American soldiers in a village about 90 miles northeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2006. (Photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)
Donald Trump, referring to Afghanistan, tweeted in 2013: “We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money—rebuild the U.S.!”
The Taliban terrorists the U.S. overthrew for harboring al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 tragedies are now even stronger. Trump has been in office for nearly four years and one wonders why our American troops—for nearly two decades—are still asked to put their lives at risk in a country that is both politically and culturally compromised by the Taliban jihadists—they refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan—who now control nearly 70 percent of the country. More importantly, in what appears to be another failed-Vietnam for the U.S., one asks what went wrong and why?
Brief History of U.S. Involvement
In December 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, it was thought that the Russians were continuing their policy of Communist expansion. Instead, it was a response to U.S. covert operations in the region, which had been well in place for six months, with the apparent aim to overthrow the Communist People’s Republic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). In retrospect, the U.S. government inadvertently helped trigger the global jihad of today with its direct role in sponsoring the drug-trafficking Mujahideen (Soliders of Allah)—the forefathers of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS—who were encouraged to oust the PDPA.
There is even footage of video footage (below) of then-U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in Pakistan directly inciting the Mujahideen rebels to carry out their jihad.
U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski encouraging the Mujahadeen in their jihad
As U.S. drug adviser David Musto said, because “we [went] into Afghanistan to support the opium growers,” moderate Sufi leaders in the countryside were replaced by radical ones. This was due to massive financial support from agents of the Pakistani Inter-Services, funds that came from both the United States and Saudi Arabia, which were allocated toward jihadist ends.
Interesting enough, after 1979, Afghan opium and heroin entered the world market significantly for the first time and grew from nothing to about 60 percent of American consumption by 1980. It soared from two hundred metric tons in 1980, the first full year of U.S. support for the Mujahideen drug lord and future Prime Minister of Afghanistan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to almost two thousand metric tons in 1991, when both the United States and the U.S.S.R. agreed to discontinue their aid.
Throughout the 1980s, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the U.S. worked together to finance the Mujahideen in the Afghan war, which revived the notion of noble armed jihad for Muslims worldwide. In his zeal to eradicate the communist threat by the Soviets, President Ronald Reagan ensured that the Soldiers of Allah would have American support when he welcomed to the Oval Office a delegation of bearded ‘Afghan freedom fighters’ whose social and theological views—something Reagan never perceived—were hardly distinguishable from those later embraced by the Taliban.
Islamists, because of such occurrences, were able to bring religious groups together to denounce liberal social and legal reforms as Westernization, which then led to the call for the restoration of the universal Caliphate, the establishment of an Islamic state, and the Islamization of laws. The Soviet pullout from the Afghan conflict further facilitated this jihad, with the inadvertent creation of al-Qaeda in 1989, which in the process made the CIA Saudi-trainee Osama Bin Laden and his associates look for a new jihad: 9/11.
Former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan Doug Brandow recently stated: “Afghanistan mattered in 2001 because it hosted terrorist training camps, courtesy al-Qaeda, which launched devastating terrorist assaults on America. It was important for Washington to disrupt or destroy that group and punish the government which had hosted the terrorists. Both objectives were quickly achieved.” The Bush and Obama administrations thereafter focused on nation building, which has collapsed.
Why Did The U.S. Rebuilding Mission Fail?
There are various answers to this, for which I shall limit myself to two reasons. The first is the high level of corruption within the body politic of Afghanistan. As Charles Teifer, former Commissioner on the Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, explained such malfeasance, which includes bribery, extortion and drug commerce only favored the Taliban to gain greater control of the country:
“Afghans do not consider the Taliban nearly as much a problem as government corruption. To put it differently, popular support for the Taliban, compared to support for the Afghan government, has grown despite all of America’s efforts in the war since 2001, including the two large Obama troop surges. Why? Because the Afghan population will not support a government they find as corrupt as the one led by [the sitting president] Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.”
Since anti-corruption measures have failed, the average Afghan male sees the Taliban just as those Americans who voted Donald Trump into office, someone who will drain the swamp.
The second reason U.S. peace building efforts have failed is because of how the Islamic religion is observed by Afghans, which is almost exclusively based on the hadiths (sayings and acts) of the Prophet Muhammad. All Muslims are conditioned by him because in both the Quran and Islamic tradition, he is the example par excellence of behavior for everyone to follow. His words and deeds are agreed upon by all Muslims as identifying Islam, since he was faithful to Allah’s will as dictated in the Quran: And “[h]e who obeys the Messenger [Muhammad], obeys Allah.” (Sura 4, 80) Allah established in the life of the Prophet Muhammad general, eternal, and all-inclusive characteristics, and he gave every human being the possibility to imitate him and take his life as a model.
The problem, as indicated, is the identification of Muhammad, as recorded in the hadiths, as a promoter of violence, misogyny, or even the pedophilia: “Aisha reported that Allah’s Apostle married her when she was seven years old, and she was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he [the Holy Prophet] died she was eighteen years old.” — Sahih Muslim, Book 8, hadith 3311
There are no layouts to ensure that the Taliban will disavow its sharia-based human rights abuses against women, such as polygamy, child marriage, being forced to wear the burqa, stoning and flogging for adultery, imprisonment and beating for running away from their abusive husbands, denying them education and participation in the work force, etc. In fact, Taliban official and former governor of Herat Khairullah Khairkhwa—he was once a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay; released in 2014—recently confirmed that the sharia will continue to be a part of Afghanistan under their rule since it was ordained by the Prophet Muhammad.
Has the U.S. failed in its war in Afghanistan? It depends what the American government was seeking to accomplish, which for the time being, Washington is still trying to figure out.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University.
Quotes and sources not cited may be found in my book Islam: Religion of Peace – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.