Britain’s former man in DC KIM DARROCH says West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will strengthen China
Make no mistake, this is a foreign policy failure of historic proportions. After 20 years, more than two trillion dollars in investment, the heavy loss of 475 British troops, and more than 2,000 American soldiers and hundreds of other nationalities, the best equipped and best trained troops the West can muster are being drummed out of Afghanistan by a Kalashnikov-toting militia.
Was it supposed to end like this?
Certainly, there will no doubt be an intense debate about what went wrong, as public consciousness is indelibly imprinted with shocking images of the Kabul airport.
Some will argue that we stayed far too long, that we should have left immediately after the US-backed Northern Alliance overthrew the Taliban government in November 2001.
I do not agree. Had we tampered then we would have left Afghanistan in chaos, with the country ruined and an interim government without money or authority. Al Qaeda would be back in a few months.
Britain’s former Washington man Kim Darroch asks: ‘Was it supposed to end like this?’ Pictured: The British Parachute Regiment
After 20 years, more than two trillion dollars in investment, the heavy loss of 475 British troops, and more than 2,000 American soldiers and hundreds of other nationalities, the best equipped and best trained troops the West can muster are being drummed out of Afghanistan by a Kalashnikov-toting militia
I think we should still be there. We should have announced from the start that our exit would be determined by results, not data: that we would stay as long as it took to ensure that Afghanistan would never again become a haven for terrorists.
This proposition provokes controversy on several fronts: that no government can afford the infinite cost in blood and money of an ‘eternal war’; that one look at the history of Afghanistan shows the folly of attempts at ‘nation-building’; even that such a policy would amount to colonization.
But the reality is that the modern world is riddled with, if not ‘forever wars’, then at least ‘forever interventions’.
The US has kept more than 28,000 troops in South Korea for nearly 70 years, since the 1953 Korean War ceasefire (a North-South peace treaty has never been concluded).
For 47 years since the Turkish invasion, a UN force of 1,000 soldiers has been in Cyprus. A European force of several hundred has remained in Bosnia since the Dayton Agreement at the end of the Balkan War divided the country into two self-governing entities. Since the departure of the Serbs, a NATO deployment of more than 2,000 persons has been maintained in Kosovo.
All these deployments predate the intervention in Afghanistan. In each of these conflicts, a political settlement has proved elusive. But the continued international military presence has contributed significantly to the stability and security of each area.
It has resulted in children going to school, having careers and living peaceful and productive lives. Indeed, only those who have lived in a war zone will realize how precious such achievements are.
Surely there will no doubt be an intense debate about what went wrong as public consciousness is indelibly imprinted with shocking images of Kabul airport
And, crucially, this is what international forces in much of Afghanistan delivered until Trump’s despicable February 2020 deal with the Taliban — described as a “surrender deal” by Trump’s former national security adviser HR McMaster — and the disastrous decision of President Joe Biden earlier this year to implement it.
As for the argument that public opinion would not tolerate further casualties or costs, of course any death or life-altering injury is a tragedy, for the individual, the family and the country. But the reality is that casualties and costs have fallen dramatically over the past decade as coalition forces have been reduced to a few thousand and moved back from the front lines to a training and support role.
And talk to any soldier and they’ll tell you they want to get the job done – to come home believing they’ve accomplished the mission.
It is indeed crystal clear from the outburst of anger from those British troops who served in Afghanistan that they do not agree with the withdrawal; that they passionately feel that their comrades’ sacrifice seems futile. But it’s done. The last British troops will leave in 48 hours.
So what does the future hold?
Things look bleak for Afghanistan. Thousands will try to leave by land, causing chaos at the borders. There will be uprisings all over the country. The economy will stall: the banks are already out of money and the country’s reserves will remain frozen in US banks as possible future leverage. Perhaps Russia and China will step in to help – but with conditions.
And, most chillingly, on the evidence of the horrific massacre at Kabul airport last week, terrorists are once again roaming the country. As for the global picture, the fall of Kabul comes within weeks of President Biden announcing, “America is back.”
A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the terrorist attack that killed more than 100 people outside Kabul airport
How hollow does that sound now. His decisions to go through with the withdrawal and the August 31 deadline, despite requests from allies to extend, are more akin to “America First.”
As far as US-UK relations are concerned, President Biden’s actions illustrate the eternal truth that no relationship is so special when set against perceived US national security interests. But they also mean that Biden’s presidency, after its strong start on domestic policy, has now been irreparably tarnished.
Russia and China will have looked closely at this self-inflicted Western defeat in Afghanistan.
Russia has had its own problems there, of course, with the failure of its intervention in the 1980s in the Afghan civil war. But Vladimir Putin needs to look at the vacuum that is developing there and think about the opportunities it presents.
As for the Chinese, they have a famous long-term view. They will view the US withdrawal as confirmation of a fundamental lack of strategic patience: get out of here today before the job is done.
Beijing has a difficult relationship with the Taliban. Chinese leaders will be concerned about the victory of the Taliban who are provoking resistance among their own oppressed Muslim minority of Uyghurs. But I suspect China’s strategy will be to reach out to the Taliban while the West avoids them; to buy influence through recognition, support and funding.
Pictured: A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the August 26 double suicide bombing that killed dozens of people at Kabul airport on August 27, 2021
Significantly, they continue to build military installations in the South China Sea, bully and intimidate their neighbors and threaten Taiwan. Meanwhile, we are building relationships and financial leverage globally, through the Belt and Road initiative, involving Chinese investments in 70 countries in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
This western retreat will contribute to their belief that this is their time. And maybe they are right.
Perhaps the images on our TV screens foreshadow a fundamental shift in world power.
After Iraq and Afghanistan, I wonder how long it will be before a US president risks another major international intervention in the pursuit of a better world.
In February 1941, Henry Luce, founder of Time magazine and champion of American internationalism, published a famous editorial entitled “The American Century,” calling for world leadership and transformation of international relations through the application of “American principles.” ‘.
Would he still be alive today, I wonder what he would think?