Afghanistan: two decades of Nato help leaves a failed and fractured state on the brink of civil war
By Natasha Lindstaedt* – The Conversation
Afghanistan is falling apart. With US and Nato troops
leaving the country earlier than planned, experts
are warning that the Taliban could take control of the country within six
months. Currently the insurgents control the strategically important province
of Helmand, and control or contest territory nearly
every province in the war-torn country.
The Second Resistance has several thousand fighters and
militia commanders who have fought against the Taliban, mostly of Tajik origin.
Massoud insists that the Taliban will not
have the same success in fighting his coalition due to far greater resolve
of his soldiers compared to the Afghan military. But henceforth he will have to
operate without the help of Nato troops.
But it’s not just seasoned veterans that are forming
militias. Ethnic Shia Hazaras, thousands of whom were massacred between 1996
and 2001 by the Sunni Taliban, have tended to lack militias of their own. But
after a wave
of attacks in May that killed 85 people (mostly female students), Hazaras
are also now rushing
But while these tribal militias might be able to defend
themselves, this was far from the objective of the US-led coalition. The goal
was to help build
a national Afghan army that could become the sole legitimate fighting
force. In spite of these intentions, this clearly never happened.
Much of the problem was that the US never fully grasped how
to best support the Afghan military. The Americans relied on a model of trying
to arm the Afghan army, training them and providing them with aerial support.
But this model was not sustainable or practical for the Afghan military.
to engage in state building after it invaded in December 2001 was a more
challenging objective than the Bush administration understood. For
has shown that Afghanistan has been difficult to conquer – and impossible
to govern. The country always struggled to create a unified national military
to ward off invaders and maintain internal stability. Instead it has relied on
local tribal militias led by
warlords that could be immediately called to action to defend their
territory. Efforts in the past (such as under Amanullah Khan
in 1923) to enforce conscription into the Afghan army resulted in
As I discovered while researching a book on failed
states, in addition to having little experience with a national military,
other state institutions in Afghanistan were also almost nonexistent. This was
not just because the country had faced decades of invasion and civil war, but
also because it is is a nation in name only.
The various Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Turkmen, Baluch and
Uzbek groups in Afghanistan never
accepted a central regime. This complicated any effort after Afghanistan
gained independence in August 1919 to create unified security institutions to
fend off various violent non-state actors that threatened stability in the
The Taliban, which overthrew the Afghan government in 1996,
was the only
group able to exercise control over the country after the 1992-1996 civil
war. But, in October 2001, after the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban’s refusal to
turn in Osama bin Laden, US and British forces launched airstrikes against
targets in Afghanistan. By early December, the Taliban had abandoned their
stronghold in Kandahar and ceded their last territory in Zabul and a new
president, Hamid Karzai, was sworn in within two
weeks as interim leader.
But the Taliban never accepted a western presence and
launched an insurgency in 2002. Over two decades, the Taliban has become the
fighting group in the country, building a professional and resilient
organisation that has learned to rely on a sophisticated communication
apparatus. Its structure has been flexible enough to withstand the death of its
leadership, after Mullah
Omar died in 2013.
During that time – and despite the presence of Nato troops
in the country – thousands of civilians have continued to die in terror attacks
and raids. In 2019 and 2020 alone, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has
documented more than 17,000 civilians killed or injured – the majority of
which are blamed on the Taliban. Although the Taliban is currently in peace
talks with the Afghan government in Tehran, it has little
or no credibility when it comes to compromise or adhering to agreements.
So, after spending US$2 trillion and involving over 130,000
Nato troops for over 20 years, the US and its western allies are almost back to square one. Meanwhile
almost 50,000 Afghan civilians have
died – and most Afghan citizens still
live in poverty. The one concrete achievement of the 20 years of occupation
– reversing the Taliban’s ban
on female education – could be in jeopardy as well.
Disclosure statement : Natasha Lindstaedt does not work for, consult, own shares in or
receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this
article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic
* Natasha Lindstaedt is Deputy Dean and
Professor in the Department of
Government at the University of Essex. Her teaching interests include
State Building, Democracy, Authoritarian Regimes, US Politics, Middle East
Politics and Latin American Politics. Her
research interests are Authoritarian Regimes, Populism, Failed States,
International Development, Third World Politics.
America’s Afghan War
Is Over, so What About Iraq—and Iran?
Let’s hope Biden has learned another history
lesson: that the United States should stop invading and attacking other
countries. Biden certainly seems to have learned the lesson in Afghanistan that
the U.S. can neither bomb its way to peace nor install U.S. puppet governments