Pressed to leave Afghanistan, the United States ended up negotiating with the Taliban and marginalizing its local allies. For many, seeing the Taliban as a reliable partner or denigrating the Afghan National Army seems like a timely storytelling in a time of a precipitous departure.
“This is what happens when you surrender to a terrorist organization.” With this final judgment, Lieutenant General HR McMaster, a former national security adviser to Donald Trump, added his voice to the torrent of criticism which, since the bombing at the Kabul airport, has been aimed at the management of the Afghan crisis. by Joe Biden.
Like his predecessor, the American president is committed to putting an end to what much of American opinion and the media calls the “forever war”, the eternal war. Scheduled to end on August 31, the American withdrawal ended in a bitter defeat.
To understand the reasons for the American failure in Afghanistan, France 24 looks back on the flip-flops of successive American administrations and the false ideas they have distilled in American public opinion.
The Taliban, a respectable partner
The Taliban have never been placed by the US administration on the list of terrorist organizations established by the state department. Only the Haqqani network, linked to Al-Qaeda and an integral part of the Taliban high command, appears on this list.
The United States was thus able to initiate a dialogue with “theological students”, who had shocked the world between 1996 and 2001 by their desire to establish an Islamic regime in Afghanistan straight out of the Middle Ages.
Since 2018 and the appointment of American diplomat of Afghan origin Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy for reconciliation in Afghanistan, direct contacts have been established between the Taliban and the Americans, leading to an agreement on February 29, 2020 signed in Doha.
Since then, the Taliban would have become 2.0 by mastering the use of English, Twitter and by organizing press conferences. And yet their discourse has hardly changed. Putting an end to the American invasion, celebrating the bravery of the Mujahedin who fell in the face of the foreign occupier remain the key words of their speech.
The new masters of Kabul try to reassure and promise to “let women work in accordance with the principles of Islam”. A rather vague commitment for a movement which has always rejected the principles of Western democracy.
The Taliban and Al-Qaeda, it’s over
To justify the agreement reached in Doha between yesterday’s enemies, Mike Pompeo, the head of American diplomacy, had estimated 1er march 2020 that “for the first time, the Taliban say they are ready to break with Al-Qaeda, their historic ally. Read the document, the Taliban have broken.”
Indeed, the four-page “peace” agreement mentions that the Taliban “will not allow its members or other individuals and organizations to use Afghan territory to threaten the security of the United States and its allies. “.
However, for many experts, the ties between Taliban and Al Qaeda run deep, making the two entities one family. According to a report provided to the United Nations, “the relations between the Taliban, in particular the Haqqani network, and Al-Qida are based on ties of friendship, a common struggle, ideological proximity and marriages”.
The report notes that al-Qaeda “reacted positively to the deal with the United States” and that several movements affiliated with the terrorist organization (AQIM, AQAP) hailed the capture of Kabul on August 15, which they said. qualify as “victory”.
While the Taliban publicly distance themselves from al-Qaeda, the latter believes that its ability to threaten the United States depends on the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan. Again, despite American assurances, there is no indication that the two organizations have truly severed their historic ties.
The Taliban are nothing but Afghan nationalists
The Taliban are no longer the protectors of international terrorism and now present themselves as resistance fighters who only aim to establish their sovereignty over Afghanistan.
However, theAtlantic Council, an American think tank specializing in international relations, believes that the Afghan Taliban are totally subservient to the Pakistani services and that its commanders would not have survived the American counterterrorism operation without “the considerable support of the Pakistani intelligence services (ISI ) “.
There again, the Taliban proclaim that they are independent vis-à-vis Islamabad while most specialists in the region believe that they are unable to break with their historical “godfather”, especially when it comes to funding and information.
Meanwhile, it is known that many foreign fighters from Pakistan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries have swelled the ranks of the Taliban in recent months.
Finally, US negotiators hoped that the Taliban would be able to expel the Islamic State group in Khorasan from the country. A hope denied by the attack perpetrated by the jihadist movement at Kabul airport on Thursday, in the face and beard of the Taliban.
The Pentagon spokesman regretted the day after the attack that the Taliban had released mass prisoners after taking power, including those linked to ISIS.
End the “eternal war” at all costs
Twenty years of war in Afghanistan cost the United States $ 2 trillion and the lives of 2,400 American soldiers. These statistics ended up installing the idea that Afghanistan is a lost cause. The Trump administration, by entrusting the Afghan file to Zalmay Khalilzad, resolved to withdraw its troops as soon as possible, as early as 2018.
Joe Biden, even if he went back on many measures taken by his predecessor, did not touch the Doha agreement (apart from the date of the final withdrawal of the US military) and confirmed to his post , its architect Zalmay Khalilzad. His decision is now criticized. Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan appointed by the Obama administration, criticized in the columns of the New York Times “the lack of strategic patience of the United States which weakens our alliances, encourages our adversaries and increases the security risk on our territory”.
The Afghan army and government are not trustworthy
“American soldiers cannot and should not fight and die in a war that the Afghan forces themselves do not want to wage.” This is what Joe Biden said in the aftermath of the fall of Kabul, believing that the victory of the Taliban was the consequence of the refusal of the Afghan army (trained and financed by the United States) to fight, of the flight of its president abroad and endemic corruption.
Denigrating the democratically elected Afghan government, which was not invited to the negotiating table with the Taliban in Doha by the Trump administration, has shocked many observers. Defending democracy and its values, Joe Biden’s foreign policy priority, has apparently taken a back seat to complete the American withdrawal from Afghanistan as quickly as possible.
And what about the morale of the Afghan army, which, in the weeks leading up to the fall of Kabul, lost many soldiers in the fighting against the Taliban. On July 6, the American army secretly left Bagram air base, in the middle of the night, without informing the Afghan army. For journalist Bilal Sarwary, the message to the country’s elites was clear: “America is abandoning you, the Taliban are coming.”
“Every battle is won before it is even started.” This maxim of Sun Tzu, from the famous book “The Art of War”, obviously did not guide the United States, too eager to withdraw from a country where it no longer had strategic interests.