The following article was written by a member of the French Trotskyist organization L’Etincelle (The Spark), a Fraction of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), and translated from French. It’s relevant to know that the French military was in Afghanistan with troops from October 2001 to November 2012 in coalition with U.S. military forces, and continued to give logistical assistance and training to forces in Afghanistan in the following period.
Images have been circulating since Sunday, August 15, of the capture of the Afghan capital Kabul by the Taliban, twenty years after they were driven out by the U.S. military intervention launched in 2001 in retaliation for the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York. An image of a group of Taliban leaders posing in the presidential office abandoned by Ashraf Ghani on the run. Image of the chaos at the Kabul airport, still under the control of U.S. forces, where would-be departures have been crowding in. Clusters of Afghans are desperately trying to get on planes that the U.S. and its European friends and allies have reserved for their own defeated citizens. Added to this are two images: that of a helicopter evacuating the American embassy in Kabul a few days ago and that of another helicopter, 46 years earlier, evacuating the American embassy in Saigon in 1975, marking the American debacle in Vietnam. Today, a new land is abandoned. But who has lost what?
According to the imperialist leaders and their media outlets, no one could have imagined such a lightning and easy advance of the Taliban; no one could have anticipated that the capital Kabul, a city of six million inhabitants – including the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie – would fall like this without resistance, while the country has an army of 300,000 men equipped from top to bottom by the United States. A president escapes at top speed and his soldiers disappear into thin air. American humiliation, we are told.
Biden explained first and foremost that it was time to stop. That it had cost too much. A trillion dollars went up in smoke, and almost as much again in secondary costs, U.S. support equipment for an ultra-technical war waged partly at a distance, pensions for veterans, interest on government loans to keep private banks happy. This is more than ten times the cost of the post-war Marshall Plan for Europe, more than four times the annual budget of France. Soldiers’ lives were also sacrificed in vain: 3,500 Western soldiers, including 2,500 Americans, and 1,700 auxiliary personnel! And all for this? The 240,000 Afghans, soldiers on both sides and civilians, who have died in this war are not included in the assessment that the United States and its allies are making of their defeat, nor are the five million displaced persons in the country or the nearly three million refugees abroad.
On the evening of August 16 we watched the bad Hollywood production of lies and regrets with starring roles for Biden, and Macron “live” on screen: both stammering to blurt out their version of history according to their petty interests. Both of them in denial of their slightest guilt towards the Afghan people.
The Taliban, a partially imported product
We cannot rewrite the entire history of Afghanistan, but this mountainous country, at high elevation (the capital is at an altitude of 1800 meters (5900 feet), has suffered from its situation as a passageway between regions and continents shaken by the interests of great rival powers for two centuries; one of the land trade routes known as “silk road”, between Europe and Asia, to China.
In the nineteenth century, the Russian, Persian and Pakistani-Indian empires, still under British rule, clashed militarily, resulting in a political and warlike “Great Game” to carve out areas of influence. Despite Great Britain’s difficulties in controlling the country as it controlled the neighboring Indian continent, it maintained a dominating influence until the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. After the Russian revolution and in the aftermath of the Second World War, it found itself at in the middle of East-West confrontation, the “Cold War” between the Soviet bloc and the imperialist bloc, where Afghanistan, under the control of an Islamic monarchy, became one of the buffer zones.
The current situation, and the rise of the Taliban, has its roots in the war started in 1979 by the leaders of the USSR in Afghanistan, which ended with a Russian debacle in 1989, against the backdrop of the victory of the Iranian revolution (also in 1979), in an attempt to contain the spread of Islamism in the region. This was a war in which the Russian army confronted Afghan Mujahideen joined1 by Islamist fighters from other countries.
It was an opportunity for the United States to play a subtle game: both welcoming the fact that the USSR was threatening Iran in its own way, which had become a U.S. enemy, while nevertheless encouraging and arming anti-communist Islamic rebels against the USSR. And for the U.S., it was not difficult to find allies in this country with a high proportion of peasants, under the control of warlords, patriarchal religious clans, Shiites more or less linked to Iran, Sunnis – belonging among others to the Pashtun community, populating the whole of the east and north-east of Afghanistan and even more numerous on the other side of the border, in Pakistan. The local reactionary forces were joined by the commercial and warlike appetites of the great powers, against the “progressive” and even revolutionary Afghan currents – for there were some. If, after the withdrawal of the USSR in 1989 and a few chaotic years of wars between rival regional clans, it was the Taliban – which appeared in 1994 – that took power in 1996, it was because they had become the only somewhat centralized force, through the religious schools where they had recruited with the direct help of the Pakistani secret services and, under the radar, that of the U.S. – not without financial support from Saudi Arabia. It was during these years of American anti-communist crusade, with U.S. logistical support to Islamists, that Bin Laden’s star began to rise.
So the Taliban, which took power in 1996, was not home-grown, or not exclusively. The American leaders share a good deal of responsibility in the tragedy experienced by the population under the five years of Taliban rule, from 1996 to 2001: women like phantoms, cloaked by their burka, stoned or whipped for adultery, prohibited from gaining an education (which was not the case while the country was under the influence and then directly under the control of the USSR); men with their hands cut off for stealing, etc. Sharia law in all its horror… carried out by American policy. Their return today is occurring in the same scenario as in 1996: after twenty years of war and chaos, generated this time by the U.S. and its allies (including France, which kept troops in Afghanistan until 2014), it is with them that, for lack of having found a better way to manage the country and control a population in misery, the American government negotiated its withdrawal. It is worth noting the near-silence, today, of all the good friends of the imperialists, regarding the fact that it was Trump who, in February 2020, gave the signal to leave. He negotiated with the Taliban its return to power in very official talks in Doha, Qatar…. under the noses of the uninvited Afghan rulers. He set some conditions, but above all the date of the transfer of power, and the date of the Americans’ departure. The calendar was slightly upset, but only slightly.
The so-called war on terror
Biden, Macron and company are bringing this war on terror up again, obviously neglecting to remind us that Bin Laden, who was the pretext for the war unleashed in 2001 (son of the Saudi princely elite and a banker among other things) was also “made in the USA” and fed on dollars, before turning against the United States and choosing the Afghanistan of the Taliban as his base – a country where he had already waged war against the USSR twenty years earlier. They also neglect to explain how the choice of leaving power today to the Taliban in Afghanistan would be… fighting against terrorism?
The hunt for Bin Laden and the alleged fight against terrorism were pretexts for the U.S. military installation in a region to be closely controlled after the fall of the USSR, bordered by Iran – reputed to be an enemy, and Pakistan – reputed to be a friend. Oil pipelines, silk roads… To this war in Afghanistan was quickly added, in 2003, the war in Iraq, in this same great region with oil resources, at the crossroads of the Middle East and Central Asia. A war which, by the way, led to the creation of ISIS. Bin Laden was assassinated in Pakistan in 2011, under Obama, but the war continued and lasted twenty years, under four successive American presidencies, two Republicans and two Democrats. Obama raised the U.S. military personnel to its highest level: 1,000,000 troops, plus 100,000 private contractors of army services, including nearly 20,000 armed mercenaries. Has it eradicated Islamism and terrorism? Certainly not. It is the Afghan population that has suffered the damage. The Taliban have even been able to pass themselves off as intractable opponents of the American occupiers, in the face of successive corrupted governments sold out to imperialism.
All this for nothing?
The only regrets and disappointments expressed today by those responsible for these twenty years of war, imposed on a country that had already experienced twenty previously, are that it was too expensive for and for nothing… Lies again, because not everyone lost. It has cost the American working classes dearly, in war expenses as opposed to public and social expenses. But it has been profitable for the American multinationals in arms, logistics, digital technology and for the private mercenary companies, including Blackwater, all of which have flourished. This war has probably been one of the most modern laboratories for death machines, against a background of trafficking and corruption.2 This war has certainly advanced the science and sophisticated techniques of surveillance by drones and other toys, of long-distance launching of so-called surgical bombings… It has also advanced the international drug industry and trade, fueled not only by the Taliban, but also by many others, including the brother of the ex-acting president, Karzai, chosen by the U.S. and its allies to supposedly establish democracy.
So it’s quite a trick for Biden to cry in front of the world’s microphones today about the failure of the U.S. to bring democracy to Afghans (government and people) who were supposedly viscerally resistant to it, who didn’t fight, etc. It’s a beautiful piece of filth to say that you can’t import democracy to a nation. Helping a clique of Islamists to come to power, however, seems to have been a success for the U.S. imperialist rulers. With the support, among others, of their friends in France.
Macron in there?
Macron had to get involved, as the self-proclaimed leader of European diplomacy. A solemn speech in tone, undignified in content. Gross Franco-French nationalism: in defense of “our” compatriots, those deserving expatriates who have remained in Afghanistan as sentries – certainly well-paid. In short, we were going to repatriate them all, no worries, everything would be fine. We’ll have to see, because things aren’t going so well. And what about the Afghans “who helped us” and whom we should bring back too, if they want to leave? Macron swears that we won’t let them down. But we have seen the scenes of panic in Kabul. Journalists from Le Monde report in the Tuesday, August 17 edition “The Anguish of Afghans Who Want to Bring their Families to France”. This has gone on for months, even years, and these last weeks in total feverishness, the thing that should be done… is still not done! Administrative roadblocks, bogus promises, Macron’s lies.
Where he probably did not lie, however, was in his abject promise to assure the French that the dramatic events in Afghanistan would in no way open the door to “irregular immigration flows”! Rest assured, good people (meaning the xenophobic public of the extreme right, the right and even the left of this ex-socialist!), our borders in France will remain closed to those Afghans who would like to flee the Taliban regime (which the American policy has helped to put back in place, with our complicity). And Macron, as a spokesman for the European imperialist “democracies” and especially for his friend Angela Merkel, announced that he would resist any migratory pressure (at the same time as he raises the specter of it, which he considers reassuring and good for his presidential campaign). The great French democracy intends to enlist the help of Iran, Pakistan or Turkey (no matter how bad the political reputation of these dictatorships is!) to contain and keep on their soil, especially in camps, the Afghan refugees and fugitives. They will be paid to do so by the democracies, in euros or dollars. And who will go and see what life is like in these camps?
The images of the events in Afghanistan have shaken the whole world. It is not certain that Macron and Biden have convinced us of the excellence of this American “endgame”. It is not certain that tens of millions of men and women who are fighting in the world today, and in Afghanistan, for an idea of democracy and freedom other than that carried by the Marines or the Taliban, are not outraged by the lies they are being fed; that they do not feel on the side of the Afghan population whose interests have not ceased to be trampled on by the great ones of this world; that they do not feel like sending them a fraternal and internationalist message. The workers and the people have been able in many circumstances, and not the easiest, to take their affairs into their own hands; they continue and will continue to do so and to engage in hard struggles. If the U.S. departure from Afghanistan, like the departure from Vietnam in 1975, shows anything, it is that the richest bourgeoisie in the world, with the most powerful army, its bombs, its drones, its most sophisticated tracking devices, controls the peoples of the world only by relying on pathetic, backward-looking local dictators – cliques that are unlikely to withstand the necessary social and political revolutions that lie ahead.
1 Read Les cercueils de zinc, by the Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievitch, Christian Bourgois, 1990. It can be estimated that 500,000 Soviet soldiers took turns on the ground, their maximum number of 150,000 at any one time having been reached under Gorbachev, shortly before the war ended. The number of Soviet soldiers who died in one way or another, in combat or of disease, is estimated by some to be as high as 50,000 – the Soviet authorities have never acknowledged more than 25,000.
2 In a fictionalized but nevertheless very well-documented novel (a sensational “triller” novel), the author who signs the DOA (Dead On Arrival) forms has devoted two large volumes to this war, under the titles Pukhtu Primo and Pukhtu Secundo – Folio detective series. It is likely that reality was worse than the fiction.