Afghanistan: A Failure Foretold?Historians in the News
tags: colonialism, war on terror, Afghanistan
It was 8 a.m. and the sleepy Afghan sergeant stood at what he called the front line, one month before the city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban. An unspoken agreement protected both sides. There would be no shooting.
That was the nature of the strange war the Afghans just fought, and lost, with the Taliban.
President Biden and his advisers say the Afghan military’s total collapse proved its unworthiness, vindicating the American pullout. But the extraordinary melting away of government and army, and the bloodless transition in most places so far, point to something more fundamental.
The war the Americans thought they were fighting against the Taliban was not the war their Afghan allies were fighting. That made the American war, like other such neocolonialist adventures, most likely doomed from the start.
Recent history shows it is foolish for Western powers to fight wars in other people’s lands, despite the temptations. Homegrown insurgencies, though seemingly outmatched in money, technology, arms, air power and the rest, are often better motivated, have a constant stream of new recruits, and often draw sustenance from just over the border.
Outside powers are fighting one war as visitors — occupiers — and their erstwhile allies who actually live there, something entirely different. In Afghanistan, it was not good versus evil, as the Americans saw it, but neighbor against neighbor.
When it comes to guerrilla war, Mao once described the relationship that should exist between a people and troops. “The former may be likened to water,” he wrote, “the latter to the fish who inhabit it.”
And when it came to Afghanistan, the Americans were a fish out of water. Just as the Russians had been in the 1980s. Just as the Americans were in Vietnam in the 1960s. And as the French were in Algeria in the 1950s. And the Portuguese during their futile attempts to keep their African colonies in the ’60s and ’70s. And the Israelis during their occupation of southern Lebanon in the ’80s.
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