On April 14, US President Joe Biden officially announced withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11 but the troops left the giant Bagram airbase north of Kabul in the middle of the night about two weeks ago without notifying the Afghans. The base's new Afghan commander told the BBC that the US left Bagram at 3:00 A.M local time on Friday (July 2), and that the Afghan military found it out later.
The US also announced on the same Friday that it had vacated the Bagram airbase, officially completing the military occupation of Afghanistan ahead of the deadline set for September 11 as announced by President Biden earlier this year. Such a hasty withdrawal took place despite President Biden's assurance that that the withdrawal of US troops would take place in a safe and responsible manner and in full coordination with its partners and allies in Afghanistan.
The Economist (July 10 '21) commented that America's war in Afghanistan was ending in crushing defeat. Many other observers also hold similar opinion that it was a humiliating debacle for the US and its foreign legion NATO. A lot of soul searching is now going on that issue. What has been presented as a decisive victory by the US backed by its foreign legion and troops from other client states against the Taliban, now turned into the present rout.
In fact, the Taliban never left Afghanistan because it is their home. More importantly, the Taliban were never beaten despite all weaponry including high tech weaponised drones and the brutality of US forces over the last two decades of US occupation.
However, the situation is not all that black and white. In a country like Afghanistan that emerged in the middle of the 18th century is made up of multitude of ethnicities. Furthermore, there are too many players inside in the form of rival ethnic communities and outside the country such as Pakistan, India and Iran. Therefore, the term a "decisive victory" or a "decisive defeat" can not be applied in such a situation because competing groups can not afford to lose nor see an enemy win. As such the US did not "decisively" lose the war but it definitely did not win either.
Many political commentators such as Peter Lavelle of RT drew parallel between the US exit from Vietnam with that from Afghanistan describing the outcome as "Saigon in Afghanistan". But such a comparison is rather simplistic. The US left Vietnam after it was decisively defeated by the Vietnam People's Liberation Army.
That is not the case in Afghanistan, in fact the US has left behind a client regime and an army in Kabul to do its bidding and to retain its central role in the future arrangement in the country. Also, the Taliban does not have the military might anywhere near like the Vietnam People's Liberation Army. The Taliban will also find it challenging to govern a country driven by ethnic rivalries and continually shifting allegiances of these rival groups even if it defeats the Kabul government.
The US had spent US$2.3 trillion on the war but failed to win the war. Its claim to rebuild Afghanistan is completely hollow and patronising. The country still remains miserably poor with a per capita income of US$507 in 2019. The country ranked 204th in terms of per capita income out of 213 countries during the same year. An estimated a quarter of a million Afghans died as a direct result of the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan since 2001.
In fact, pumping of money for what has been described as development and reconstruction created a kleptocratic elite and the US never made any serious efforts to prevail on them. No wonder the US challenge in Afghanistan has always been an Afghan government sponsored by the US that could not govern the country. The Afghan government in Kabul is so widely reviled that it has lost all legitimacy to rule the country. In fact, the Afghan society remains a broken society as a result of the US invasion and occupation.
In fact, Afghanistan should remain a clear example of what happens to a country when the US undertakes nation building mission after working on it for 20 years - a total failure. Such US missions in many other countries also resulted in the similar outcome, it only benefits US firms and contractors with small amount of crumps thrown at local collaborators.
Also, hundreds and thousands more civilians died due to hunger, disease and injury caused by the devastating war. According the United Nations (UN) estimate at least 2.7 million out of 38 million population of Afghanistan have been forced to flee the country due to war and became refugees in neighbouring Pakistan, Iran and beyond. Another 4 million Afghans have been internally displaced.
Foreign occupations are not about nation building, they are about safeguarding their self interests. In withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, the US is pursuing its national and economic interests. President Biden in his speech to the nation clearly emphasised that the US would be more formidable if it focuses on future challenges, not those in the past.
What are those future challenges? The president went on to outline those challenges and said "From an increasing assertive China, we have to strengthen our alliances…to ensure that the rules of international norms that govern cyber threats, and emerging technologies that will shape our future are grounded in our democratic values, not those of autocrats".
So it is now clearly evident that the US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan is intended to redeploy military resources against China along with an axiological democratising agenda for the world. However, democracy that the US propounds is completely incompatible with extreme levels of social inequality as prevalent in the US and endless wars notwithstanding the fact that US has quite long time ago transited into plutocracy.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken did not mince his words when on April 18 he said that withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan meshes with the Biden administration's goal of focusing resources on China. Some political commentators even suggested that withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan would enable the US to focus on Washington's number one foreign policy priority: China. The US is aligning national focus and resources with its goal of long term strategic confrontation with China by further shoring up its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
As China's Global Times pointed out that the US repeatedly stirred up troubles in China's surroundings on issues such as Afghanistan, Myanmar and China-India border, in bid to create instability around China, and then affect China's development. There are valid reasons for the Chinese to be sceptical about the US withdrawal.
The fundamental question remains what does withdrawing from Afghanistan precisely mean? In fact there will be sizeable US security presence in Afghanistan after the troops withdrawal in the form of private security forces, defence contractors and local agents who are in a patron-client relationship with the US. The last group includes the political elites in Afghanistan. Therefore, the US will continue to be able to destabilise the North Western region of China or more precisely the US will continue to use Afghanistan for tactical purposes in the region.
Meanwhile, President Biden has also been pressing domestic issues to deal with. He is facing an undeclared civil war at home. The Republican Party under the leadership of Donald Trump has turned into the white supremacist party actively seeking to destabilise his administration. It is now feared that it may only be a matter of time the situation turns into something more threatening and ugly.
Last week in Philadelphia, President Biden had to respond to Trump's speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas at which he (Trump) reiterated his allegation of a "stolen election" and defended the violent assault on the Capitol to take back America from the radical left democrats. He also railed against socialism.
President Biden criticised the unprecedented assault on voting rights in Republican controlled states in the aftermath of Trump's attempted coup of January 6. Since the November election, 28 laws have been enacted restricting voting rights to poor and minority voters in 17 Republican controlled states. In fact, a total of 400 such laws have so far been introduced across the US.
He further added an unfolding assault is taking place in the US, an attempt to suppress and subvert voting rights, an assault on democracy, an assault on liberty and an assault on who we are as Americans. These are very dire acknowledgements of the current prevailing volatile political environment in the US.
It is hard to imagine how the Biden administration can conduct its foreign and defence policy within such a deeply divided US political establishment where open political warfare has become the norm on every single issue except the military budget and hostility towards China and Russia.
Deep domestic crises coupled with the nation's declining economic fortune has created uncertainty about the future direction of the country with serious implications for the rest of the world. The US still remains the global hegemon with corresponding military might. There is tendency for such a hegemonic power to compensate for its economic decline with new military adventurism.
The US also has a solid track record as the most warlike country since it gained independence in 1776.
Over the last 245 years the country has been expanding by taking over territories from other countries using military force and maintained its global hegemony over the last 100 years also using its brute military force. In fact, the bellicosity of American society goes quite far even before the formal declaration of independence in 1776. Statistically speaking, the US has been at war for 227 out of 245 years of its history since 1776. Therefore, it is not only probable but possible that the US can be militarily adventurous against China. The most likely question now remains when, where and how it will take place.