In 2001, when the US was planning to attack Afghanistan and its then adversary, the Taliban, defeat was certain. This Taliban’s unstable and overstretched military was going to collide with a force whose power was incomparable to theirs. The US and its allied forces were well-trained and equipped with advanced weaponry needed to win a modern war, with full aerial and accurately targeting support above their heads. While the Taliban, who had a while ago begun gaining a solid ground for their ruling system, were less-equipped, less-trained. Compared to their adversaries- they were inexperienced too, with no aerial defence, precision targeting abilities or spying drones. But after twenty years of war, the consequences are utterly contrary to what the world had expected. Here are some reasons why the US, despite lacking nothing, lost the war in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s complex geography
Afghan war historians believe that one reason why superpowers lose in Afghanistan is its complicated geography. Afghanistan’s mountainous nature and engulfing, zigzag, and craggy valleys, with its flat areas of dense and healthy-looking verdant orchards, make it difficult for outsiders to achieve their desired results of war. This very reason hampered the USSR’s mission in Afghanistan.
Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani, the veteran Afghan mujahideen commander, conducted extremely complex and fatal operations in Khost, Paktia, and Paktika’s mountains against the Soviet forces, each time inflicting heavy casualties on them and downing their aggressive helicopters. His proteges recall that he once narrated that Soviet Army convoys had besieged them in the mountains near Gardez, Paktia, with aerial forces heavily bombarding them. The bombardment had become so intense that almost every five square-meter area was hit with bombs, with fighters believing that their time was up. Ultimately, it was the mountains that provided them with a level of shelter that not only shielded them, but allowed them to heavy losses on the enemy in turn and downing their helicopters.
During the US invasion, the Americans fought tooth and nail in Kandahar’s Khakrez district to neutralize a Taliban leader, Abdul Hanan Jihadwal. Yet Khakrez’s mountains proved as obstacles this time as well, and US forces not only failed kill him but also sustained fatal casualties themselves.
Afghans’ Restive Temperament and Indiscriminate US Bombardment
The cultural temperament of the Afghans is unusual. Unlike other nations, they are restive and, especially through force, uncontrollable. Like its predecessors, the US also made a grave mistake through its use of brute force in its War on Terror. In the early years of the occupation, the US and its allied forces conducted such indiscriminate bombardments and killings that would kill hundreds of people at a time. In 2003 in southern Uruzgan province, coalition forces bombarded a wedding ceremony, grimly killing 140 members of one large family, including children and women. Then-President Hamid Karzai did not just adopt the silence of consent regarding the mass killings of civilians, but it later became a source of his great grievance when the US ordered the inquiries of mass deaths to be conducted. Carlotta Gall, author of The Wrong Enemy, writes that when Nicholson was assigned to conduct an inquiry into civilian casualties and US conduct during night raids, it became the source of the Afghan President’s greatest complaints against American forces. She writes that she went to interview him on the subject of night raids and found he was a supporter of them, despite the heavy civilian toll they took.
Such notorious incidences forced Afghan civilians to start siding anti-American forces, the Taliban, more overtly. The circumstances gradually changed in a way that the distinction between the Taliban and civilians for the coalition forces became extremely difficult, making it impossible for them to point out and target their enemy.
Widespread corruption in the US-installed government
To maintain a strong presence in a foreign country, you had better lay down the foundations of a stable and incorrupt government that could support and introduce you to the residents in their own terminology. But the US lacked this as well and disreputably failed to form a transparent, stable, and incorrupt administration. From the first days of the current ruling Kabul system, neither has it gained stability nor has it come out of the crisis of paralysing corruption. People became fade up of extortion everywhere. To have even just access to a clerk’s office, bribes would have to be paid. In many areas, police posts are phantom, and their salaries are being pocketed by their bosses. Even members of Parliament, such as Mirza Katawazai, have been caught smuggling large quantities of gold and cash abroad. Above all this, human life held little value when it came to money. Many drivers have been shot dead by the police on checkpoints for refusal to pay trivial bribes. More saddening than this is the US’ adopted blindness toward such heinous incidents.
The court system too was broken. It was common to hear instances of plaintiffs having lawsuits, presenting them to court in endless rounds, only to pay the lawyer and judges more than the amount of the assets they were prosecuting for.
Having little recourse, locals often had little alternative but the Taliban. This increased their influence to the detriment of government authorities.
Unparalleled US expenses
The US spent billions of dollars to promote war in Afghanistan. America’s distance from Afghanistan tripled its expenses on war. According to a Brown University study in 2019, the US had spent $978bn dollars at war. It had to bring lethal and nonlethal logistics at the cost of millions of dollars. The US was obliged to construct its bases and camps as large as small country towns in the US, spending an abundance of money. Official data shows that since 2002, the US has also spent about $143.27bn on construction activities.
This was whilst the expenditure of their adversaries’, the Taliban, was miniscule in comparison. One hand-made bomb of the Taliban’s, powerful enough to blow up a Humvee vehicle, costs less than 1,500 Afghani, roughly 20 US dollars. This one car bomb go on to menace US and local forces, breaking their backbone and inflicting heavy financial and human losses.
It was not only war costs the US had to sustain, but it had to cover many more areas to spend on. A huge amount was lost to waste, fraud, and abuse over the years. Much more was allocated for anti-drug efforts, with little to show for in the overwhelming proportion of opium supplied to global markets through Afghanistan. This is even more damning considering no opium was being cultivated in Afghanistan prior to the US invasion.
Photo: Tsgt Efrain Gonzalez, USAF