Defeated by the beast you created
While trying to understand a major international crisis or a political turbulence by tracing back the conditions that affected those events in a historical perspective, you may encounter very surprising facts that could be described as “the irony of history.”
For instance, when you look at the history of the two warring sides, you may see that the arch enemy of the other party was a former ally or the one that the other side created or helped it emerge in the past.
The withdrawal of the U.S from Afghanistan unfolds one of the interesting paradoxes of history as it was the very same U.S. which armed Taliban-minded jihadist groups in this country via CIA-supported programs against the Soviet Union.
Even more worrying is the consequences of the grave mistakes the U.S. made in Iraq, following the events unfolded in Afghanistan. There is also a similar historical background in the mistakes the U.S. made in Iraq which eventually led to fundamentalist organizations becoming stronger in the wider Middle East.
The greatest misfortune of Afghanistan was that it was one of the geopolitical arenas where the two superpowers, the U.S and the Soviet Union, were competing with each other during the Cold War to settle the score.
Long story short: When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan in 1979 following the conflicts with the Marxist administration in Kabul and installed a friendly government sent strong geopolitical tremors through a region stretching from the Middle East to South Asia.
The emergence of the famous “Green Belt” theory, aimed at strengthening Islamist groups against communism, is largely the product of the conjecture prevailed at that time.
The U.S.’s response to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was to support the jihadist groups, called “the Mujahidin.” In the following years, the U.S. allocated large sources to this cause.
But the game changer was the U.S.’s supplying the Mujahidin with Stinger missiles. In the end, the Soviet Union conceded defeat and withdrew from Afghanistan. The CIA-supported Mujahidin won the war.
Three years after the Soviet Union completed the withdrawal, the Islamist group seized the power in the entire country, and Afghanistan once again plunged into instability. This time, the fundamentalist groups, which until recently warred against the Soviets together, started to fight with each other. Over time, the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996 and became the leading pollical actor.
By 1996, Afghanistan became an ideal breeding ground for different fundamentalist groups to which people from different countries joined. The common world view of those groups was to go beyond Afghanistan and launch the “global jihad.” One of those groups was Al Qaida, founded in 1988 in Afghanistan by the Saudi national Osama Bin Laden.
And then came 9/11. When it attacked the U.S. in 2001, Al Qaida was the protégé of the Taliban. At the end, the U.S. waged a war not only on Al Qaida but also on the Taliban and invaded Afghanistan.
The U.S. also invaded Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq was largely triggered by the circumstances created by 9/11.
The U.S. not only toppled Saddam Hussein, but also dismantled all institutions in Iraq, including the army. The collapse of the state structure lead to a huge chaos in Iraq and under this environment, resistance groups emerged and most of those groups leaned toward fundamentalism.
The situation worsened when the U.S. completely withdrew from Iraq in 2011 because the withdrawal left a void behind because there was an environment where the state was dysfunctional and political conflicts were stiff, resembling the conditions once prevailed in Afghanistan.
The major player that filled this void was ISIL. Following the U.S. withdrawal, it expanded into Syria and larger swathes of the region, moving closer to the Turkish border.
Al Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al Qaida, became an important player during the Syrian civil war.
The U.S., which invaded Iraq in 2003 and created the conditions for ISIL to emerge, this time round launched an international military campaign in 2014 to root out ISIL.
In the fight against ISIL, the U.S. chose the PKK’s Syrian branch, the YPG, as its military ally on the ground and established the SDF. This led to the formation of an autonomy entity in the east of the Euphrates under the SDF’s control.
Following the chain of events which started with a U.S operation in Afghanistan, we ended up in the east of Euphrates in Syria. Last week, we witnessed that the U.S. withdrew from and handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Some steps the big players take may produce unexpected results and surprises even for them in history. The moves, which create instability, frequently trigger chaos in a very large region.