The Afghanistan Collapse: Inspector General Finds US Spent 20 Years Building a Dependent Potemkin Nation

“the US‐backed government likely would have survived only so long as Americans remained to fight the Taliban. Despite three successive US administrations devoting two decades and billions (actually, hundreds of billions) of dollars, and allied forces suffering thousands of casualties, little established by Washington in Afghanistan would have survived on its own.

And nothing at stake in Afghanistan warranted America staying. Washington has no significant interests inherent to Central Asia, which is about as far from the US as anywhere on earth and is bounded by several global and regional powers: China, Russia, India, Iran, and Pakistan. All have serious security interests in Afghanistan, which they would have had to address without Washington’s presence – as they have discovered after the US left.

The Bush administration intervened to destroy or disable al‐Qaeda for attacking America and punish the Taliban for hosting the terrorist organization. US forces quickly succeeded; so complete was their victory that the Taliban sought to negotiate its de facto surrender. However, arrogant and self‐righteous from start to finish, Dubya & Co. foolishly refused. The rest, including abundant death and destruction in that tragic land, is history.

Although residents of Afghanistan’s largest cities tended to benefit from the allied presence, not so rural Afghanistan, in which the war was primarily fought. Baktash Ahadi, an interpreter for the US, explained how Afghans viewed the fight: “Virtually the only contact most Afghans had with the West came via heavily armed and armored combat troops. Americans thus mistook the Afghan countryside for a mere theater of war, rather than as a place where people actually lived. U.S. forces turned villages into battlegrounds, pulverizing mud homes and destroying livelihoods. One could almost hear the Taliban laughing as any sympathy for the West evaporated in bursts of gunfire.” Which made America, along with the corrupt, incompetent, unreliable, and distant Kabul government, an enemy. Added Ahadi, “When comparing the Taliban with the United States and its Western allies, the vast majority of Afghans have always viewed the Taliban as the lesser of two evils.””

“The critical factor was the disintegration of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDFS). What happened? SIGAR concluded: “the single most important factor in the ANDSF’s collapse in August 2021 was the US decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan,” reflected in both the agreement signed by the Trump administration and the withdrawal ordered by the Biden administration.

Explained SIGAR: “Due to the ANDSF’s dependency on US military forces, these events destroyed ANDSF morale. The ANDSF had long relied on the US military’s presence to protect against large‐scale ANDSF losses, and Afghan troops saw the United States as a means of holding their government accountable for paying their salaries. The U.S.-Taliban agreement made it clear that this was no longer the case, resulting in a sense of abandonment within the ANDSF and the Afghan population.””

““the length of the US commitment was disconnected from a realistic understanding of the time required to build a self‐sustaining security sector – a process that took decades to achieve in South Korea. Constantly changing and politically driven milestones for US engagement undermined the its [sic] ability to set realistic goals for building a capable and self‐sustaining military and police force.”

The fault was not that successive American administrations failed to take extra time, since US interests did not warrant such an effort. Rather, the error was to imagine that the process could be completed in reasonable time at reasonable cost.”

Terrorwashing a Genocide

“In The War on the Uyghurs, Sean Roberts begins the arduous task of probing these and other mysteries of the first two decades of the global war on terror. In doing so, he shows how the United States’ efforts to build an international consensus for its counterterrorism projects had far-reaching consequences on the other side of the world, changing the relationship between the Chinese state and its long-oppressed Uyghur minority. He also shows how, during that same period—apart from any Western influence—the Chinese government became increasingly brazen in its oppression of Muslim and Turkic minorities, steadily curtailing freedoms of movement, assembly, and speech in Xinjiang long before the moment in 2016 when it began secretly interning hundreds of thousands of people in extrajudicial “Transformation Through Education” centers.”

“It is tempting to think of Xinjiang as a vast and arid Guantanamo Bay, one roughly as large as Alaska and as populous as Texas. Like Donald Rumsfeld’s own “world-class operation,” on a much grander (albeit largely domestic) scale, it is a hypertrophied state-within-a-state where minority residents are guilty before judgment and where the rule of law is reengineered in the name of fighting a pervasive, unbounded, and infinitely flexible terrorist threat. According to Darren Byler, another scholar of the region, China’s counterterrorism campaign in Xinjiang “rests on the assumption that most Uyghurs and significant numbers of Kazakhs are terrorists, separatists, and extremists-in-waiting.” But while Guantanamo Bay’s purpose is containment, Xin-jiang’s state of exception is intended to cure a diseased population. This philosophy is made explicit in government statements dating to the 2014 start of China’s “People’s War on Terror.” In the words of one 2015 report from Hotan City, anyone whose thinking has been “deeply affected” by “religious extremism” must be transformed through “military-style management.”

Roberts argues that this state of exception is facilitating cultural genocide. In addition to the system of extrajudicial detention that has incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people—possibly more than a million—in camps, more than 300,000 residents have also received formal prison sentences in the last three years, an order of magnitude more than in previous periods. An entire generation of Uyghur academics, artists, and businesspeople has disappeared, probably into prisons; they include internationally respected anthropologists, poets, comedians, novelists, and economists. There have been many credible reports of torture, sexual violence, and forced sterilization among Xinjiang’s minority population. Children are routinely taken from detained parents and placed in state orphanages where minority language and culture are demonized. And more than a million Communist Party cadres have been sent to live temporarily with Uyghur and Kazakh families, where they perform searches of homes, lecture their hosts on the dangers of Islam, and even sleep in the same beds as their “brothers” and “sisters.” Meanwhile, birth rates have plummeted in minority areas. The end result, scholars and activists fear, will be the eradication of Uyghurs as a distinct people.”

“It’s true that small numbers of Uyghurs have sometimes pushed for political independence in their homeland, even founding two short-lived Republics of East Turkestan in the years before China’s Communist revolution. But in case after case, Roberts shows, the Chinese government has used deceptive framing, official secrecy, and the framework of the war on terror to artificially inflate the danger of Uyghur separatism in order to justify increasingly ruthless policies in Xinjiang. “Often,” he writes, “what was framed as a ‘terrorist attack’ by authorities at this time was really armed self-defense against police and security forces, which were seeking to aggressively apprehend Uyghurs they viewed as ‘disloyal’ to the state, often merely determined by their religiosity.””

“As the war on terror escalated outside of China, state-conjured threats of separatism led to harsher policies in Xin-jiang. Roberts argues that this environment created a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where state tactics made spontaneous acts of rage and violence—eventually including genuine acts of terrorism, such as a coordinated knife attack in Kunming in 2014—all but inevitable, retroactively justifying the policies that caused the violence in the first place.”