Reality catches up with U.S. in Afghanistan

Updated 8/18/2021, 8/19/2021.

I think President Biden, despite his embarrassing press conference on July 7, made the right decision about Afghanistan. 

The war was unwinnable.  The military establishment has known this for at least 10 years. 

President Obama knew this, but did not have the moral courage to take the final step.  President Trump understood this, and scheduled a troop withdrawal to be completed after the 2020 elections.  It was left to Joe Biden to take the final step.

Saying the U.S. should have stayed longer in Afghanistan is like saying the Wile E. Coyote character in the Road Runner cartoons should not have looked down after he ran off the edge of the cliff.

Back during the George W. Bush administration, Karl Rove told a reporter that the U.S. was an empire that could afford to ignore the “reality-based community” because it had the power to create its own reality.  We now see where arrogance and willful ignorance lead.

As someone said, it is possible to ignore reality, but it is not possible to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.

Below are some links to reality-based comments.  I may add more if I come across them.


Afghanistan Meant Nothing. A Veteran Reflects on 20 Wasted Years| by Laura Jedeed for Medium

I remember Afghanistan well. I deployed there twice — once in 2008, and again in 2009–2010. It was already obvious that the Taliban would sweep through the very instant we left. And here we are today.

I know how bad the Taliban is. I know what they do to women and little boys. I know what they’re going to do to the interpreters and the people who cooperated with us, it’s awful, it’s bad, but we are leaving, and all I feel is grim relief. [snip]

I remember Afghanistan as a dusty beige nightmare of a place full of proud, brave people who did not fucking want us there.  We called them Hajjis and worse and they were better than we were, braver and stronger and smarter.

I remember going through the phones of the people we detained and finding clip after clip of Bollywood musicals, women singing in fields of flowers. Rarely did I find anything incriminating. [snip]

I remember how every year the US would have to decide how to deal with the opium fields. There were a few options.

You could leave the fields alone, and then the Taliban would shake the farmers down and use the money to buy weapons.

Or, you could carpet bomb the fields, and then the farmers would join the Taliban for reasons that, to me, seem obvious.

The third option, and the one we went for while I was there, was to give the farmers fertilizer as an incentive to grow wheat instead of opium poppy.

The farmers then sold the fertilizer to the Taliban, who used it to make explosives for IEDs that could destroy a million dollar MRAP and maim everyone inside.

I remember we weren’t allowed to throw batteries away because people who worked on base would go through the trash and collect hundreds of dead batteries, wire them together so they had just enough juice for one charge, and use that charge to detonate an IED.

I remember the look on my roommate’s face after she got back from cutting the dead bodies of two soldiers out of an HMMWV that got blown up by an IED that I have always imagined was made with fertilizer from an opium farmer and detonated with a hundred thrown-out batteries.  [snip]

And now, finally, we are leaving and the predictable thing is happening. The Taliban is surging in and taking it all back.

They were always going to do this, because they have a thing you cannot buy or train, they have patience and a bloody-mindedness that warrants more respect than we ever gave them.

I am Team Get The Fuck Out Of Afghanistan which, as a friend pointed out to me today, has always been Team Taliban.  It’s Team Taliban or Team Stay Forever.

There is no third team.

And so I sit here, reading these sad fucking articles and these horrified social media posts about the suffering in Afghanistan and the horror of the encroaching Taliban and how awful it is that this is happening, but I can’t stop feeling this grim happiness, like, finally, you fuckers, finally you have to face the thing Afghanistan has always been.  You can’t keep lying to yourself about what you sent us into.

No more blown up soldiers.  No more Bollywood videos on phones whose owners are getting shipped god knows where.  No more hypocrisy.

No more pretending it meant anything.  It didn’t.

‘How Could They Not Hate You Forever?’ by Eoin Higgins for The Daily Poster.  [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]

I talked to three U.S. veterans of the war about their experiences in the country and whether or not their presence made things better.  Nate Bethea, who served in Paktika province from February 2009- to March 2010, told me that coalition presence made things worse, and the military attempts to make up for the upheaval fell flat.

“When people died accidentally and it was the fault of the coalition, we’d make condolence payments of around $1,000 to $2,000, depending on if it was the breadwinner or like a spouse or child,” Bethea said. “And people thought, ‘Okay, this is fine, we paid them out’ — but you killed their fucking family. How could they not hate you forever?”

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan back with a bang by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times

In the end, there was no Battle for Kabul.  Thousands of Taliban were already inside Kabul – once again the classic sleeper-cell playbook.  The bulk of their forces remained in the outskirts. 

An official Taliban proclamation ordered them not to enter the city, which should be captured without a fight, to prevent civilian casualties.

The Taliban did advance from the west, but “advancing,” in context, meant connecting to the sleeper cells in Kabul, which by then were fully active.

Tactically, Kabul was encircled in an “anaconda” move, as defined by a Taliban commander: squeezed from north, south and west and, with the capture of Jalalabad, cut off from the east.  [snip]

The collapse of the Afghan National Army (ANA) was inevitable.  They were “educated” the American military way: massive technology, massive air power, next to zero local ground intel.

The Taliban is all about deals with tribal elders and extended family connections – and a peasant guerrilla approach, parallel to the communists in Vietnam.

They were biding their time for years, just building connections – and those sleeper cells.  Afghan troops who had not received a salary for months were paid not to fight them.

A Few Words on the Taliban by Ian Welsh. [Added 8/18/2021]

One thing to understand about the Taliban is that they’ve been at war now for decades.  The US military has the best e-lint in the world, a fleet of drones, bombers and an army of special force assassins.

You fuck up even once as a member of the Taliban and you may get dead.  Since the US likes bombs and doesn’t care about how many people they kill to get one “terrorist”, you won’t just get dead, you’ll take some of your friends and family with you.

You fuck up serially, and you WILL get dead, and you WILL cause the death of your friends and family.  (Being captured, of course, is much worse. If anyone reading this thinks America doesn’t still torture, well…)

Because of this, the Taliban leadership and even its lower ranks is made up of competent people who are true believers.  It’s a harsh life in which you cannot make mistakes.  Only brave, competent true believers sign up and survive.

The Taliban, like Hezbollah, does not tolerate people who are serial fuck-ups.  In this they are the exact opposite of America’s elites, who not only tolerate serial fuck-ups, but promote them.

The U.S. Government Lied For Two Decades About Afghanistan by Glenn Greenwald

“Are we losing this war?,” Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, asked rhetorically in a news briefing from Afghanistan in 2008, answering it this way: “Absolutely no way. Can the enemy win it? Absolutely no way.”

On September 4, 2013, then-Lt. Gen. Milley — now Biden’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — complained that the media was not giving enough credit to the progress they had made in building up the Afghan national security forces: “This army and this police force have been very, very effective in combat against the insurgents every single day,” Gen. Milley insisted.

None of this was true.  It was always a lie, designed first to justify the U.S’s endless occupation of that country and, then, once the U.S. was poised to withdraw, to concoct a pleasing fairy tale about why the prior twenty years were not, at best, an utter waste.

That these claims were false cannot be reasonably disputed as the world watches the Taliban take over all of Afghanistan as if the vaunted “Afghan national security forces” were china dolls using paper weapons.

But how do we know that these statements made over the course of two decades were actual lies rather than just wildly wrong claims delivered with sincerity? 

To begin with, we have seen these tactics from U.S. officials — lying to the American public about wars to justify both their initiation and continuation — over and over.

Afghanistan: We Never Learn by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

The pattern is always the same. We go to places we’re not welcome, tell the public a confounding political problem can be solved militarily, and lie about our motives in occupying the country to boot.

Then we pick a local civilian political authority to back that inevitably proves to be corrupt and repressive, increasing local antagonism toward the American presence.

In response to those increasing levels of antagonism, we then ramp up our financial, political, and military commitment to the mission, which in turn heightens the level of resistance, leading to greater losses in lives and treasure.

As the cycle worsens, the government systematically accelerates the lies to the public about our level of “progress.”

Throughout, we make false assurances of security that are believed by significant numbers of local civilians, guaranteeing they will later either become refugees or targets for retribution as collaborators.

Meanwhile, financial incentives for contractors, along with political disincentives to admission of failure, prolong the mission.

This all goes on for so long that the lies become institutionalized, believed not only by press contracted to deliver the propaganda (CBS’s David Martin this weekend saying with a straight face, “Everybody is surprised by the speed of this collapse” was typical), but even by the bureaucrats who concocted the deceptions in the first place.

A Hell of Our Own Making by Edward Snowden on Continuing Ed.  [Added 8/18/2021]

Just hours before I sat down to draft this, the President of the United States gave a speech in which he tried to defend the honor of this war—a defense that is frankly offensive, and that I think most offends the families of the injured and the dead. 

President Biden then went on to assert that our erstwhile ally, Osama bin Laden, had been brought to justice—our noble lie.  He could have been brought to justice, but we shot him instead.

He wasn’t even in Afghanistan.

If there are any lessons to be learned from this tragic sequel to Saigon, you can be assured, we will not learn them.

We will just sit by as the people of Afghanistan—many of whom were as deluded by American promises as Americans themselves—cling to hopes and cling to planes and fall, lost to the desert of theocratic rule.

Some will say, They didn’t fight! They get what they deserve!  To which I say, “And what do we deserve?”

A fractious country comprised of warring tribes, unable to form an inclusive whole; unable to wade beyond shallow differences in sect and identity in order to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity, and so they perish—in the span of a breath—without ever reaching the promised shore.

Today, the country this describes is Afghanistan.  Tomorrow, the country this describes might be my own.

Afghanistan: Chaos Pictures Increase Fallout from American Defeat by Bernhardt for Moon of Alabama.

Yesterday Iran was informed by Russia that it will now become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). So far the SCO included China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. Iran will now join and Afghanistan has observer status.

This bloc, which is to a large part about military and policy coordination, will cover for Iran when the U.S. will try to escalate over Iran’s nuclear program.  Today Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan was in Iran for further talks.  He will then travel to Doha to talk with the Taliban leadership.  The SCO will also take care of Afghanistan. It has enough collective power to help and develop Afghanistan over the next decades.

The U.S. though lost a lot of face. The defeat, and the bad handling of it, have been noticed around the world and especially in Asia.  There the U.S. has tried to recruit ‘allies’ for its self inflicted and totally unnecessary confrontation with China.

But who will want to join such a feeble ‘superpower’ after watching its recent performance in Afghanistan, elsewhere, or even at home?

Biden Forfeits His Afghan Victory by Defending His Deep State Advisors by Michael Hudson [Added 8/18/2021]

Biden’s political mistake was to blame the victim and depict the Taliban victory as a defeat of a cowardly army not willing to fight for its paymasters.  He seems to imagine that the army actually had been paid, provided with food, clothing and weapons in recent months simply because U.S. officials gave their local proconsuls and supporters cash for this purpose.

I understand that there is no real accounting of just what the $3 trillion U.S. cost was actually spent on, who got it the shrink-wrapped bundles of hundred-dollar bills passed down through America’s occupation bureaucracy.  (I bet the serial numbers were not recorded.  Imagine if that were done and the U.S. could announce these C-notes demonetized!)

The reality is that not much of the notorious $3 trillion actually was spent in Afghanistan.  It was spent on Raytheon, Boeing and other military hardware suppliers, on the mercenary forces, and placed in the accounts of the Afghan proxies for the U.S. maneuvering to use Afghanistan to destabilize Central Asia on Russia’s southern flank and western China.

The U.S. is now (20 years after the time it should have begun) trying to formulate a Plan B.  Its strategists probably hope to achieve in Afghanistan what occurred after the Americans left Saigon: An economic free-for-all that U.S. companies can co-opt by offering business opportunities.

We Failed Afghanistan, Not the Other Way Around by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  [Added 8/19/2021]

MSNBC rails against the “fantastic corruption” on the ground that ruined the Afghan mission, but the real corruption was our own.

Afghanistan & the American Imperial Project by Jack Rasmus.

The reason the U.S. withdrew forces from Afghanistan is that the war become unaffordable.  It took money and resources needed for the new cold war with China.

The War Nerd: Was There Ever a Plan for Afghanistan? by John Dolan for The ExileD.

U.S. military brass always considered Afghanistan a sideshow.  The real prize was oil-rich Iraq.

We Can’t Let the Generals Who Lied About Afghanistan Define Its Legacy by Sarah Lazare for In These Times.

General David Petraeus, for example.


4 Responses to “Reality catches up with U.S. in Afghanistan”

  1. David Markham Says:

    Hi Phil et al.

    This statement is not meant to be arrogant, or vain, or “I told ya so” but just as I knew at age 19 that Vietnam was a huge mistake, I knew along with Congressman Barbara Lee that Afghanistan was a big mistake. The stupidity that lead to Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq is based on hubris and an egocentric world view that “might makes right.” The Karl Rove quote that the U.S. is not bound by reality but makes reality is the epitome of this worldview. The politicians got away with this because the American people wanted revenge after 9/11 and once again as Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes us both blind.” Do you suppose that this experience will contribute to an advance in cultural maturity for Americans or will remain stuck at the egocentric world view of exceptionalism?


    • philebersole Says:

      To my shame, I thought the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq could result in liberation of the peoples of those countries.

      Over time I came to think that U.S. occupations were being mismanaged, then to believe that they never could have succeeded in the first place, and at last to realize that they were crimes in terms of both international law and basic human morality.

      I went through the same evolution in regard to Vietnam. I make no claim of above-average insight or morality.

      The thing about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also in Vietnam, was that the generals and policy-makers early came to the realization that they were unwinnable, but continued the killing rather than admit they had made a mistake.


  2. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Country building in Afghanistan was a mistake. The military pursuit of Al Qaeda and Bin laden and friends was not. There was an opportunity to eliminate him and his cohort at the beginning of the war but the diplomats wanted the Afghans to have a role in doing it and that’s how he escaped to Pakistan.

    If someone repeatedly attacks you with escalating severity and there is no viable authority to appeal to, you hit them back as hard as you can. There’s no right or wrong about it, pure pragmatism.


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