Operation Enduring Freedom was the code name for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by allied western forces, chiefly American, which was followed by Operation Enduring Sentinel, and which ended last week in Operation Disastrous Farce.
There is no humour, no satire, to be drawn from this, but there is contempt for both the Taliban’s extremism and for the West’s craven hypocrisy and incompetence.
Given the Taliban’s dire attitude to female education, the irony of their name, which means ‘students’ or ‘seekers’, is baleful. It originated, post-Russian occupation, from the fact that many of the first ‘Talib’ fighters in the civil war of the early 1990s were students at Saudi-funded traditionalist Islamic schools.
The Afghans who drove Russia out of Afghanistan in 1989 were called Mujihadeen (followers of Jihad). They were the West’s heroes then. I remember the ITN journalist Sandy Gall reporting in the 1980s whilst ’embedded’ with the Mujihadeen, who were then characterised by many in the West as the ‘liberators’ of Afghanistan from the communist yoke.
The Taliban are murderous in the application of their branch of Islam, which is closely related to Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism version. Oh, and there’s a thing. We condemn, justifiably, the Taliban’s shocking application of Sharia law through stoning and hand-chopping and the paranoid suppression of women’s rights, but – surprise, surprise –these state-sponsored acts and ‘customs’ take place in Saudi Arabia as well, where I don’t recollect the US and the UK piling in and firing from the hip to impose western ‘freedoms’ and liberation from murderous tyranny. Not when there’s oil around and guns to sell.
This latest game-playing in Afghanistan that has ended so ignominiously and dangerously was claimed as ‘keeping our streets safe’ from the kind of terrorists who flew American passenger jets into New York’s Twin Towers. But here’s another thing. The Twin Towers’ horror was planned by a Saudi and carried out in the main by Saudi pilots.
No matter; Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda had training camps in Afghanistan, a country without nuclear weaponry, conventional military structure or bigger countries at their back, so that’s where Bush and Blair charged in through the multiple ghosts of previous British debacles and the dust of Russia’s failed occupation of the country in the 1980s. Anything to feed red meat to the vote-tickers back home and fulfil Bush’s – and America’s – John Wayne/Rambo revenge fantasies.
In just under 200 years, the British Raj and its ‘Global Britain’ successors have stumbled through four Afghan wars, leaving behind multiple Afghan and British dead and a poisonous legacy for Afghans. The First Afghan War was as early as 1842, consolidated in 1880 in the Second Afghan War, followed in 1919 by the Third Afghan War, which ended with the British recognising Afghanistan as an independent nation. And last week Britain once again did a runner, this time on the coattails of the USA, which is how we came in.
The reason for Britain being in Afghanistan in the Victorian era was fear of Russia gaining influence and/or control of such a strategic country as a launch pad into British India during the so-called ‘Great Game’ of Victorian tossing and turning. We lost in the long run, despite the craven revisionism of imperialist British history.
Throughout history, British imperialists lost out in those unforgiving Afghan lands, with terrible loss of life each time. We never learned the lesson that we were in a foreign land whose ‘insurgents’ (for which read ‘native-born citizens’) were born with a weapon in their hands, born under warlords, born to extreme Islamism, and born to guerrilla tribal fighting in a harsh theatre that was a very long way from the playing fields of Eton.
America spent something close to a trillion dollars in Afghanistan in the past 20 years. Britain spent less, but still very substantial sums [estimates vary from £22 billion to £40 billion plus.Ed ]. Thousands died on either side. Eighty-nine billion of those American dollars were ‘spent’ in training the Afghan army, most of whom were natural-born irregulars who were never going take easily to ‘discipline’ and formal warfare. A hell of a lot of that vast pool of cash was siphoned off via corrupt Afghan and western operators, war being a cash cow for the cynical and criminal on both sides.
Now US and UK politicians, and ex -military brass, talk drivel about what wonderful things they achieved in Afghanistan’s benighted country – possibly the ultimate in Trumpist falsehood and back-covering. Good things certainly were achieved, especially in women’s liberation and in education, but despite Taliban promises, many of these advances are at imminent risk of dissipating.
Meanwhile, Russia already has its foot through the door while the Sunni Taliban, who are no fools when it comes to politico-economic realities, are probably already reaching out to Shi’a Iran, and to fellow Sunni nations, and sitting on China’s knee.
And look out for western businesses, in the not-too-distant future, sidling in with offers and promises. What opportunities for Johnson’s ‘Global Britain’, eh? Liz Truss may already be on her way to Kabul to demand a share for Brexit Britain of the Taliban’s lucrative opium trade that is fuelled greatly by…er…western consumers.
What will happen, now? Too late to stop the Taliban tide, until – perhaps a generation or two down the line – there may be an Afghan Spring, and more sacrifices of the brave and the good. Or perhaps China will add Afghanistan to its money and influence tree while continuing to brutally persecute its own Muslim Uyghurs.
Meanwhile, British spokesmen mouth platitudes, debasing language as they go, with talk of ‘inloading and outloading’ desperate Afghans by Vice Admiral Ben Kee, now in charge of evacuations from Kabul airport from an English base. Meanwhile, disgraced Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, fresh from greasing it on a Cretan holiday beach, talks glibly about working on a ‘bespoke resettlement scheme’ for vulnerable Afghans who worked for Britain. Health warning! Priti Patel is in charge of the scheme. Bespoke! Do these dismal clowns think Afghanistan is Savile Row?
And where is Boris the Liar and his Global Britain? Cut down to size by Afghan tribesmen.
Like most people, I am lost amidst the vast complexities of the Afghan situation and am only speculating forlornly about a country and politico-military processes that are wholly alien to most British people and certainly to most Americans.
I can, however, claim a brief stay very close to the Pakistan-Afghan border in 1999, when even then hundreds of Afghan refugees were being cared for in the Chitral Valley. What I saw of the mountain fastnesses of those borderlands and of the vast scale of the Hindu Kush and the Hindu Raj mountains was enough for me to realise, instinctively, just how incredibly difficult, foolish and self-destructive it is for foreign invaders to dare to think they can master, through violent invasion and for whatever justification, those astonishing lands and their resilient, determined, and often fanatical people.
History has the better of us.