GWYNNE DYER > How the Afghan War Ends

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Last weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago was mostly about how to get NATO troops out of Afghanistan without causing too much embarrassment to the Western governments that sent them, and a little bit about how to ensure that the Taliban don’t take over again once the Western troops leave.

The timetable for NATO’s withdrawal is now graven in stone: all Western troops will be withdrawn from actual combat by the end of 2013, and they will all be out of the country by the end of 2014 (except the French, who will all leave by December of this year). This timetable will be adhered to no matter how the situation on the ground develops – or more likely, degrades – in the next two years. After that, it’s entirely in the Afghans’ hands.

There was some pretty rhetoric to soften this harsh fact: “As Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone,” declared President Barack Obama. But alone is exactly where they will be, although NATO is promising to send the Afghan government $4 billion a year to enable its army to stand up to the Taliban. The Western alliance has finally accepted that if the foreign troops cannot defeat the Taliban in 11 years, they are most unlikely to do so in 13 or 15 years.

So if NATO is now conceding that the Taliban cannot be crushed by military force, then why is it going to keep its troops in Afghanistan for another two-and-a-half years before acting on that conclusion? Some of them will die as a result of that decision, and quite a few Afghans will be killed because of it, too. Apart from temporarily saving the face of various Western governments, what purpose will their deaths serve?

NATO’s argument is that another two years will leave the Afghan army in a better position to defend the US-installed government of Hamid Karzai after Western troops leave, but there is absolutely no evidence that it is true. Indeed, of the 150-odd Western troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year, twenty were killed by the Afghan troops that NATO is supposed to be training for this role.

The “Afghan National Army” is not fit for purpose, and the outcome after NATO troops leave will probably be the same whether they all go home this year or stay until 2014. So what is that probable outcome?

Karzai may not fall immediately: the $4 billion a year that NATO is promising to pay for the maintenance of his army will probably preserve the status quo for two or three years. But no more: it is most unlikely that the subsidy will be extended when it comes up for review in 2018.

That’s the way the Vietnam war ended. The last US troops left South Vietnam in 1973, but the regime they left behind survived until Congress cut off the flow of military aid in 1975. It happened exactly the same way when the Russians left Afghanistan in 1989: the regime they had supported lasted three more years, until the flow of funds was cut off after the old Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991.

The same thing will almost certainly happen this time. Even the $4 billion that NATO is now pledging will only pay for an Afghan army two-thirds of its currently planned size. When that external funding ends, the roof will probably fall in on Karzai’s regime.

The Taliban will doubtless keep control of the Pashtun-speaking provinces where they recruit most of their fighters. (For all NATO’s efforts, they never really lost it.) The Afghan National Army will probably disintegrate and be replaced by the separate but allied Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek ethnic militias that held the north of the country before 9/11. They may be able to hold it again.

In other words, the likeliest outcome is a reversion to the pre-9/11 distribution of power in Afghanistan, perhaps with the Taliban in control of Kabul, perhaps not. That’s not a wonderful outcome, but it’s not such a terrible one either.

*Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.


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carlos valds

7/9/2012 7:19:49 PM

As a US citizen I want to say the Afghan adventure was a stupid waste of time, money and lives. The imbeciles running the US government at the time were worse war criminals than the Taliban. The US lost the respect of the world. The US treated Nazi war criminals better than innocent Afghans and non Afghans taken to Guantanamo. Germany was a threat to US in WWII. Taliban was not a threat. Nazis tried to exterminate Jews with gas chambers and summary executions. Taliban never did any of that.

SwordOf TheProphet

6/23/2012 3:30:11 AM

US Observer, what "infrastructure"? Are you suggesting the Taliban had an "infrastructure"? "Take the fight to the terrorist"? Never mind that the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11 right? Afghanistan was successful? Let me help you out: Afghanistan before: Taliban controls it. Afghanistan after: Taliban controls it. It doesn't look like anything was accomplished, does it?

SwordOf TheProphet

6/23/2012 3:27:07 AM

Red Tail, you don't seem to get it. Taliban still controls most of Afghanistan. US pulls out. Taliban retakes all of Afghanistan. So do you want your ten years and trillions of tax dollars back?

US Observer

6/12/2012 4:01:10 PM

Afghanistan was succesful, regardless if Afghans end up Democratic or continue to be sheep. Our objective was to disrupt their infrastructure and take the fight to the terroist. Mission accomplished!

Mork and Mindy Simpson

5/27/2012 2:51:19 PM

It's amazing isn't the Ottomans then the British followed by the Russians and now America/NATO all withdrew from Afghanistan. How many times do "civilized" countries, have to have their collective nose rubbed in the dirt to understand that some people do not want "their" democracy or values. when the military pull out they will just repeat what happened when the Soviets withdrew

Red Tail

5/27/2012 12:02:42 PM

Mr Dyer asks the question "So if NATO is now conceding that the Taliban cannot be crushed by military force, then why is it going to keep its troops in Afghanistan for another two-and-a-half years before acting on that conclusion? ". Not very clever in my opinion. It is like asking, "If the police can not 100% stop criminals, then why do we have a police force at all". This article is very poorly thought through and lacks logic.

Brazilian Reader

5/26/2012 5:14:12 AM

Objective Analysis. Congratulations.
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