From the May-June 2021 issue of News & Letters
by Terry Moon
The U.S. is leaving Afghanistan to pursue its own interests, which is exactly the only reason it was ever in the country in the first place. The real mission there was always only about making sure that Afghanistan would never again become a place that harbored terrorists who could harm the U.S. That doesn’t erase the many brave and caring women and men, Americans and others, who did and do care about the people of Afghanistan and spent a good part of their lives doing what they could to give aid and treat them as the human beings they are.
THE WRECKING BALL OF U.S. OCCUPATION
But this has never been the case with the U.S. government, who for two decades brutalized and murdered the people while destroying their environment. Over 22,000 American lives were lost and 20,589 U.S. troops wounded in action. That horrible toll pales next to what the Afghans experienced: since 2001 over 157,000 people are known to have been killed by the war in Afghanistan—a gross undercount. And this does not include all those who died from war-related issues like rampant disease, starvation, maternal and infant deaths, femicides, etc.
Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general and the Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, admitted how ignorant and unprepared the U.S. was when it invaded Afghanistan. He told government interviewers in 2015 (quoted in a must-read expose in The Washington Post titled, “At War With The Truth”): “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan—we didn’t know what we were doing…We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
Long before the U.S. invaded, in the 1930s Afghans were working to transform their society. In the 1970s, women’s rights were again on the agenda along with land reform for two reasons: it was what Afghan women themselves were striving for and the new Women’s Liberation Movement was sweeping across the world. Progress was decimated when the USSR invaded in 1979. The U.S. then armed what became the fundamentalists—including Osama bin Laden’s faction—who were fighting the Russians, and neither of those sides cared about women or freedom for the Afghan people.
U.S. PUT THUGS AND WARLORDS IN CHARGE
After the 2001 U.S. invasion Afghanistan had a chance of becoming a place where its citizens could enjoy some freedoms, but at every opportunity the U.S. stopped it. An example is the loya jirga [grand council] of July 2002. (See “Solidarity with women of Afghanistan,” by Terry Moon, Aug.-Sept. 2003, N&L, p. 2) There the U.S. insisted that the decision-makers at the loya jirga be the forces responsible for countless brutalities under the former Burhanuddin Rabbani government. Whereas before the U.S. stepped in, participants said, “Men and women mingled openly and comfortably…discussing the compatibility of women’s rights with our Islamic traditions.” This atmosphere was destroyed when the U.S. forced the postponement of the loya jirga while it strong-armed the former King, Zahir Shah, into turning down the nomination to be head of state to counterbalance the Northern Alliance, which the U.S. was courting.
After the U.S. destroyed any semblance of democracy, loya jirga participants reported: “the atmosphere…changed radically. The gathering was now teeming with intelligence agents who openly threatened reform-minded delegates, especially women.” The warlords came out controlling the armed forces, security services, foreign affairs, and ministry staffs—in short, the country. All thanks to the U.S.
Once the U.S. took the fate of the country out of the hands of the Afghan people, women had a divided view of how to move forward. Many have emphatically stated that the U.S. presence is their only hope of keeping the slim victories they have won of education for girls and the opening up of activities for women and girls in jobs, sports and simply taking part in the public life of their country. Other women, like Malalai Joya, have said just as emphatically “We in civil society face three enemies in my country: the Taliban, the warlords disguised as a government, and the U.S. occupation. If you in the U.S. can mobilize to get the U.S. and NATO troops out of my country, we’d only have two.”
THE U.S.’S INDIFFERENT ARROGANCE
There’s an indifferent arrogance in the U.S. “negotiating” with the Taliban, who continue to murder women for no other reason than they have a job, as well as others who do not adhere to their fanatical concept of Islam.
By negotiating with the Taliban—who all now seem to agree will take over Afghanistan in record time—the U.S. has given legitimacy (not to mention an entire country) to a group of thugs who are in the process of becoming the Afghan version of the Iranian so-called “Revolutionary” Guards, or the Burmese Tatmadaw. They will inherit a country awash in weapons and government corruption fostered by the U.S. throwing billions of dollars and billions more in weapons into a country where most people are incredibly poor.
Already the Taliban have assassinated 2,250 people in 2020, an increase of 169% over 2019. This included attacks on schools; assassinations of women in public life; and an assault on a maternity hospital where 24 mothers in labor, children and babies were gunned down. “It is like taking the rarest pearls from our midst,” said Torek Farhadi, an analyst and former Afghan government adviser.
The Taliban taking power means far more than women being banned from working outside the home and leaving home only when accompanied by a male relative. Under the Taliban women ran clandestine schools for themselves and girls. They ran clinics for women who were forbidden to see male doctors. Girls pretended to be boys so they could walk the streets and perhaps get work to help out at home. When women and girls fighting back were caught they were killed. The Taliban gloried in public executions by stoning—an excruciating death. Ordering women to stay at home wasn’t enough, they also ordered their windows be painted black so no one could see out. This is the hell that 20 years of U.S. occupation, billions of dollars and thousands of lost lives is helpless to keep from reemerging.
The U.S. wanted to destroy the Taliban, yet they are leaving them stronger than ever, empowering them so greatly that the U.S. is not even sure if it can maintain an American Embassy there. The U.S. leaving is a surrender and the whole world knows that truth. What’s going to happen next is not because the U.S. is leaving, it is because they are leaving after damaging the country and the people’s aspirations in unfathomable and hugely destructive ways. The surrender is not the reversal of the occupation, it’s just the official recognition of the U.S’s. spectacular failure.