On August 30, 2021, a C-17 transport airplane took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, signaling the top of America’s longest battle. It was a battle that took the lives of at the very least 48,000 Afghan civilians, 2,461 U.S. service members, 66,000 Afghan nationwide army police, and 1,144 NATO allied service members. The Cost of War Project at Brown University estimates that the post-9/11 wars launched by the United States have resulted in nearly 1 million killed and greater than 38 million individuals displaced, with the U.S. authorities having spent $6.four trillion and rising.
For a discovered perspective on what has been unfolding in Afghanistan, I turned to interview Dr. Anatol Lieven. Lieven is a senior analysis fellow on Russia and Europe on the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He was previously a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar and within the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. From 1985 to 1998, Lieven labored as a British journalist in South Asia, the previous Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and coated the wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya and the southern Caucasus.
James W. Carden: Let’s start with the individuals who launched the suicide assault on the airport on August 26. Who are the Islamic State within the Khorasan Province, or ISKP?
Anatol Lieven: They are a reasonably motley bunch. The very first thing to notice is that they’re not Arabs. ISKP was not based by and their management just isn’t made up of Arabs who’ve moved to Afghanistan from the Middle East. So they’re not, in that sense, an offshoot of ISIS. Instead, they’re one in every of these native actions which has taken the identify of ISIS.
They’re made up of three major components:
The first are Pakistani – primarily Pashtun – militants belonging to the Pakistani Taliban. They had been pushed over the border again into Afghanistan by the Pakistan Army when it launched its offensive to crush the riot in Pakistan lately.
The second main ingredient are the worldwide fighters in Afghanistan, a lot of whom are sometimes from the previous Soviet Union: Chechens, Dagestanis, Uzbeks, along with some Arab fighters, who fled from Iraq and Syria.
The third ingredient are defectors from the Afghan Taliban, who defected for one cause or one other, generally as a result of they had been angered by Taliban negotiations with the West or by Taliban guarantees to not help worldwide jihad.
But the primary factor you need to learn about ISKP is that they’re dedicated to persevering with worldwide jihad. They’ve at all times made that completely clear, and certainly they should, as a result of their membership is made up of people that for apparent causes are dedicated to persevering with the phobia campaigns within the former Soviet Union and in Pakistan.
ISKP can be ferociously sectarian and anti-Shia and lately launched a string of dreadful assaults on Shia hospitals, colleges and markets in Afghanistan and in Pakistan as properly. They’re carefully linked to sectarian terrorist teams in Pakistan, which have been broadly alleged in flip to be supported by Saudi Arabia. So, they’re quite a lot of laborious males, in the event you like, who actually wish to use Afghanistan as a base for worldwide jihad. There has been a really fierce rivalry between ISKP and the Afghan Taliban for energy and main battles between them. And the truth is, once I was final in Afghanistan, I used to be instructed that there had been de facto cooperation between the Taliban, the Afghan authorities forces and the U.S. Air Force towards ISIS.
So that’s the place ISIS is coming from in Afghanistan.
JWC: In 2011, you wrote a really well-received e-book on the area referred to as Pakistan: A Hard Country, so I assume I’d like to grasp extra concerning the position that Pakistan has performed within the American defeat, and their relationship with ISKP and their persevering with position in supporting worldwide terrorism.
AL: Well, the Pakistani position is extraordinarily, extraordinarily sophisticated. People preserve asking me: Why did Pakistan play a double recreation over Afghanistan? And my reply is that they didn’t play a double recreation. They performed a single recreation, which was a Pakistani recreation. They pursued what they took to be Pakistan’s nationwide pursuits, which sadly conflicted with our personal or what we thought had been our personal in Afghanistan. What Pakistan has carried out fairly persistently all these years has been to present shelter to the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban is made up of Afghans, mainly of Pashtuns carefully associated to the Pashtuns of Pakistan, who make up a couple of fifth of the inhabitants and stay within the border areas.
And they’ve been persistently sheltered by Pakistan. And the rationale for that’s twofold actually. The first is that Pakistan needed a drive in Afghanistan that may be aware of Pakistan’s pursuits and needs, and above all, would by no means facet with India towards Pakistan as earlier Afghan regimes had carried out. This was additionally based mostly on the evaluation, which I’ve to say has turned out to be correct, that we might fail in Afghanistan—that the West wouldn’t keep the course and that we would go away ultimately.
So that’s the primary cause. The second cause, and this has been completely obscured by many of the Western media. What individuals there [in Pakistan] stored saying to me is, “look, in the 1980s, an outside imperial force, the Soviet Union, occupied Afghanistan. And everybody from our own government to the Americans, Saudis, everywhere, told us that it’s our duty to support the Afghan resistance against this, in the name of Islam. So we supported them. Now we have another outside, white imperial force occupying Afghanistan. And you tell us that it’s our duty to fight against the Afghan resistance and to support the puppet government in Kabul? Well, frankly, to hell with that, we will do what we always did. We will support our Afghan brothers in fighting against an alien, imperial occupation of their country.”
So what must be understood is that the Pakistan authorities, together with some inside its personal ranks and in elements of the military, had been presiding over a inhabitants—at the very least in northern Pakistan—which was tremendously supportive of the Afghan Taliban. And when [Pervez] Musharraf, the then-military dictator, in 2003-2004 made a really restricted try underneath American strain to crack down, not on the Afghan Taliban as such, however on worldwide fighters just like the Arabs, Chechens and others affiliated with the Taliban within the Pakistani border areas, this set off a riot which lasted for 15 years.
And it nonetheless goes on within the type of ISIS in Afghanistan and has price greater than 60,000 Pakistani civilian lives, 5,000 army lifeless, hundreds of police, 5 generals, and so forth. Benazir Bhutto, a two-time prime minister of Pakistan, was assassinated in 2007, on account of that. And this illustrates the diploma of help for the Afghan Taliban that you just even have in sections of society. But then it will get much more sophisticated as a result of finally, and after appreciable hesitation, the Pakistan Army cracked down very laborious certainly on the Pakistan rebels who name themselves the Pakistan Taliban whereas persevering with to shelter the Afghan Taliban.
And one of many explanation why you now have this bitter division between ISIS in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban is that the Afghan Taliban sided with Pakistan towards the Pakistani Taliban. And whereas they didn’t precisely combat them, they did an ideal deal to maintain sure areas of Pakistan quiet and forestall them from becoming a member of the Islamist revolt.
So, Pakistan is principally very comfortable that the Taliban have received in Afghanistan however expects them to go on preventing laborious towards ISIS as a result of ISIS are mortal enemies of the current Pakistani state. And all I can say is that if that sounds sophisticated, it is sophisticated.
I feel a part of the issue with American and certainly British coverage in that a part of the world is that in the event you’re not ready to check and cope with excessive complexity and with continuous adjustments of allegiance—in the event you’re not ready to deal with that—properly, then you definately shouldn’t be working in Afghanistan as a result of it’s an advanced place.
JWC: Is there a distinction between the Taliban of 2001 and the Taliban of 2021?
AL: I feel with regard to their worldwide conduct, we are able to imagine their ensures, for 2 causes. The first is that they’re not fools. And they’ve stated this to me themselves—not the highest management, clearly, however low-level Taliban have instructed me, “we’re not idiots; we know what happened to us as a result of 9/11. We were running Afghanistan, we conquered most of the country, we’d set up our state and then 9/11 kind of ruined it all for us. We’re not going to do that again, don’t worry.”
But the second and extra essential level is that they’ve made this promise, not simply to the US and the West; they’ve additionally made it to Russia, to China, to Pakistan, to Iran. And all of those nations have a deep stake in opposing worldwide terrorism.
International Sunni Islamic terrorism threatens all of these nations in numerous methods. The Taliban can’t afford to alienate their total neighborhood. If they do this, their regime actually is not going to final and they are going to be completely remoted and never simply economically. Remember, they don’t have any entry to the ocean. But additionally, you’ll then have a return to the 1990s during which Russia and Iran will help opposition actions inside Pakistan, and inside Afghanistan, towards them. So I feel you’ll be able to belief them on that.
You also can belief them on cracking down on the heroin commerce, which they’ve additionally promised to do, as a result of they’ve carried out that earlier than: In 2000 and 2001, they did it with the hope of getting worldwide recognition.
So on these points, you’ll be able to belief them. Domestically, nonetheless, it’s a way more open query, as a result of there you’ve got actually hardline ideologues who’re decided to reintroduce the form of Islamic Emirate that existed earlier than September 11.
JWC: Let’s flip to the American authorities’s position within the defeat. In a latest piece for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, you wrote that American generals like H.R. McMaster, who served as President Donald Trump’s first nationwide safety adviser: “systematically misinformed multiple administrations, Congress, and the American people about the real state of the Afghan forces that they had created… The most important question Americans need to ask in the wake of the fall of Kabul is… what it is about the U.S. system that allowed these lies to pass with too little challenge.”
I’d like your individual ideas on that. How do you assume they obtained away with mendacity, as you say, systematically for twenty years?
AL: Well, this isn’t only a matter of my opinion. Indeed, that is completely documented within the studies of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and as revealed in the Afghanistan Papers, within the Washington Post. So all of that is now a matter of document. I feel it’s actually two issues. First, I suppose we’d have some sympathy with the army in that militaries don’t prefer to lose and so they don’t essentially wish to go to battle within the first place. And I suppose to be charitable to them, one would possibly say that they had been mendacity to themselves in addition to to the remainder of us, which is feasible.
I feel it’s also essential to grasp army promotion constructions as properly. This was a marketing campaign carried out in a profoundly, almost dilettantish manner by individuals whose entire intuition was to get again to Washington, to crawl up one other rung of the army promotion ladder, and to try this it’s a must to be engaged on enormous weapons applications directed at China or Russia, that are completely irrelevant for Iraq or Afghanistan, however are very related certainly to the American military-industrial complicated and Congress.
Afghanistan was handled with a profound lack of actual curiosity and professionalism.
One should on no account excuse the American and British publics, the media and Congress, as a result of as one in every of my colleagues identified, in the event you take a look at the primary American information channels, in the entire of 2020, between them, they talked about Afghanistan a median of 5 occasions on their lead information applications that yr. So if the general public and the media and Congress are usually not going to look critically into what’s occurring, then the generals will get away with telling individuals what they assume will cowl their very own backs.