US military withdrawal: View from the Taleban side – Mustafa Alani

The Taleban leadership believes that the withdrawal of the US-NATO forces, or their “escape” from Afghanistan is inevitable, and merely a matter of time. In late December 2010, US Vice-President Joe Biden reconfirmed an early promise made by President Barack Obama on the US intention to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by 2014 and said that the process of withdrawal was due to start by mid-2011. The vice-president stated: “We’re starting it in July of 2011 and we’re going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014.”

One of the Jihadist websites which is known to reflect Taleban thinking agreed with Biden’s statement that the US will withdraw from Afghanistan ‘come hell or high water’ but disagreed with his time estimate. The website reminded that the US is “bleeding heavily, we only need to widen and deepen the wound”, and that the US cannot sustain the human and financial burden of this war for long, and certainly not for another three years. In fact, if the present level of Taleban ‘advance’ can be sustained, the group believes that the US will leave Afghanistan much earlier than the planned withdrawal by 2014.

The Taleban also disagreed with the second part of Biden’s statement, which indicated that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan could be similar to its withdrawal from Iraq. Recalling the agreement the US had with the Iraqis on a three-year timetable for withdrawal, Biden said that the US would follow the same process in Afghanistan as they had done in Iraq, stressing that the US would hand over responsibility to the Afghan government.

However, the Taleban believe that Afghanistan is not Iraq, and what was possible for the US to achieve in Iraq cannot be duplicated and implemented in Afghanistan. They argue that in Afghanistan the US will not be able to hand over power to the Karzai government or to any other ‘puppet government’. The Taleban consider themselves as the only legitimate government in Afghanistan, even though the US invading forces removed them from power in 2001. Legitimacy is not an issue for them as they believe that they “never lost their legitimacy.” On the question of territorial control and the extent of authority, the Taleban claim that at the beginning of 2011, they have control over 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory. What they wish to indicate is that the return of the Taleban government to power in Afghanistan is a foregone conclusion.

In fact, it has become extremely difficult for the US and for the international community to ignore the power and influence of the Taleban inside Afghanistan. The main obstacle facing the US leadership is how to justify the idea of Taleban’s return to power after the immense human and financial cost endured by the people of the US since 2001 with the aim of removing the Taleban from power and establishing a “democratic and secular” regime, to end “the brutality and inhumanity of the medieval Taleban regime.”

Ten days after the attacks of 9/11 which claimed the life of 2,973 innocent people, in a speech to the US Congress, President George Bush identified Al Qaeda, as the organisation responsible for the attack on the US mainland. He accused the Taleban rulers of Afghanistan of “aiding and abetting” Al Qaeda. Now, the US administration needs to soften the impact of Taleban’s possible return to power. Many US citizens still link, justifiably or unjustifiably, Afghanistan and Taleban with the 9/11 attacks. Thus, the US war in Afghanistan is seen as a legitimate war by the great majority of American people. In contrast to the US invasion of Iraq which was considered as an illegal and unwarranted war, the Afghan war is seen as a war of necessity and part of the US right for self-defense. The question is: can the US administration present its withdrawal from Afghanistan on the basis of it being an “unwinnable war”, a war without a clear or assured end, and a war of attrition that the US cannot sustain forever? The administration’s policy makers and publicity strategists will be required to heavily edit the final chapter of the US-Afghanistan story, hoping to present the painful realities as a positive or normal ending. The difficult task ahead will be how one can rationalise defeat without admitting defeat. – Khaleej Times