Experts debate achievements of US in Afghanistan
After US spending $2 trillion with human costs in Afghanistan, Taliban are back at centerstage
KARACHI, Pakistan / KABUL, Afghanistan
As the US and its allies have begun to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, diplomats and analysts are scrambling to find answers if the world’s sole superpower achieved its objectives.
The American military boots touched the Afghanistan soil in 2001, with the sole aim to unseat Taliban and uproot global terror group al-Qaeda, besides putting up institutions and a broad-based democratic structure in the war-ravaged country.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Jere Van Dyk, a New York-based expert on Afghan affairs said the rise of al-Qaeda after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces in 1989, which further bolstered during the Taliban regime leading to 9/11 attacks, spurred the irate US to “avenge”.
“The US was fully aware of the entire developments, including the shifting of anti-Western Jihadists, particularly Osama bin Laden and Aymen Al-Zawahiri to Sudan, and their relocation to Afghanistan due to Washington’s pressure on Khartoum in 1996,” he said.
Van Dyk, the author of two bestseller books The Captive and In Afghanistan remained in the Taliban captivity for three months in 2008 at an unknown location.
Muhibullah Sharif, a Kabul-based economist said the US and its allies’ contributions towards building institutions cannot be overlooked.
But he hastily added that “much more” could have been done to stabilize and sustain Afghanistan.
“Before the US invasion, there were many fake and regional currencies in circulation, Afghanistan was not represented in any regional or international trade organizations and there was no private sector, but now all that has changed for good”, he said.
Air Commodore (Retd.) Kaiser Tufail, an Islamabad-based security analyst, however, said Washington is leaving the war-ravaged country with “fewer gains and more losses”.
"It is, we can say, not a military defeat for the US, their human losses are also much lesser compared to that of in Vietnam war, and they can rightly claim to have defeated al-Qaeda," said Tufail, who is also the author of three books.
Negotiating with same Taliban
He said besides economic losses encountered by the US, it is negotiating and recognizing the same Taliban, whom it had dubbed as terrorists before waging the war.
“For the US, the war has been a complete disaster, costing several trillion dollars. No matter how much the US spin the Afghan venture, the fact is that it was compelled to leave. It will have no footprint there, and China will fill the vacuum with its soft power,” said Tufail, while referring to China’s growing penetration in Afghanistan and the Central Asian states through trade and development projects.
He said that Washington has even failed to install an ally in name of the Afghanistan government, which can last without its military backing.
Partially endorsing Tufail’s views, Van Dyk said with the US now negotiating with the Taliban, it has got ingrained in the latter’s mind that they have won the war.
Iqbal Barzgar, a Kabul-based political analyst said that the US presence has left both positive and negative impacts on Afghanistan.
He also argued that Washington and its allies helped to build the country’s ruined infrastructure and injected unprecedented amounts of money into the local economy.
“For the past 20 years, a young and educated new generation has entered the country’s social arena, a centralized government has been formed, and new opportunities have been created that were never imagined before the US invasion,” he said.
Van Dyk said while the US has spent more money in Afghanistan than it did in Europe after World War II, it is leaving with no guarantee that its accomplishments like allowing girls to go to schools will last.
He hoped that the Taliban will not repeat their past, and eventually accept a political settlement to run the country.
“The Taliban want international recognition. They need financial support. They need to be able to run a government and export products. They want to free themselves from their links with Pakistan,” he said.
“I still believe that there will be some kind of compromise. China, Iran, and Russia do not want a rising (Sunni) militant Islamic state in the heart of Asia,” he said.
Taliban surge to gain territory
Aware of the risks after the departure, Washington had desperately attempted to revive a virtually stalled intra-Afghan negotiations, which lasted only a few rounds as the Taliban sensed an opportunity against demoralized Afghan forces to seize as much territory before the completion of the pullout.
According to conservative estimates by local and international rights groups nearly 47,600 civilians were killed and more than double that number injured during the 20 years of war.
At least 2,442 US troops were also killed and 20,666 wounded in Afghanistan since 2001, according to the Pentagon estimates. Whereas, some 1,144 NATO soldiers were also killed during the war.
Estimates also suggest that the US also spent at least $2.26 trillion on a wide range of projects in Afghanistan, of which $815.7 billion were spent on security alone.
Nearly 3,600 casualties of the coalition soldiers, including 2,442 US troops were reported across Afghanistan since October 2001.