Thoughts: the conflict in Afghanistan

I probably should write a longer blog post on this, but it’s too depressing and too far removed from my control to matter.

The United States, after 20 years, is withdrawing from its open-ended military presence in Afghanistan. As everyone expected, the Ghani government (the US client-state based in Kabul) is collapsing, although the record speed is somewhat surprising.

  • One day’s news cycle was that the Taliban captured the capital of Samangan province. This is a town of such renown that there are two Wikipedia articles on it: Haibak and Samangan. I jest, of course: the town is so obscure nobody even noticed that the two articles refer to the same place. After 20 years of an English-speaking power occupying the area and being responsible for the development of mobile-phone infrastructure, apparently nobody has written about the place enough to be sure of its name.

  • A variety of other cities of more prominence have also been captured. Recently, Herat, a large city in western Afghanistan, was captured, about a month after Italian forces exited the area. The commander of the Herat-based Afghan National Army 207th Corps 1st Brigade was killed on July 31. With the fog-of-war and a lack of interest by English-language sources, it is impossible to know at this time if the rest of the brigade scattered, crossed over to the Taliban, or was destroyed in combat.

  • In general, there appears to be minimal resistance to the fall of the Ghani government. Local leaders are simply acknowledging the Taliban will take over as soon as US troops are sufficiently removed from the area. The Taliban have had a major presence across the country for several years, many of the “takeovers” are surrenders or defections of urban areas previously controlled with the support of the US military.

  • There are diplomatic talks occurring in Doha, Qatar. These will almost certainly go nowhere, it is difficult to imagine the Ghani government having any bargaining position at all. The US is making ridiculous diplomatic postures: is there really any scenario where the US doesn’t try to “isolate” the Taliban? And the suggestion that it would be illegitimate if a government “takes power by force” ignores the >99% of historical governments that did exactly that.

  • The topic of “elections” in Afghanistan would require its own blog post, but: they are extremely bad. There are no regional elections, as regional governors are appointed by Kabul. The parliamentary elections were apparently filled with electoral fraud. This is cargo-cult democracy at best.

As a final note, the question of “Did the United States engage in ‘nation building’ “ must be asked. The answer, quite clearly, is “apparently not”; the United States clearly built nothing that could survive without the backstop of Western guns. Between the constant political pressure to not engage in nation-building, and the utterly disastrous attempts to do so, this outcome should not be a surprise.