Monday, August 8

Iraq and Afghanistan show that the US is not good at getting out of its endless wars

In December 2001, a team of Marines recaptured the US embassy in Kabul and raised the same flag that had been removed in 1989 when leaving the building shortly before the Soviet invasion. “We are here. And we are here to stay”, said then-special envoy, James Dobbins, celebrating the flight of the Taliban from the capital. After 20 years of relentless warfare against insurgents, Washington this week announced the deployment of 3,000 troops to the Afghan capital. for a partial evacuation of the embassy before the spectacular Taliban advance. All this coinciding with what was supposed to be the end of the war and the American withdrawal.

In May, just as the US withdrawal began, the Taliban launched a major offensive in the country that has intensified in recent days. According to data from the independent web and based on press information Long War Journal, the insurgents control 242 districts of the country, which represents 59.5% of the total. The Government only has 65 (16%) in its power and another 100 are in dispute (24.5%). In a week, 12 of the 34 provinces and 14 capitals have fallen.

For Washington, this is no surprise. In recent months, members of the White House, the intelligence community and other government agencies had warned of what could happen, but it was not enough to change President Biden’s plans.

The United States does not appear to have learned the lessons of its withdrawal from Iraq where there were also numerous warnings. Barack Obama had come to power promising to end the Iraqi ghost and applied a policy of progressive disengagement. However, American fighters and soldiers had to return two and a half years after their withdrawal to fight the Islamic State, which had taken advantage of the consequences of the war very well to grow and conquer much of the country.

“We cannot liberate Iraq from all those who oppose the US. We cannot patrol the streets of Iraq until they are completely safe. We cannot sustain indefinitely a compromise that will cost the people close to a trillion dollars. The situation has improved and I intend to remove all American soldiers by the end of 2011, “Obama said in 2009.

That statement is very reminiscent of Biden’s message last April in which he announced the withdrawal from Afghanistan: “Nobody wants to say that we should stay in Afghanistan forever, but they insist that now is not the right time to leave. When is it? Will the time be right? One more year? Two? Ten? ” Both statements, both Obama’s and Biden’s, suggest that victory is not absolute and that the threat persists. Before making the decision, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III advised him not to make a full withdrawal. “We have seen this movie before,” he said. to the president.

Warnings in Iraq

What movie? Sounds like Iraq. Faced with Obama’s intentions, both General David Petraeus, then commander of the forces in Iraq, and the US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, told Obama that it was better not to talk about dates. “Setting an arbitrary date is simply telling the enemy how long to wait. And that can be very dangerous. That is what we argued,” said Crocker.

The policy from then on was to treat Iraq as a peer-to-peer state without overly linking and supporting Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki despite his sectarianism (well known in Washington) against the Sunni population. That sectarianism soared after the US withdrawal and served as a catalyst for the expansion of the Islamic State.

“We disassociated ourselves from Iraq not only militarily, but also politically. The war was over and we were out. It was thought that the chips had to be dropped by themselves … Well, I think we didn’t think enough about how many chips were going to fall and what would they be. the consequences, “Crocker said.

“That Maliki was a problem was a continual warning that I and others before me had already made,” said the US ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012, James Jeffrey. “The president had taken the position that Iraq had been a mistake and that we had ended the war. If we see things that we do not like, we will call from the vice presidency as we do with 150 other countries in a similar situation.” When ISIS was already a reality and Maliki called for help, Obama responded by sending his military forces back to Iraq to fight the terrorist organization, which posed a global threat.

Warnings in Afghanistan

The United States accepted its withdrawal from Afghanistan in a agreement signed with the Taliban in February 2020 in exchange for them starting peace negotiations with the Government of their country and not allowing Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups to use their territory to attack the United States. Paradoxically, after the agreement, violence in the country soared and civilian casualties increased by 47% in the first half of 2021. At this rate, this will be the bloodiest year since victims began to be counted in 2009.

Given that the negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government did not prosper, the US put forward a series of proposals, including the creation of an interim government that the Afghan Executive rejected outright. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, which was perceived by many as a form of pressure to reach an agreement with the Taliban, but which in turn reveals that Washington knew that the security situation was more than delicate.

“We are considering a complete withdrawal of our forces by May 1, while we study other options. Even with continued US financial assistance to its forces following a US military withdrawal, I am concerned that the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban can achieve quick territorial victories. I make it clear so that you understand the urgency of my tone, “Blinken noted in his letter.

On the other hand, the intelligence community concluded in June that the Government of Afghanistan could fall between six and twelve months after the US withdrawal, as reported by various sources to the newspaper Wall street journal. Without a radical change on the ground, it seems that this is the way.

Fighting Al Qaeda

When the US withdrew from Iraq in 2011, al Qaeda was weakened, but not defeated. Maliki’s sectarianism, the American disconnection and the war in Syria, among many other factors, favored his strengthening until his conversion into the powerful Islamic State of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. In Afghanistan, despite the agreement between the Taliban and the US, the insurgents have not severed their ties with Al Qaeda.

“We entered the war with clear objectives and we have achieved them. Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is degraded.” Biden stated during the recall announcement.

However, according to a UN report from May 2021 – after the president’s announcement – “the Taliban and Al Qaeda remain closely allies and show no indication of severing those ties.” “Al Qaeda is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces and members of the group have been relocated to more remote areas by the Taliban to avoid possible exposure and attack.”

Added to this are overly optimistic assessments of the state and strength of the Afghan security forces for years.

“With the Afghan security forces struggling to control the Taliban offensive, the current situation makes this lessons learned report especially relevant. A central theme of the report is the tendency to over-optimism, that is, favoring good news over data. suggesting a lack of progress. For years American taxpayers were told that although circumstances were difficult, success was achievable. ” holds the latest report –Published July 31– by FOLLOW, an independent agency of the US government charged with overseeing the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The last of those overly optimistic statements was that of Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on July 11: “[Las fuerzas de seguridad] they have much more capacity than they have ever had before. They know how to defend their country. ”

“More than $ 88 billion has been earmarked to support Afghanistan’s security sector. The question whether that money has been well spent will ultimately be answered by the outcome of the fighting on the ground,” the SIGAR report said.

And the results, so far, are not promising.