America’s legacy in Afghanistan

America’s legacy in Afghanistan

American troops landed in Afghanistan with an impossible and vague mission made harder by mistakes made in Washington D.C.

US and Nato forces leave Bagram base in historic handover after 20 years of  war in Afghanistan | The Independent
Photo by AFP via Getty Images.

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Ryan Harris Jewell

From South Vietnam to Somalia, there has been a consistent failure to successfully cement American influence abroad. Afghanistan is no different, with the images at Kabul airport serving as an unwanted reminder of America’s past.

The United States’ failings can be traced back to the very start of the war, where the military-industrial complex’s greed for action mixed with a public desire for revenge post-9/11 resulted in a dangerously haphazard mission to take control of the troubled nation.

As of 2001, the invasion of the South Asian country was a resounding military success. The Taliban were removed from power in December, just months after the first wave of Western forces crossed the border.

Following this initial success, it would have been reasonable to assume that the 21st century would usher in a brighter future for Afghanistan. Just three years after the invasion, the first set of democratic elections would see a new president for the Islamic republic and a constitution which would set the framework for democracy. 

Optimism however can often blind us from the obvious, and whilst it may have appeared that the gears of democracy were finally turning, in reality, they were in a desperate state of neglect.

The West’s ‘War on Terror’ escalated following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Engagement in this second front meant that the resources required for Afghanistan were relocated over 1,400 miles away, where the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime left a nagging hole.

Wars fought on two fronts rarely, if ever, result in victory for the aggressor. Just as it was for Nazi Germany in World War Two, the decision by America and its allies to fight along two fronts in both Afghanistan and then Iraq would provide the first nail in the coffin for an untenable dream: a stable Afghanistan.

The strain of Iraq would see a slow and painful departure of international presence from Afghanistan, a young and venerable country where the seeds of democracy were left in the hands of a corruptible government and military force desperately unfit for duty.

Corruption is a poison which can strike at the heart of any system, and with nearly a quarter of the nation’s economy reportedly based on bribery, it’s clear that without supervision, Afghanistan’s relationship with its government soon became too toxic to maintain. 

The establishment of a weak, unstable government was not the only failure to plague ‘Operation Enduring Freedoms’ and undermine America’s legacy in the region.

Afghanistan is a nation of 252,000 square miles, 32 million people and a multitude of distinct ethnic groups. Therefore, if a nation like Afghanistan was to have a military, it would need to be one that embraces diversity. In reality, the majority of the estimated 180,000 soldiers serving in the ANA were from the northern regions of the country; when stationed in the southern regions, they appeared as foreign as the Western military personal serving besides them. 

The Western-backed Afghan national army, then, resembled something of a foreign occupational force with a broken command structure.

An inability to meet recruitment quotas was worsened by the high numbers of “ghost soldiers” filling the ANA’s ranks. Due to large levels of ill discipline, corruption and abuse, an estimated 25% of ANA forces deserted in 2009 alone.

The tale of the fall of the Islamic republic of Afghanistan is one that has been told countless times before – and will be told again to future generations if America and the West refuses to learn its lesson and test the water’s depth before diving in headfirst.