This article will be meant to address a failed state propped up by the US as a case study in what happens when western and gulf backed insurgents are actually allowed to win a war against a popular revolutionary and then democratically legitimized coalition government.
There are major differences between the conflict in Syria and the initial conflict in Afghanistan but there are still plenty of similarities that can be drawn on when comparing the effect US backed Mujahideen have on these countries. Unlike Syria, the radical Islamists backed in Afghanistan won their civil war and managed to overthrow a secular government, showing just what happens to a country when a force like this is actually allowed to win and dictate the direction of a formerly successful country.
I’d like to start with a brief history of the CIA’s proxy war against the democratically elected socialist government of Afghanistan. Much like in Syria today, the Afghan government was an ally of Russia, at the time of course Russia was the Soviet Union but the situation in reality still bears a close resemblance to that of the NATO backed jihadists in Syria.
The people’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan came to power in 1979 and although back by the soviets, were an independent and popular entity. Soon after the Afghan revolution, fears were expressed by US ally, Pakistan that the government in Afghanistan was colluding with the Soviet Union for a potential future invasion of Pakistan’s eastern province in the early 80’s. The US, of course saw this as justification enough to attempt to topple a soviet ally in the soviet union’s borderlands.
To briefly sum up the first few years of what would become a ten year war against the soviets in Afghanistan. The US sought out a friendly force they could use as a proxy to fight the Afghan government and was recommended a group of Pashtun extremist refugees who had attended Koranic schools inside of Pakistan. These students, translated to Pashtun as “Taliban,” were recruited by the CIA under Jimmy Carter and and then Ronald Reagan to return to Afghanistan and throw off the popular revolutionary government. Although originally just known initially as the Mujahideen, I’ll be referring to them as the Taliban from here on out for at the end of the 1980’s and into the early 90’s, these former anti Soviet guerrillas padded the ranks of the now infamous organization led by Mullah Mohammed Omar. Again, in a case similar to Syria, soviet troops were sent in to help sustain a popular government in the face of rising hostility coming from the country’s Pashtun population.
About 6 years into the war, the government of Afghanistan made some changes to open diplomatic outlets to Pashtun groups and tribal leaders and even removed the label of being a socialist government to become a coalition state and allow for a wider range of discourse. The soviets were still supportive of the afghans despite them no longer being a strictly socialists state. This new level of guaranteed inclusion was meant to curb the violence and perhaps bring in some of those under Taliban rule in the countrysides.
This probably would’ve been the case since everywhere the Taliban went there was massive disillusionment once their strict interpretation of shariah was made official law but this was of course not enough for the US. The US, along with allies such as Saudi Arabia continued to fund the Taliban, hoping only for a zero sum victory resulting in the complete annihilation of a now even more popular and inclusive state. Again, similar to Syria the US continued to aid the extremists in fighting a government that was a coalition of ethnic and religious minorities banding together to fight off western funded extremists.
The war in Afghanistan continued, even with the even after the withdrawal of soviet troops and eventual fall of the Soviet Union. Both Iran and Russia continued to provide assistance to the coalition government now holed up in Kabul as they kept fighting until vigorously until around 1996 and sporadically until 2001. Although the Taliban never fully gained the support of the people in Kabul and were pushed out multiple times during the 90’s, the country essentially fell under their control with just a few holdouts in Kabul and the territory of local warlords and drug kingpins who resisted the Taliban’s brutal theocracy.
The US had officially completed their first wave of destruction in Afghanistan by the early 90’s and when western controlled bodies such as UN workers were expelled by the Taliban in the early 90’s there was no real concern over “women’s rights” (the coalition government had passed laws protecting women and women had a high rate of participation in civil society and the military) or the like and the US seemed content to leave Afghanistan as a failed state. This only allowed more influence to be exerted on the Taliban by their now primary financial backer, Saudi Arabia. It was during this time that former Mujahideen soldier in the soviet Afghan war, Osama Bin Laden – who the Western media showcased as a freedom fighter – was allowed to set up his massive network of jihadist training camps and his al Qaeda organization began to boom. With the protection of the Taliban, Bin Laden carried out attacks across the Middle East and Africa. The US did eventually seek to put a stop to this but was stopped by Saudi Arabia due to the wealthy Bin Laden family’s influence in the gulf kingdom and his habit of associating with powerful Saudi figures who came to do business with him in Afghanistan.
Long story short, between 1996-2001, Afghanistan remained in a perpetual civil war started by the US with Iran and Russia backing the tolerant coalition now known as the Northern Alliance led by Ahmad Massoud. The Saudis and Pakistanis continued to cooperate in funding, arming and training the Taliban. In this environment, al Qaeda continued to flourish eventually culminating in the attacks on September 11th (attacks Massoud had warned the European Parliament about months earlier before his assassination on 9/9/01).
Now that the US had allowed al Qaeda to pull off their biggest marketing stunt and become the fountainhead for terrorism world wide, there was suddenly popular will to move against the Taliban. This of course involved the invasion by NATO coalition forces, who finally sought the help of the northern alliance in removing the Taliban from power. Of course the US later brushed the northern alliance off and placed in their own picks to lead the Afghan government as a puppet state.
Here we branch into two stories. One is about Afghanistan as a nation and the second is about the well from which future terrorist groups continued to draw inspiration and funding.
Afghanistan as a country was given US backed elections which were promptly won by their handpicked candidate, Hamid Karzai backed by briefcases of CIA cash. Typical of the US installed leaders, Karzai was about as corrupt as they come. With his connections to energy giant UNOCAL, opium farmers (aided by protection of US soldiers), dealings with warlords and then later negotiating with the Taliban even as he said he was fighting them off, Karzai was kept in place by the US with hopes that he’d keep the country just stable enough for nobody to care.
Karzai did keep this weak stability through massive corruption. For years the US suppressed reports of corruption from the authorities overseeing Afghan reconstruction and even aided the corruption by sending Karzai millions in “black cash” to grease the palms of everyone from fellow politicians to tribal leaders and possibly the Taliban themselves. The US knew Karzai was guilty of election fraud and even the New York Times said the biggest source of Afghan corruption was the US. Although Karzai hasn’t been president for 2 years now his successor, Ashraf Ghani still deals in the same corruption with a continued rise in opium production, continued business with terrorist collaborators as part of reconstruction and taking massive amounts of money for defense forces that don’t exist. Much like the historian Tacitus said of the Romans, the US has “created a wasteland and calls it peace” when it comes to Afghanistan.
The second and equally important effect of the US meddling in Afghanistan is the creation of al Qaeda and their protection with the help of Saudi Arabia. As I mentioned before, 9/11 was al Qaeda’s best PR move and inspired jihadists across the region including a Jordanian up and comer named Abu Musab al-zarqawi who was wrongfully accused of being the “al Qaeda link to Saddam Hussein” despite Saddam’s ingrained opposition to groups like this. Zarqawi was the founder of the Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad who was originally brushed off by bin laden until Colin Powell gave his false testimony at the UN (contrary to the CIA’s reports) about how this organization was seeking WMDs with the help of Saddam in Iraq.
This of course interested Bin Laden and in turn opened up a partnership that would now allow gulf money to flow to the insurgents fighting the US occupation of Iraq. Soon Zarqawi’s organization was renamed al Qaeda in Iraq and when their brutality ratcheted up even more became known as the Islamic State of Iraq. The group still maintained ties with al Qaeda until they moved into Syria without al Qaeda leadership’s permission and became ISIL and split with al Qaeda’s branch operating in Syria, Jahbat al-Nusra.
In summation, these groups were all created by US imperialism’s short sightedness and willingness to let terrorist organizations run free where they felt it was advantageous. The US and western partners continued to let militants flow through Turkey to fight the Assad government in Syria until beheading videos became the norm and the US realized their hands off proxy war approach was out of control, although there has still been recommendations by military and intelligence leaders that the US switch their stance with al Qaeda and arm them to fight Assad, although they’ve already armed several groups allied with them already. The wars in Afghanistan should serve as a template as to why these groups can’t be allowed to succeed for the sake of the world’s future and their connection to US imperialism today is exactly what we need to combat to avoid more of these wars in the future.
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.