On February 2, 1983, Ronald Reagan welcomed the Afghan mujahideen to the Oval Office. The mujahideen — literally “those who wage jihad” — were seeking support against the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan four years earlier. The enemy of our enemy was our friend, and the United States continued to support the Afghan “freedom fighters” throughout the end of the war, at which point the Soviet Union collapsed.
The Afghan mujahideen comprised various guerilla groups based in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as international fighters, largely from Arabia, including Osama bin Laden. After the war, most mujahideen fighters continued their struggle — with American funding — against the new Soviet-backed regime under Mohammad Najibullah, whom they finally defeated by capturing Kabul on April 28, 1992. Predictably, the bellicose mujahid groups failed to peaceably share power, plunging the country into four more years of civil war between half a dozen rival factions. Some fighters, apparently disenchanted with that war’s dearth of belligerents, formed a new militia, the Taliban, founded almost entirely by men who had fought with the American-backed forces against the Soviets. The new group quickly came to dominate the other militias in large part through the support of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), an important American ally through which the United States had funded the original mujahideen struggle against our communist enemies.
The Taliban conquered Kabul in 1996, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. America’s allies in Pakistan’s ISI continued to support the Taliban, which in turn gave safe haven to al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, who directed the deadliest terror attack in American history against the United States in 2001, at which point the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and deposed the Taliban, sending Osama bin Laden into hiding near the Pakistan Military Academy with the all-but-certain support of our allies, the ISI. In Pakistan’s defense, though the ISI may have harbored Osama bin Laden and hidden him from the United States, it also likely gave him up.
After ousting the Taliban from power, the United States backed the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and trained its police and Afghan National Army (ANA) — or at least it tried. Unfortunately, corruption bedeviled the Afghan security forces from the beginning. The Special Investigator General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) discovered that between half and three-quarters of all Afghan soldiers regularly used drugs. The SIGAR did not specify whether or not the percentage of drug-addled troops included the Afghan army’s large and persistent number of “ghost soldiers” — fake personnel present on paper for the purpose of getting paid but who did not exist in real life. A worrisome number of Afghan troops who did exist engaged in theft and even the intentional killing of fellow ANA and NATO soldiers. The Inspector General also discovered 5,753 reported cases of “gross human rights abuses by Afghan forces,” most of which involved bacha bazi — “boy play” — the “rampant” practice among Afghan officials of keeping young boys as sex slaves.
The U.S.-backed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan ruled the country until last week, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, which entrusted the city’s security to the Haqqani Network, an Islamist terror group funded by the CIA and ISI decades before the ISI began paying it to attack the CIA. The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul hastened America’s withdrawal from the country until last Thursday, when a terror attack on the Kabul airport halted the evacuation and claimed the lives of 13 American servicemen and nearly 200 Afghans.
The Taliban apparently did not perpetrate the attack, responsibility for which was quickly claimed by ISIS-K, an off-shoot of the Islamic State group in Khorasan and bitter rivals of the new top dogs in Kabul. Both belligerents have close ties to al Qaeda, the terror group that incited the U.S. invasion in the first place. But ISIS-K — with its international ambitions of a borderless Islamic caliphate — makes the domestically minded Taliban seem moderate by comparison. The attack transformed the Taliban, our enemy of the past two decades, into an awkward ally in the effort to withdraw American forces before rival terror groups can bog the U.S. down in more fighting, depriving the Taliban of the opportunity to consolidate its control over Afghanistan. Regardless, the recent acquisition of 75,000 vehicles, 600,000 weapons, and 208 aircraft — billions of dollars in American military equipment left behind when the United States began its withdrawal and the Afghan National Army collapsed — should give the Taliban a distinct tactical advantage over its rivals.
All of which is to say: Afghanistan is complicated. Today’s “good guys” may well turn out to be tomorrow’s “bad guys”; they may not even be all that great today. Paeans to our “allies” miss the point in a place defined not by allegiance but by interests, which shift from day to day and sometimes by the hour.
America withdrew because Americans grew tired of idealism in Afghanistan, which began as a mission to kill specific terrorists, transformed into an indefinite global crusade for “ending tyranny in our world,” and concluded with vague slogans about sending girls to school. The debate over America’s future in the region would do well to scrap the claptrap about our “obligations” to “allies” in a nation that doesn’t exist. As the idealism of the past decade-and-a-half collapses with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, perhaps we will finally return to questions that form the basis of any sensible foreign policy: What do we want to happen there now? How much do we stand to gain? What will we risk to get it?
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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