Listen up, to these hard truths on Afghanistan


Photo by nasim dadfar on Unsplash

On August 19, Judd Legum, Tesnim Zekeria and Rebecca Crosby of Popular Information wrote a piece headlined “Where are the anti-war voices?”.

You can read the whole thing here but if you don’t, suffice it to say that the three of them offered insights you won’t get elsewhere.

In fact, anywhere.

Highlights are below:

** The media is largely overlooking voices that supported the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Popular Information quoted a veteran communications professional to say it was impossible to get other viewpoints heard: “I turn on TV and watch CNN and, frankly, a lot of MSNBC shows, and they’re presenting it as if there’s not a voice out there willing to defend the president and his decision to withdraw. But I offered those very shows those voices, and the shows purposely decided to shut them out.”

** The media narrative is ignoring the fact that most of the criticisms of the withdrawal are from people who opposed it altogether. For instance, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It’s worth pointing out that Ms Rice continues to defend the 2003 invasion of Iraq on a false prospectus.

** The US spent 20 years and $1 trillion to build up Afghan institutions but they collapsed. There is a reluctance on the part of most people to blame Afghans, but I’m afraid, they bear at least half the responsibility, if not more. If my house is messy, it’s up to me to tidy up, isn’t it? I can’t blame my friends.

** Popular Information also asked the key question: Was the status quo sustainable? That’s something former UK minister Rory Stewart has been putting about. (Incidentally, Mr Stewart established a very expensive Afghan jewellery and crafts heritage company, Turquoise Mountain in Kabul. I remember visiting, with other Americans from the Embassy, and it struck me even at the time that this was high-end beyond high-end and rather out of the reach of even middle class Afghans.)

Mr Stewart has been saying that the US should have retained a small military footprint indefinitely in Afghanistan. But Popular Information pointed out two key facts. “The low levels of violence in recent months coincided with the Trump administration’s announcement that the US military presence would end in 2021.” Had Mr Biden said it was staying indefinitely, the situation could have changed dramatically. Second, “the small US military footprint also came with a high cost to Afghan civilians. With few troops on the ground, the military increasingly relied on air power to keep the Taliban at bay. This kept U.S. fatalities low but resulted in a massive increase in civilian casualties. A Brown University study found that between 2016 and 2019 the ‘number of civilians killed by international airstrikes increased about 330 percent’. In October 2020 ‘212 civilians were killed’.”