1) America’s mistakes in the ‘forever war’

GS 2- IR

Context: US administration has set the September 11 deadline for all American troops to leave Afghanistan, winding up 20 years of the invasion by the United States.

What’s the matter?

  • US Administration to leave Afghanistan after 20 years war.
  • The peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban that started in Doha last year have been frozen for months.
  • The bid by the U.S. to hold a summit in Istanbul between the warring parties has been a non-starter. On the ground, the Taliban are making steady advances.
  • the Taliban have seized eight districts in four different regions. At least six provisional capitals, including Kabul, Lashkar Gah (Helmand) and Kandahar.
  • As of now, about 22% of Afghanistan’s 398 districts are in the Taliban’s control and 24% with the government, while more than half of the country’s territories are contested.

A neocon war

  • The longest war in America’s history is also turning out to be one of its most disastrous.
  •  Terrorist networks, which the U.S. vowed to destroy when it launched its global war on terror in Afghanistan, are now scattered across Asia and Africa.
  • The U.S. made three fundamental mistakes, which led to the superpower’s humiliating exit from this clichéd ‘graveyard of empires’.
  • First, the U.S. went into Afghanistan without learning anything from the country’s history, or was blindsided by the unipolar hubris.
  • Once they invaded Afghanistan, the U.S., given the mistakes the British and the Soviets committed, could have had a strategically focused campaign, targeting its enemy, al-Qaeda, which was behind the September 11 attacks.
  • It should have gone after the terrorists, destroyed their networks and then withdrawn.
  •  U.S. administration, had set more ambitious goals for itself. It wanted to topple the Taliban and rebuild a centralised “democratic” state in Afghanistan.
  • Now, the U.S. is retreating, practically leaving Afghanistan to the mercy of the Taliban, in return for assurances from them that they would not assist the terrorists such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Strategic failure

  • After the Taliban regime was toppled and al-Qaeda driven back into the caves and mountains, the U.S. still had a chance to stabilise the country with help from its different factions and leave.
  • The Taliban sought modest terms — Mullah Omar, their leader, should be allowed to return home. But the Americans rejected the offer and promised to destroy the Taliban in every corner of the country.
  • The Taliban are an indigenous militancy with deep roots in Afghanistan’s Pashtun majority. Toppling them from power was easy, but defeating them in their country was not.
  • And after vowing to defeat them, the U.S. launched the Iraq invasion to topple Saddam Hussein and export democracy there. This was the second mistake.
  • The U.S. took Pakistan’s tactical support for its war on terror for granted, overlooking the fact that Pakistan had deep strategic ties with the Taliban.
  • Pakistan played a double game by supporting the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan while at the same time offering refuge and support to the Taliban.
  • By the time the U.S. shifted its focus back to Afghanistan, after defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and amid growing calls at home to end the “endless wars”, the Afghan war had already been lost.

Surrender to the Taliban

  •  It seems to have reached the conclusion long ago that the war was one that could not be turned around.
  • The war was also becoming increasingly unpopular at home, prompting Presidents, from Barack Obama to Donald Trump and Joe Biden, to promise to wind it up.
  • he U.S. has also been shifting its focus to East Asia where China is rising. And given the foreign policy challenges the U.S. is facing now elsewhere, continuing troops and commitments in Afghanistan makes little sense.
  • But the U.S. could have opted for a more orderly withdrawal. Instead, it surrendered to the Taliban’s terms to pull back its troops. This was the third mistake.
  • The Taliban have not defeated the Afghan troops yet.
  • The government still controls most of the country’s population centres. The Taliban’s efforts to take over provincial capitals were successfully thwarted in the recent past.
  •  US administration went for talks with the Taliban on their terms. The Afghan government was kept out of the whole process because the Taliban do not recognise them as being legitimate.
  • And the U.S. struck a direct deal with the Taliban, without addressing any of the Afghan concerns.


  • The American exit would now decisively shift the balance of power in favour of the Taliban.
  • The insurgents have always known this. They have stepped up attacks and carried out targeted killings aimed at weakening the Afghan government and terrorising society immediately after signing the agreement with the U.S. in February 2020.
  • And ever since the remaining U.S. troops started pulling back from Afghanistan on May 1, the Taliban have started capturing more territories.
  • The war may be winding down for the Americans. But for Afghans, it will continue in one form or another.


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