilized the local government, the USSR sent troops into the country to maintain control on Christmas Eve in 1979.
President Carter began funneling aid to the Mujahideen to counter our Soviet nemesis. This shortsighted policy continued throughout the 1980s, as CIA training and American military supplies were funneled to the rebels.
After almost a decade, the Soviets left in 1989. Six years of civil war ensued with the Taliban emerging as rulers of Afghanistan.
The Taliban allowed the terrorists who coordinated the September 11, 2001 attacks to train within their borders. When they were routed by American forces in 2002, Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders, along with Osama Bin Laden, fled to Pakistan.
Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence welcomed the Taliban, having been supporters of the terrorist organization since the 1980s. Over the next 20 years, the ISI continued to harbor and train the Taliban.
Pakistan was ostensibly a linchpin ally of the United States in the region, as well as a major recipient of aid. This made their support for the Taliban a major problem for America.
American aid, including over $14 billion in intelligence aid since 2002, has been sent to a country that was directly supporting the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. That has led to decreasing aid to Pakistan over the past decade, including a $300 million cut by President Trump in 2018.
However, Pakistan has also been an active participant in the fight against ISIS— its position near Afghanistan made it logistically critical to the coalition’s initial invasion, and its possession of nuclear weapons makes it a nation of importance to global security. But the ISI’s role in undermining American efforts in Afghanistan while receiving aid deserves intense scrutiny.
The other part of the Afghanistan dilemma is the role the military-industrial complex played in the perpetuation of an unwinnable war.
Over the course of two decades, American taxpayers pumped $778 billion into military expenditures in Afghanistan.
Over the course of two weeks, the world watched as the façade of security and control quickly crumbled when American support was withdrawn. This was most evident in the case of the Afghan air force, which was unable to maintain its aircraft after U.S. contractors left. Planes and helicopters either fell into disrepair, were abandoned to the Taliban or were taken to other central Asian nations by desperate pilots.
The collapse of the Afghan government was humbling in its speed and severity, as well as for the ominous tone it set for the Afghan people under the rule of the Taliban. It is incumbent on American political leaders to conduct a more thorough and honest review of the failings which brought us to this point.
A policy of blindly supporting allies of convenience led to both the birth and maintenance of the Taliban on the American taxpayers’ dime. This failure was compounded by a foolhardy belief that throwing the military and economic might of the United States at Afghanistan would miraculously turn it into a functioning state.
These failings have become prominent and disheartening in American foreign policy this millennium from Iraq to Libya. It is beyond time that American leaders figured out a way to protect the nation without funding its own enemies and sinking future generations into crushing debt.