By Sajjad Shaukat Pak VT
Much has been written and said by the international media about the recent victory of the Taliban freedom fighters and humiliated defeat of the US in Afghanistan, as the world’s most powerful military was ejected out of one of the weakest countries after a 20-year of war. Perhaps, analysts have not paid much attention to the real cause of the US defeat and triumph of the Taliban, which has been discussed in this article.
Showing contradictory statements, American President Joe Biden defended the military pullout from Afghanistan by mentioning various unrealistic justifications. He stated: “The decision to leave Afghanistan is the right one for America”, and the collapse of the Afghan government amid the Taliban’s rapid advance “did unfold more quickly than we anticipated—I’ve argued for many years that our mission should be narrowly focused on counterterrorism, not counter-insurgency or nation building.”
Regarding former Afghan government and the vanquished forces, Biden remarked: “We could not provide them with the will to fight.”
Faced with severe criticism at home, Biden’s unilateral decision of Afghanistan’s exit was also disapproved by America’s Western allies and other NATO countries who held him accountable for the Taliban’s takeover, while admitting the defeat of the US-led NATO powers in one way or the other. NATO allies urged the member states to rethink on alliance with the US.
EU defence and security officials stated that it has weakened NATO and raised questions about Europe’s security dependence on Washington—this kind of troop withdrawal caused chaos—unfortunately, the West, and Europe in particular, are showing that they are weaker globally. Twenty years of sacrifice is what it is.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that there had been “no willingness from other European Countries or from Canada to fill in for the US once it announced withdrawal plan. The failure of the alliance’s training programme was also one big question…Why were the [Afghan] forces we trained and equipped and supported over so many years… not able to stand up against Taliban in a stronger and better way than they did?”
While, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who fled the country thought that if the US-led NATO forces which were well-equipped with latest arms failed in battling the Taliban fighters, as to how Afghan forces could encounter them.
America’s some retired civil and military officials justified the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan and withdrawal of the US-led NATO troops by saying that it was intelligence failure, particularly of CIA.
US President Biden had already announced on April 14, 2021 that he would begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan from May 1, setting a deadline for unconditional pullout of all 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan by September 11 to end America’s longest war by implementing the US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020. America and other NATO countries began withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan from May 1.
As regards Biden’s hastily declaration, Western media had reported: “President Biden said that no amount of US forces can deter the Taliban or end the war…the Taliban is moving closer to a military victory…The war in Afghanistan shattered Biden’s faith in American military power.”
The Washington Post pointed out on December 19, 2019: “A confidential trove of government documents reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”
Notably, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks inside its homeland, the US held Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden responsible for the incident, and attacked Afghanistan where he had taken shelter though Bin Laden denied any involvement in those terror-assaults—America also toppled the Taliban government.
Pakistan joined the US-led Global War on Terror (GWoT) owing to its fragile economy and hostile factor of India. Pakistan was granted the status of non-NATO ally by America due to the early successes, achieved by Pakistan’s Army and country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) against the Al-Qaeda militants.
When the US-led NATO forces felt that they were failing in coping with the stiff resistance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, especially American high officials and their media started a blame game against Pak Army and ISI of supporting cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan to divert attention from their defeatism in that country and also to pacify their public. As part of the US double game, they constantly emphasized upon Islamabad to do more against the militants and continued the CIA-operated drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal areas by ignoring the internal backlash in the country.
During the invasion of Afghanistan and after occupation, the brutal tactics of the US-led NATO like heavy air bombardment and ground shelling by the sophisticated war machinery, including special military operations and extra-judicial assassinations killed many innocent persons. The US military strategic warlords who created a paralysing effect of ‘shock and awe’ displayed the terrible inferno of destruction in Afghanistan.
And the American troops, CIA and notorious private military firm Blackwater employed various methods of torment on the militants and suspected persons and thus eliminated countless people in Afghanistan.
But, despite their modern military might, the US-led NATO forces failed in coping with the Taliban warriors, who were no match to them and who depended on ordinary weapons, acting upon the successful tactics of guerrilla warfare. They know that they were fighting a war of liberation. Hence, they were filled with the passion of Jihad.
On the other side, the US/NATO military personal knew that they had been sent to a far-flung country, while there was no danger of direct attack on their countries by any foreign entity. So, they were already demoralised.
In fact, conflict between the occupying forces and the Taliban freedom combatants was simply a ‘clash of wills’. Military thinkers agree that although the physical force will determine the type and scale of war, yet it is the ‘will to fight’ or ‘moral force’ that determines the outcome of war. Clausewitz puts it this way, “One might say that the physical force seems little more than the wooden hilt, while moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon”.
In his book, “Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945”, Creveld identifies the elements of moral force, whom he calls “fighting power, the willingness to fight and the readiness, if necessary, to die.” The greater these elements, the less vulnerable an armed force will be to demoralisation. Moral force, then, is the crucial factor in determining the combat power of any belligerent.
In this connection, Harry Summers advocating the moral force in his book, “On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War,” points out how the failure to mobilise the will of the people eventually resulted in the US defeat in Vietnam despite the latter’s extreme military weakness. He explains, “When America’s moral force gave way, national cohesion failed, and the military might of the United States rapidly dwindled until it was no longer a match for a tiny, third world nation”.
Again, the US faced the same defeat in Afghanistan.
However, the war between the US-led NATO and the Taliban proved that such elements like ‘will to fight’ and ‘moral force’ had been more noted in the latter who had exerted psychological impact of causing fear, shock, mental depression and stress, resulting into demoralisation of the latter.
In this respect, a new study from a researcher Thomas Howard Suitt at Brown University pointed out on June 23, 2021: “The US global war on terror, unleashed in the aftermath of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has led to 30,177 suicides by US troops…even as war operations in Afghanistan are winding down…the last three years have seen the worst consecutive, year-to-year suicide rates among active troops.”
As for the reasons, driving suicides, Suitt indicated: “multiple factors…increased use of improvised explosive devices that have caused a significant number of traumatic brain injuries…depression…stress, continued access to guns, and the difficulty of reintegrating into civilian life.”
Moreover, failure in crushing the war of liberation and the prolonged war also demoralized the US military especially.
Nonetheless, demoralisation, particularly found in the American troops is the real cause of the US defeat in Afghanistan.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations
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