IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN | Grand Strategy, Grand Failures

The success of Daesh — erstwhile ISIS or ISIL — against the Iraqi military and the success of the Taliban in Afghanistan apparently look two different cases; however, they have something in common which glaringly shows the ultimate failure of the twenty-first century grand strategy of the US. As a part of its strategy, the US aimed at first destroying the local forces — Saddam’s army in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan — and then replacing them with the one directly recruited, trained and equipped by the US army. This was supposed to be the linchpin of the US’ policy of dominating the energy-rich Middle East and the Central Asia.

Certain developments during the recent months have clearly established that not only have the US failed in establishing ‘capable’ armies in Iraq and Afghanistan but also have lost the credibility of its slogan of bringing ‘democracy’ and ‘peace’ by overthrowing ‘autocratic’ regimes. The fact that chaos has followed and is going to follow the US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan respectively proves the hollowness of the US’ grandiose claims.

Not only this; the miserable failure of the both Iraq and Afghan armies has also exposed the corruption within the US army. The inability of Iraqi and Afghan forces to effectively counter the attackers has also put a big question mark on the huge sums of money spent on their training in order to make them capable enough to replace the coalition forces in both countries. As a matter of fact, the US spent around $30 billion on training the Iraqi army alone; however, this US-trained army turned out to be nothing against the ISIS. When the ISIS entered Iraq, they numbered only 1000. But, this handful of extremists forced the Iraqi army to flee for their lives, leaving behind a whole lot of foreign-provided equipments and other valuable hardware.

This being the case-scenario, one has to question not only the Western media’s credibility because of its gross failure in probing or even highlighting this issue, but also the often-repeated assumption that the US must never have pulled out from Iraq. Similarly, the Western claim that ‘the Daesh neither have much following nor do they have air support, puts at stake the ability of the Iraqi forces to fight such an enemy. The ability of the US army, in this behalf, to establish such armies, is thus a matter of huge concern for countries who expect their help in their quest to modernize their own armies.

Issues like corruption in the US army have further marred the grand strategy of the US. Some reports have come up with stories of massive corruption. For instance, a report by Al-Jazeera English reveals that electric plugs valued at $900 each for the US troops in Iraq when their real price was something like $5 and short piping costing $1.5 went for almost $80. It has also been reported that the Pentagon channelled contracts for the Iraqi army through companies which didn’t leave any paper work behind regarding these contracts, thus left an open space for themselves and the Pentagon to fill in gaps as per their designs.

The most significant question that we must raise here now is: what would be the future of the Afghan national force which has been trained and equipped, like the Iraqi army, by the US army? Now that the US and NATO forces are going to withdraw from Afghanistan soon, leaving Afghan national forces in charge of the “war on terror”, one must not believe that “peace” is necessarily going to follow this drawdown. The case and position of the Afghan National Army (ANA) is not qualitatively much different from the Iraqi army. Stories of desertion, corruption and killings of the US/NATO soldiers by the Afghan soldiers have already made headlines in the media. Not only this; stories of the failure of the ANA in containing the Taliban still continue and it casts serious doubts on their ability to handle the post-withdrawal scenario.

Despite the fact that the US has been training the Afghan army for years now, lack of progress in their capability makes us question the ability of the US army itself. The current number of the Afghan armed forces stands at an impressive 200,000, with another 60,000 planned to be added next year, and with nearly 4,000 US instructors involved in their training. Yet, all we hear about is the successes of the Taliban in controlling vast parts of Afghanistan and the possible eventual takeover of the country, once the bulk of NATO troops withdraw.

The US has spent billions of dollars on the training of the Afghan forces. Now, by taking into consideration the case of Iraq, we can safely conclude that the fate of the Afghan forces as well of Afghanistan would not be much different from that of Iraq. What is thus most likely to happen in Afghanistan, after the US and NATO forces withdraw, is the Taliban moving in and virtually taking over without much hustle. As a matter of fact, the Taliban are no more so backward in terms of access to modern weaponry and organization of the force. Not only have they been using bullet-proof helmets and camouflage caps as part of their combat uniform, but they also have high-tech tools in combat operations against the ANA and NATO forces, often using Google Earth to pinpoint their targets. Taliban are as advanced in terms of the kind of weapons as the ANA; however, they are more committed and even better trained than the Afghan army. This is quite evident from the number of deaths the ANA has suffered in clashes with the Taliban as well as from the videos, released by the Taliban, showing them engaged in extensive combat training programmes and working as a proper ‘unit of a standing army.’

The US’ policy of prolonging its stay in Afghanistan even after 2014 is, in a way, also a reflection of the actual position of the ANA, and the disbelief of the US in the ANA’s ability to fulfil its primary task: tackling the Taliban threat. According to the recently signed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the US will leave behind not only trainers and instructors but also a reasonable chunk of Special Forces. Unlike Iraq where the US did not leave any mechanism behind, the US is treating the Afghan case differently. However, it has nothing to do with the Daesh phenomenon. However, this agreement, in reality, is a forceful continuation of the already failed project, that is, training of the ANA. Although the underlying purpose of this agreement is to keep the region militarized for at least one more decade, this would not pave the way for any major achievement against the Taliban.

The reality of all such agreements made between the US and other states is that these agreements directly pave the way for militarization and placement of US forces across the world. In fact, the US deliberately creates such conditions which necessitate the placement of its forces. For example, the US is considering sending its ‘instructors’ to Nigeria where the armed group Boko Haram has been making big marks and has even announced to create its own mini-caliphate in the northern part of the country. Following the failure of the Nigerian government in organizing a strong response to the group, the so-called “public opinion” is increasing its pressure on the US to increase the number of US advisers and instructors on the ground there.

This is precisely the situation in Iraq as well where the US first created the Daesh — and now is using this threat as a justification for launching attacks, sending troops and organizing an international coalition. And, such situation is also likely to follow in Afghanistan even though a ‘peaceful democratic transition’ has taken place there.

By: Salman Rafi Sheikh

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