What subsequent after 20 years of battle in Afghanistan? Anatol Lieven on the U.S.’ legacy and the Taliban’s rise

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 a minimum of 48,000 Afghan civilians, 2,461 U.S. service members, 66,000 Afghan nationwide navy 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 realized 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 fairly motley bunch. The very first thing to notice is that they’re not Arabs. ISKP was not based by and their management will not be 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 among these native actions which has taken the title of ISIS.

They’re made up of three predominant parts:

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 revolt in Pakistan in recent times.

The second main factor 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 factor 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 assist worldwide jihad.

But the principle 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 in recent times launched a string of dreadful assaults on Shia hospitals, colleges and markets in Afghanistan and in Pakistan as effectively. They’re carefully linked to sectarian terrorist teams in Pakistan, which have been extensively alleged in flip to be supported by Saudi Arabia. So, they’re quite a lot of exhausting males, if you happen to 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 advised that there had been de facto cooperation between the Taliban, the Afghan authorities forces and the U.S. Air Force in opposition to ISIS.

So that’s the place ISIS is coming from in Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters rejoice the seize of territory throughout an August 2021 offensive that resulted within the militant group taking up a lot of Afghanistan, together with the capital Kabul.

JWC: In 2011, you wrote a really well-received guide on the area referred to as Pakistan: A Hard Country, so I assume I’d like to grasp extra concerning the function that Pakistan has performed within the American defeat, and their relationship with ISKP and their persevering with function in supporting worldwide terrorism.

AL: Well, the Pakistani function is extraordinarily, extraordinarily difficult. People preserve asking me: Why did Pakistan play a double sport over Afghanistan? And my reply is that they didn’t play a double sport. They performed a single sport, which was a Pakistani sport. 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 completed fairly constantly 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 few fifth of the inhabitants and dwell within the border areas.

And they’ve been constantly 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 aspect with India in opposition to Pakistan as earlier Afghan regimes had completed. This was additionally primarily based on the evaluation, which I’ve to say has turned out to be correct, that we’d fail in Afghanistan—that the West wouldn’t keep the course and that we would depart in the end.

So that’s the primary cause. The second cause, and this has been completely obscured by a lot 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 needs to be understood is that the Pakistan authorities, together with some inside its personal ranks and in components of the military, had been presiding over a inhabitants—a minimum of 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 revolt 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 navy lifeless, 1000’s 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 assist for the Afghan Taliban that you simply even have in sections of society. But then it will get much more difficult as a result of finally, and after appreciable hesitation, the Pakistan Army cracked down very exhausting certainly on the Pakistan rebels who name themselves the Pakistan Taliban whereas persevering with to shelter the Afghan Taliban.

And one of many the explanation why you now have this bitter division between ISIS in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban is that the Afghan Taliban sided with Pakistan in opposition to the Pakistani Taliban. And whereas they didn’t precisely combat them, they did an awesome deal to maintain sure areas of Pakistan quiet and forestall them from becoming a member of the Islamist revolt.

So, Pakistan is principally very completely happy that the Taliban have received in Afghanistan however expects them to go on preventing exhausting in opposition to ISIS as a result of ISIS are mortal enemies of the current Pakistani state. And all I can say is that if that sounds difficult, it is difficult.

I feel a part of the issue with American and certainly British coverage in that a part of the world is that if you happen to’re not ready to check and cope with excessive complexity and with continuous adjustments of allegiance—if you happen to’re not ready to deal with that—effectively, then you definitely 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 habits, we are able to consider 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 advised 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 vital 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 international locations have a deep stake in opposing worldwide terrorism.

International Sunni Islamic terrorism threatens all of these international locations in numerous methods. The Taliban can’t afford to alienate their whole neighborhood. If they try this, their regime actually won’t 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 by which Russia and Iran will assist opposition actions inside Pakistan, and inside Afghanistan, in opposition to them. So I feel you may 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 completed that earlier than: In 2000 and 2001, they did it with the hope of getting worldwide recognition.

So on these points, you may belief them. Domestically, nevertheless, it’s a way more open query, as a result of there you could have actually hardline ideologues who’re decided to reintroduce the type of Islamic Emirate that existed earlier than September 11.

US Air Force plane take off from Kabul airport through the mass evacuation of American personnel following the seize of the Afghan capital by the Taliban.

JWC: Let’s flip to the American authorities’s function within the defeat. In a current 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 personal ideas on that. How do you suppose they obtained away with mendacity, as you say, systematically for 20 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 navy in that militaries don’t wish to lose they usually 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 crucial to grasp navy promotion constructions as effectively. This was a marketing campaign carried out in a profoundly, almost dilettantish approach by individuals whose complete intuition was to get again to Washington, to crawl up one other rung of the navy promotion ladder, and to try this it’s a must to be engaged on enormous weapons packages directed at China or Russia, that are completely irrelevant for Iraq or Afghanistan, however are very related certainly to the American military-industrial advanced 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 among my colleagues identified, if you happen to take a look at the principle American information channels, in the entire of 2020, between them, they talked about Afghanistan a median of 5 instances on their lead information packages that yr. So if the general public and the media and Congress should not going to look significantly into what’s happening, then the generals will get away with telling individuals what they suppose will cowl their very own backs.

*This article was produced by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord; the interview with Anatol Lieven has been edited for readability and size.

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