Afghanistan: The Defeat of U.S. Imperialism and the Road Ahead

  • August 26, 2021

By Jeff Mackler

After 20 years of untold U.S. government-inflicted barbaric horrors on the people of Afghanistan the world’s greatest military power, along with its NATO allies, stands humiliated, demoralized and defeated, forced to abandon their claimed nation-building project in the face of irreversible Taliban victories over the past year and longer. With the panicked assistance of some 6,000 U.S. troops flown in to oversee the evacuation, imperialism’s entourage of U.S. and NATO embassy officials, security forces, Afghan warlords, mafia drug dealers and thousands of Afghan collaborators are desperately awaiting evacuation at the Kabul Airport. Scenes there are reminiscent of Saigon, Vietnam in 1975 when U.S. helicopters barely evacuated the U.S. Embassy, marking the definitive defeat of the world’s most powerful army that over ten years had slaughtered four million Vietnamese while losing 57,000 U.S. soldiers – the vast majority bitterly opposed to the genocidal saturation and napalm bombing they were ordered to inflict. 

Across Afghanistan, the rag tag ill-armed Taliban (Islamic Students), bereft of aircraft, tanks and high tech weapons of war and less than one-fifth, perhaps one-sixth, the size of the U.S.-armed and financed Afghan Army of 350,000, near instantly emerged victorious. In less than a week after the announced U.S. withdrawal Afghan government representatives in all 34 provincial capitals and all 410 districts ceded their authority to the Taliban, dissolved their security forces and acceded to the Taliban takeover. More than half had previously surrendered in the face of the Taliban-led offensive that began months earlier. The U.S.-installed President Ashraf Ghani, along with his warlord cohorts Rashid Dostum and Ata Muhammed Nur, fled, no doubt prepared in advance to suffice on the stolen $millions they stashed in U.S. banks. A day earlier, Ghani himself insisted that President Biden cease the troop withdrawal, but regardless, pledged to remain at his post indefinitely. He left hours later! 

Many of the Afghan Army soldiers discarded their uniforms and weapons to join the Taliban army outright. Many were, indeed, Taliban supporters or spies who had joined the Afghan Army for training and weapons. The government’s army disintegrated. 

After 20 years and $2.6 trillion in Pentagon spending, after deploying more than 120,000 U.S. troops at the high point of the war – half of them U.S.-financed via Blackwater and other privatized mercenary and war crimes committing forces accountable to no one – after more than 470,000 direct and indirect civilians killed and 2,442 U.S. troops dead and another 20,666 wounded – Afghanistan, among the poorest nations on earth, is once again free of foreign invaders – a critical first victory that blasts open the imperialist-sealed door to the potential for future social progress. 

All U.S. military bases have been abandoned, including the infamous Bagram Air Base where previous mass U.S. torture/water boarding programs were exposed only to be later justified as necessary. U.S. commanders unceremoniously abandoned Bagram on July 1 without bothering to inform the assigned Afghan officials.

The above figures, except for the 360,000 indirectly killed due to the U.S. war, are the official tallies of the U.S. Defense Department. They omit the estimated 66,000 dead among the U.S.-trained and financed Afghan Army as well as the dead and wounded among the U.S.-orchestrated “coalition” of some 40 NATO-aligned nations brought on board to lend the appearance of an “international war on terror. ” Some 1,144 NATO-associated soldiers were killed. Some estimates put the total number of Afghans that perished after the two decades of U.S. carnage at one million. Four million Afghans have been internally displaced with another 2.7 million external refugees.

We add to this bi-partisan imperialist horror, conducted under four U.S. presidents, the dead and wounded in neighboring Pakistan where the U.S. had been drone bombing with impunity for much of the war. After 20 years, with the Pentagon’s “experimenting” with obliterating the Taliban’s underground bunkers with the largest non-nuclear weapons ever and with drones perpetually in hunt for prey in remote regions, most of the tens of thousands of U.S. troops had been evacuated over the past few years, some half of them mercenaries and “contractors” organized by enterprising U.S. corporations in the business of death and destruction for profit. 

The Doha, Qatar “Negotiations”

The final evacuation negotiations and “agreements” were conducted in Doha, Qatar between the Trump and Biden administrations and the Taliban directly. The puppet and corrupt Afghan government was excluded. Its delusional leaders nevertheless insisted that they were fully capable remaining in power following a U.S. withdrawal, which they nevertheless opposed. Both Trump and Biden were assured by Pentagon tops and various “intelligence” reports that a U.S. evacuation could be conducted relatively leisurely, no doubt with U.S. commanders warning the Taliban that should they violate the “agreements,” including the formation of a coalition government with elements of the defeated regime, the U.S. would retaliate with their unchallenged air power and once again rain death and destruction on violators. Some generals undoubtedly counseled U.S. government officials that their agreements could/world be enforced from afar via state-of-the-art fighter jets and drones stationed at distant U.S. military bases. Indeed, when pressed by the corporate media to explain what his administration would do if his planned orderly withdrawal became an unmitigated route, Biden vaguely referred to deploying U.S. forces from “over the horizon,” that is, from distant U.S. bases. So complete was the U.S. defeat that this never happened. 

The Doha negotiations signaled the world that the U.S. had already been defeated. 5,000 Taliban prisoners had already been released. Indeed, Doha was the sight of formal Taliban negotiations with Russia and China as well as with Pakistan. All understood that with the U.S. forced withdrawal regional deals were on the agenda regarding everything from future trade routes to economic relations and border security. The U.S. imperialist objective of establishing permanent military bases on Russian and Chinese borders was scrapped.

Having lost all credibility on the ground and despised by the vast majority of the Afghan people, according to several polls, the Afghan Army and government disappeared overnight. The Taliban entered the capital city of Kabul atop captured military vehicles, unchallenged. The U.S. embassy was near-instantly abandoned, but perhaps not before officials desperately shredded, burned or carried away incriminating files.

The “War on Terror” 

The Bush administration launched its “War on Terror” following the September 11, 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. Need we note that neither the prewar Taliban Afghan government, supported by the U.S., nor any of its forces, had any role in the 9/11 attack? When asked by U.S. authorities to turn over the then-alleged leader of the World Trade Center terror bombing, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban government had the temerity to ask the U.S. government for proof of its accusations. The imperialist beast responded by unleashing 20 years of unmitigated disaster against the Afghan people and uninterrupted regime change wars, secret wars, drone wars, privatized army wars, death squad assassination wars, CIA Special Operations wars and/or wars conducted via sanctions against poor and oppressed nations around the world. The Obama administration presided over seven wars of its own, including its infamous Afghanistan “surge,” wherein additional tens of thousands of troops and mercenaries were to once and for all finish off the Taliban.

That Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been captured and murdered in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011, and soon after buried at sea by Navy Seals aboard a U.S. warship, was irrelevant to the U.S. self-proclaimed “nation-building” invaders. 

Imperialist “Nation Building” 

Today, the corporate media worldwide is ablaze with headlines characterizing the Taliban victory as a fundamental setback for women’s rights and democracy – a tragedy of fleeing defenseless U.S. collaborators and a tragic end to U.S. aspirations to build an Afghan nation in the “democratic” U.S. image. Such “nation building” myths have always been imperialist euphemisms and justifications for wars of bloody conquest and exploitation, if not genocide. The Taliban of today, composed of various factions of the warlord and landlord-led mujaheddin (“Islamic guerrillas”), had been covertly armed and financed by U.S. imperialism in decades past when the Stalinist Soviet Union tried to impose a “progressive” government in Kabul in 1979. That ten-year war, 1979-1989, ended in a Russian defeat that evidenced yet again that social progress, not to mention social revolution, cannot be imposed from outside and even less so without a deeply-rooted revolutionary leadership of indigenous forces dedicated to the establishment of a socialist society free from all outside intervention. The “progressive” Afghan government backed by the Soviet Union in 1979, which did enact reforms advancing the status of women, was essentially limited to Kabul and its immediate environs; it had no counterpart in the rest of the county, especially in the vast poverty-stricken Afghan countryside that the Soviet Union endlessly carpet bombed, killing some 500,000 people, mostly poor peasants. The Russian intervention was bound to fall and at a great cost to the Afghan people as well as to the stability of the Soviet Union itself. The latter disintegrated soon after, with the Stalinist bureaucracy leading in the restoration of capitalism in the USSR, in collusion with U.S. corporate behemoths. 

U.S. Alliance with and then 2003 War Against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein

U.S. “nation building” in Iraq followed soon after its conquest of Afghanistan, this time with the pretext that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was poised to unleash “weapons of mass destruction” against the U.S. in 2003. That such weapons never existed is largely absent from the present accounts of that U.S. slaughter that took the lives of some 1.5 million Iraqis, mostly civilians. The overwhelmed Iraqi Army barely fired a shot while the U.S. imperial power launched more bombs and rockets than in any war in history! No exaggeration! Most modern-day politicians, including President Biden, assert that that war was a “mistake.” None, however, rejected U.S. oil corporations ending up with the franchise on Iraqi oil.

A decade earlier, during the First Gulf War the U.S. imperial war-makers had no qualms about backing the Kuwaiti monarchy in 1991 following Iraq’s invasion. Kuwait’s oil monarchs had been slant drilling under Iraq’s border to extract $billions in profits. Kuwait operated as a virtual slave state, its labor force was composed of a combination of Palestinian refugees and overt slave laborers. 

We will only add that the same Saddam Hussein, whose nation the U.S. pulverized twice and occupied during the second Gulf War of 2003, and to this day, was secretly backed by the U.S. during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Then the U.S. war machine aimed at undermining the historic 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the U.S.-installed dictatorship of Shah Reza Pahlavi and ended U.S. domination of Iran’s oil resources. Hussein’s war against Iran at that time was secretly financed by the U.S. 

In each and every instance cited above the imperialist war machine intervened to advance the interests of the corporate elite that rules the U.S. Whether it be in Venezuela, Iran, Libya, Syria, Nicaragua, or in any of the 100-plus nations where the U.S. maintains some 1,100 military bases, the objective is the same – to advance the rapacious interests of the few who exist to extract profits from the many, whether they live in the U.S. or on the other side of the world. 

U.S. imperialism’s closest ally in the Middle East, yesterday and today, besides the apartheid Zionist colonial state of Israel, is the Saudi Arabian monarchy, which presides over the same Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam as the Taliban. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that Saudi billionaires were centrally involved in the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing! Classified U.S. documents on this matter are just being released today.

History of Colonial Nation Building 

Imperialist “nation building” has not been limited to its most recent wars in the Middle East. The past two centuries included the conquest and division of Africa and the enslavement of its people. That horror, begun at the end of the 19th century and through the early 20th, marked the first time in history that the population of the human race significantly declined. In the Congo alone the Belgian monarch King Leopold II presided over the genocide of 12 million Congolese while extracting that nation’s ivory and rubber. The same Leopold, however, was compelled to grant American robber barons, J.P. Morgan and the Rockefeller billionaires, (today the J.P. Morgan/Chase $trillion mega conglomerate) the mining rights to that nation, rights that they retain to this day. Need we add that the early European Christian missionaries in the U.S. brought their religion and “civilization” to the native peoples, enslaving them to work the land for their profit while paving the way to the colonization of the entire continent and the extermination of most of the native peoples. The plantation owners that followed “civilizing” Christian missionaries used captured African slaves to boost their riches to unprecedented heights. The “wealth” of the Americas was largely extracted from slave labor. The heirs of these slave masters rule the U.S. today and preside over the systemic racism that continues to boost their bottom lines. More recently, U.S. imperialism sought its booty in Afghanistan in the form of unimpeded trade routes to transport oil and other commodities across the continent and to establish military bases on the borders of Russia and China, not to mention the future exploitation of Afghanistan’s estimated $3 trillion in lithium deposits, the largest in the world.

Afghanistan’s Devastated Economy

The U.S. defeat leaves behind a physically devastated nation whose economy stands in ruins. Largely dependent on the “illegal” drug trade, Afghanistan stands first in the world in poppy cultivation and the sale of opium, the main ingredient of heroin. That “industry” was largely presided over Afghan government-protected private business interests. Massive government corruption, including stealing $millions earmarked to pay non-existent “ghost” armies, not to mention widespread engagement in human-trafficking, marked the daily deeds of the U.S.-backed warlord and associated cabal. Among the first announcements of the leading U.S. banking institutions was their sequestering of all Afghan monies stored in U.S. accounts to the tune of $9.4 billion. The IMF has similarly frozen $400 million in Afghan earmarked funds. After 20 years of U.S. “nation building” 90 percent of the Afghan people earn less than $2 per day. 

The occupation was from Day One a U.S. geopolitical strategy to realign Central Asia and the Middle East to thwart rising-imperialist China’s Belt and Road worldwide infrastructure initiative as well as China’s founding of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), announced just months before the U.S. Afghan invasion. The SCO, opposed by the U.S., today includes eight member states, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as four “Observer States” interested in acceding to full membership (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia) and six “Dialogue Partners” (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey). Driven by ever-intensifying world capitalist competition and associated declines in rates of profit, the U.S. “Pivot to Asia” aimed at maintaining and expanding its world markets and at extracting super profits from the world’s poorest nations and peoples. 

That Afghanistan became the world largest opium producer under U.S. rule and that some one-third of Afghan troops became addicts, was not an accident, but rather an inherent component of imperialist “morality,” where soldiers and armies are always expendable for profit. Under U.S. rule Afghanistan accounted for 90 percent the of the world’s heroin supply, undoubtedly presided over by “business” interests that operated with the U.S. invader’s consent. Need we recall the Contragate-era scandal wherein Lt. Colonial Oliver North, a National Security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, collaborated with the Columbian-based Medellin Cartel to sell crack cocaine in mostly Black neighborhoods in the U.S. to raise funds for the Nicaraguan Contras aimed at overthrowing the Sandinista government? (See “CIA/Crack in America,” Socialist Action Books, 1996, By Jeff Mackler).

Today’s U.S. imperialist rants against Iran, Venezuela, Syria, and now Afghanistan, are rooted in imperialism’s ceaseless drive for the world’s resources at a time when U.S. hegemony is in sharp decline and faced with rising imperialist competitors, especially China. 

Origin of the Taliban

An August 14, 2021 article published in Spanish-language socialist newspaper, La Izquierda Diario, an associate of the Left Voice publication in the U.S., is instructive as to the Taliban’s origins. 

“The Taliban were formed in 1994 after the Soviet withdrawal (1989) and the expulsion of what was left of the secular government (1992). An ultra-orthodox faction of the mujaheddin was led by the cleric Mullah Omar. They were joined by young Pashtun tribesmen who studied in Pakistani madrassas [Muslim schools] or seminaries funded mostly by Saudi Arabia (“Taliban” is Pashtun for “students”). Pashtuns comprise a majority in Afghanistan and are the predominant ethnic group in much of southern and eastern Afghanistan, and are also an important group in northern and western Pakistan. In this sense, the Taliban can be defined as an ethno-religious nationalist movement, determined to rebuild Afghanistan from a perceived strong past, capable of defending its own interests, and integrated into limited regional [capitalist] patterns of power and trade. The group’s rise is a product of both Stalinist Soviet policy and American imperialism. The Taliban regime controlled about 90 percent of the country before its overthrow in 2001 by U.S. troops.”

Afghanistan and Julian Assange

An aside here is important. That the U.S. has been driven out Afghanistan in ignominious defeat and disgrace has yet to fully register in the halls of the U.S. Justice Department and within the Biden Administration more generally as evidenced by its ongoing efforts to extradite Wiki Leaks founder and political prisoner, Julian Assange. It was Assange’s release of thousands of pages of official U.S. Afghan war logs that starkly exposed the war crimes committed by the U.S. government. Assange remains imprisoned in UK’s Belmarsh Prison only because the defeated imperialist beast retains the power to persecute a single individual journalist who dared to early on reveal the truths that are today known by the entire world. The struggle to free Julian Assange – to force the Biden administration to cease its persecution of an innocent and courageous journalist – remains before us. [See]

Afghanistan’s Future

We begin with the proposition that the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan is a victory for all humanity. This defeat, as with imperialism’s defeat in Vietnam, will reverberate across the world with the simple message that the world’s greatest military and economic power is far from invincible. In inflicting this defeat the Afghan people, regardless of the reactionary ideology and practice of the landlord capitalist Taliban leadership, exercised the right of poor and oppressed peoples and nations to self-determination, that is, to be free from imperialist domination and rule. No current in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world, that provided sustenance or justification to the imperialist conquest and occupation can have the slightest future credibility with the Afghan masses. 

From the time of the Great Russian Revolution of 1917 to today, the right to self-determination of poor and oppressed nations has always been enshrined in the revolutionary socialist credo. The Russian Bolsheviks came to power in large part on the strength of their pledge of freedom and self-determination to the some 50 Czarist-conquered and forcefully incorporated nations.

The Right of Self-Determination

The 1917 Russian Revolution obliterated Czarist Russia’s heinous designation as “the prison house of nationalities.” On Day One of this October Revolution, the Bolshevik Party and the new workers’ council (soviet) based government that it led, decreed the nationalization of Russia’s vast lands – one sixth of the land surface of the planet earth – and ceded them to Russia’s vast peasantry, including all of its oppressed nationalities. This was the first critical deed in cementing their loyalty to the new revolutionary government. The Russian Bolsheviks of Lenin’s party, schooled in rejecting the ingrained prejudice of the Great White Chauvinist Czarist rulers, aimed at winning the vast oppressed masses by championing their interests against the Czar and against various the landlord national capitalist groupings that had previously won peasant loyalty because of their opposition to Czarist rule. The Bolshevik’s championing the cause of oppressed and conquered peoples, not only included their right to the land and to speak and be schooled in their own language and culture, the liberation of women and an end to the persecution of LGBTQI people, but also the right of conquered people to secede from the newly-formed Soviet Union if they so decided. Most chose to remain part of the new revolutionary federation and proved to among the best fighters to defend it when the armies of 17 nations were sent to the USSR to force this new nation back into the world capitalist orbit. They were all defeated.

Building the Revolutionary Party

Afghanistan today is entirely lacking in a leadership capable of or even vaguely interested in challenging capitalist rule and ending the historic subjugation of the masses of this poor nation to the interests of the rich in the cities and in the mostly rural regions. But the Afghan masses, at great cost, have won their right to be free from U.S. domination. Winning their freedom from capitalist rule, not to mention from the reactionary and enforced anti-democratic, anti-women and religious fundamentalist dictates of the Taliban, is entirely another matter. This has always required the patient and careful construction of a mass revolutionary socialist party deeply rooted in all the struggles of working people and the poor peasantry. Those who have been in the forefront of these struggles in the past and today will be best prepared as the same masses that defeated the imperialist occupation rise yet gain to challenge their native capitalist exploiters.

U.S. military and CIA propaganda, notwithstanding, there has been little Taliban-led mass repression to date. The Taliban took over vast portions of Afghanistan by agreements with local leaders, including in the north, where non-Pashtun majorities have been previously hostile to Taliban rule. The Taliban have issued statements indicating that they will not repeat their policies of excluding women and girls from receiving public education and from working more generally. They have indicated that the most reactionary aspects of Shariah law may be modified. No doubt all these statements and proclamations, as well as their initial dealings with the governments of world capitalism, are aimed at demonstrating a semblance of tolerance and stability following two decades of unmitigated chaos under U.S. rule. It remains to be seen whether Taliban pledges to retreat from their past reactionary policies will be become a reality It remains to be seen whether the basic conditions for open political discussion and debate will be tolerated or repressed, whether social justice and socialist fighters will be allowed to function in the open or brutally repressed and forced underground.

Regardless, the construction of independent revolutionary socialist parties and independent organizations of workers and the poor today, as it was before and during the U.S. war, stands as the most important task before those who seek the full liberation of the Afghan masses from every aspect of capitalist rule. The Taliban have made clear that they intend to maneuver among rival imperialist trade blocs and nations to integrate Afghanistan into the world capitalist/imperialist order. No doubt, the same U.S. negotiators who met with the Taliban in Doha expect to now exact concessions from the Taliban in exchange for U.S. financial aid, not to mention the lifting of crippling sanctions. There is no doubt that the interests of Afghan people will continue to be subordinated to the interests of native and foreign capital, until, that is, revolutionary socialist forces there and around the world break new ground in establishing socialist societies that prioritize the full realization of human needs and social progress as opposed to capitalist profits and plunder. 

In the U.S., the primary responsibility of antiwar and social justice activists and organizations is to keep the bloody hands of U.S. imperialism off the Afghan people. 

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