The Afghanistan conundrum: Arrogance is weakness disguised as strength

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 August 2021:

There is a growing anger over the way Afghanistan has fallen back into the hands of the Taliban. It is not surprising that most of the anger has been directed at the US, the self-proclaimed universal saviour from the “uncivilised” world.

Many see the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan as the sole reason for the Taliban takeover. Unfortunately, the GOP and many others are blaming Joe Biden for this catastrophic collapse that is unfolding before us.

This has not stopped former President Donald Trump to get on his high horse and peddle his habitual lies about the withdrawal. How soon have people forgotten Trump’s mantra of “America First”. Let us take a walk back into the timeline for this “disastrous” outcome.

Long before Biden became the 46th President of the USA, under the “genius “former President Trump, “the United States Armed Forces were scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by August 31, 2021, concluding the Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and NATO’s resolute Support Mission”.

After invading and occupying the country in 2001 following the 11 September attacks, the resulting war became the USA’s longest military engagement.

A peace agreement titled the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan was signed on February 29, 2020, one full year before Biden was elected president. According to the agreement signed by former President Donald Trump’s administration, America and NATO will withdraw ALL regular troops from Afghanistan. In exchange for this, the Taliban pledged to prevent Al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control and nesting in the country. That was the condition for the withdrawal hatched by Donald Trump’s administration.

The deal was supported by China, Pakistan, and Russia, and unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. The Trump administration agreed to an initial reduction from 13,000 to 8,600 troops by July 2020, followed by a full withdrawal by May 1, 2021 if the Taliban kept its commitments. But today, everyone is blaming Joe Biden for an agreement that was rubber stamped even before he got the Democratic nomination.

What should be worrying everyone is whether the Taliban will keep their promises. Despite the selective amnesia that the GOP and others are employing, the “fall” of Afghanistan should serve as a lesson to many. The adage that ‘he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day’ comes to mind.

The Afghanistan conundrum proves that might is not always right, and that winning the war is one thing, the battle is a completely different case.  The universal anxiety that has gripped the world is perfectly understandable, and this is based on historical knowledge about the Taliban.

There is no question that their brand of Islam bothers on the extreme and barbaric. But twenty years of friendly fire and power sharing between several western backed governments and the Taliban is bound to induce some changes. To all intents and purposes, any Taliban government would one way or another yearn for international recognition.

The Taliban would know full well that they would need to loosen some of their ways to achieve this. That is where the cultural and political horse trading will come to play.

Despite the anxieties, we should not forget that the leadership of the Taliban has changed over the years. Many would hope that the current leadership will be slightly toned down. Never underestimate the power of inculcation that comes with years of co-existence.

Interestingly, Donald Trump has been calling for the resignation of Joe Biden. I am struggling to decipher January 6 from the Taliban take over. One is fighting to take back its country, and the other to tear its country apart. If anything, the GOP should be ashamed of preaching democracy to the Taliban.

In case some Americans become amnesic, January 6 took away any of their professorial merits to preach governance to anyone. Some people are wondering why their troops should be fighting radicals in far away lands when they have their very own brewed in-house.

But what does the Afghanistan scenario teaches us?

Firstly, it shows that any change that abandons its culture is bound to fail. Change should be inculcated. It should be evolutionary and not revolutionary. It shows that war changes nothing. When Osama Bin Laden and his band of terrorists attacked America, the response was to invade Afghanistan, which was the honeycomb of Al -Qaeda.

When América and the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ invaded Afghanistan, it was universally seen as a just war and rightly so. The sole purpose was to root out and destroy all elements of Al-Qaeda in the country.  It was never about occupying and ruling the country. This day was always going to come – the time to pack up and go home. But when was the right time? Was there ever a right time to leave?

Twenty years down the line has seen thousands of lives lost and billions spent to keep us safe. Bin Laden was killed, and Guantanamo is still occupied. Thankfully, since the war on terror was launched, there has been a lot of innovations and improvements to tackle this scourge. There have been pre-emptive strikes, drone wars and tougher security checks to keep us safe.

We have given up a lot of our freedoms, a small price to pay to safeguard our security. Although this is no reason for complacency, the amount of security improvements has led to some nullification of the threat from Al-Qaeda.

But the amazing thing about all this is the GOP’s response. When Trump signed the tenancy agreement for the White House, he promised to “End the forever wars”. It was Trump and Pompeo who gave the Taliban power, legitimacy, and 5000 of their captured members, just so that he can claim he “negotiated peace” in Afghanistan.

He negotiated with the Taliban without the involvement of Afghan government. It is so interesting that hot on the heels of the capitulation of the Afghan central government, the GOP removed every evidence of their proclamations and dealings with the Taliban from their website.

Throughout his tenure, he disparaged the intelligence of service members and asked that wounded veterans be kept out of military parades. He was quoted as saying that Americans who died in wars are “losers” and suckers”. During his four-year stint, Trump took America out of five significant international agreements. They include the Paris Climate Agreement, Trans -Pacific Partnership, UNESCO, The Iran Nuclear Deal and The United Nations Human Rights Council; all in the name of “America First”.

When did Trump become so caring and concerned about the fate of the Afghans under the Taliban? When did he become concerned about women’s rights? When did foxes start voting for the welfare of chickens? Do Turkeys vote for Christmas these days?

Amidst the universal anxieties, the Taliban have since made declarations and promises in their first press conference. They have promised amnesty, ensure diplomats and aid workers to work safely, allow female medics to continue their work and girls to remain in school. They have promised women’s basic human rights, and to be active in society “but within the framework of sharia”.

It is understandable if many think that a leopard never sheds its spots, which is the source of the world’s anxieties. As we see female journalists interview Taliban leaders on TV, volleyball being played etc, it is early days. We all hope that they will keep their promises.

So, what have we learnt from the Afghan experiment?

All governments lie to take their countries into wars. It shows that might is not right. This experiment shows that cultural change cannot be achieved by revolutionary means, and that any change that abandons its culture is bound to fail.

Change should be inculcated evolutionarily within a culture. In trying to change Afghanistan, it should be done with the expectation that we can make it work or make it better. It is not about the strongest or most intelligent, but who can best manage the change. If the turbulence in Afghanistan is to be addressed, it should not be treated with yesterday’s logic.

Joe Biden can get all the flak vented towards him, but there is no better solution. America and the world had been lodged between a rock and a hard place. In war, there are no winners, only survivors.

May the souls of those who lost their lives in this war, rest in perfect peace. In the heat of this current debacle, it may seem that they died for nothing. History will show that they died for a good cause. Only time will tell.


  1. On 18 September 2001, just a week after al-Qaeda operatives brought terror and death from the skies to New York and Washington DC, President George W Bush signed into law a joint Congressional resolution approving the use of force against the authors of that brutal aerial assault on his country. His action in fact set out a legal framework and rationale for the steps he later took to invade a then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan viewed as providing sanctuary for al-Qaeda. The US-led invasion with British moral and direct, practical support then began just three weeks later on 7 October that year. What George W Bush and his British counterpart and arch sympathiser Tony Blair did not foresee was that the war they had initiated would last for nothing less than two whole decades, ramifying into various and shifting forms of the occupation of Afghanistan by Western powers.

    Indeed, having hunted al-Qaeda down to its ultimate hideout in the remote caves of the Tora Bora Mountains, the US and its allies could not put the icing on the cake until a whole decade afterwards when on 1 May 2011 a select group of US Marines took out the Islamist terror leader Osama Ben Ladin in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, where he had sought refuge after his group and their Taliban hosts had been beaten. However, instead of calling it a day following the defeat of al-Qaeda, the US and its allies stayed on in Afghanistan, their presence there having morphed over the years into an expanded, decidedly ill-defined, role of nation building – a completely different ball game, requiring much more commitment and investment in time and resources than initially bargained for. One consequence of all that is what I will call – judging from events now unfolding in Kabul – a chaotic, humiliating about-turn by Western allies as they cede back control of Afghanistan to the Taliban. The chaotic and humiliating retreat was perhaps foreseeable; it was a disaster waiting to happen. For in their attempt at nation building, the US and its allies were hubristically imposing on a completely alien country, culture and civilisation their own self-image of ultimate cultural and civilisational superiority and transcendence. They failed to learn the lessons of their imperialist and colonialist pasts.

    This is because from time immemorial nativist rebellion has always been a direct and inevitable consequence when one country, culture or civilisation occupies another. The Taliban may be considered by outsiders to be a violent form of nativist resistance: they are what might be termed Islamism gone irredeemably mad: brutal, riotous and murderous emanations from hell that kill their own people and impose on their women a lifestyle that harks back to medieval savagery and backwardness. The question though is this: do Afghans in their entirety share this view of Taliban’s supposed socio-cultural medievalism? If so, why are we then witnessing a complete collapse of the supposedly desirable and superior modern political and socio-cultural edifice the US and its allies have attempted to erect in the last twenty years? The answer is perhaps self-evident. Only Afghans know Afghanistan well enough to put in place a political dispensation that is responsive to that country’s age-old cultural moorings; that has due regard for its social and tribal dynamics. A solution to the country’s problems hatched up and directed from outside is simply not good enough.

  2. I think president Biden was right, when he outlined the reasons why America is leaving after twenty years of occupation,and more than 4000 NATO troops killed, two thirds of which are American. Thousands Afghans both military and civilians killed, and trillions of dollars spent on building an Afghan military of three hundred thousands men women from scratch, with An Air force that the Taliban never had before, and an assortment of Morden technological military weapons,that have finally fallen in to the militants hands. Why the president ask, should young Americans fight and die in some one’s eles war.? A rhetorical question given the reason why the Americans went to Afghanistan, in the first place was the refusals of the then Taliban leadership under Mullah Ormar the one eyed leaders refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden, suspect of the 9/11 attacks of New York city. But Bin Laden and his Al queda terror group were taken out by 2014. So why the continue presence. Americans are not known for nation building. That is the British. He is spot on.

    If the Afghan military cannot fight to protect their country, and help maintain security in the country and their communities, why should the Americans and their NATO allies risk the lives of their own young men and women, on something that will never work. Now that the Taliban have taken over, with all the modern weaponry at their disposal, what they do with those weapons is anyone’s guess. But my hunch this unrepentant Taliban militants, wedded in stone age mentality, especially how women and girls are denied their basic human rights,the most obvious education, in their 1990s brutal rule, the fact they are preaching they will govern Afghanistan according to the scriptures of as written in the Koran. The truth is, there is nothing in the Koran that suggests oppressing women is permissiable in any of the Suras.

    The fact that the Taliban are opponents of anything modern, including listening to the favorite past time of the human mind Music, or going for a visit to the cinema, but are happy to use modern technology to advanced their twisted ideology , shows the level of hypocrisy and depravity, the Taliban and all other terrorist groups are capable of being.Other terror groups in the same wave lengths like Islamic State in the West African region, Boka Haram in Northern Nigeria, Al sahbbah in Somalia, this misfits have nothing to offer in the way of improving citizens standard of living, but wholesale of unimaginable suffering brought upon ordinary men, women and childen.The reasons why this flip flop, wild hair , and unsavoury crazy looks , that makes them appear like they have mistakenly stumble in to the modern world from the caves, or a random force have thrown them out of their habitats, carrying their deadly weapons successfully defeated an Afghan army of three hundred thousands, well trained and equipped, but lack the nerves to fight back, against a ratag Taliban militants of seventy thousands, is because of government corruption and lying to their own people. Now if you want to know how corrosive and damaging to a country corruption can reduce a country to , Afghanistan should always be held up as the perfect example. Corruption breed violence, and lack of development. We had the same sort of thing with the RUF, under the leadership of Foday Sankoh and his henchmen, Sam Bokarie, Issah Sesay. So Sierra Leoneans are nor strangers to when the politicians lied to their people, engaged in corruption, which result in the complete collapse of the state. Everyone for themselves and God for us all.

  3. Ladies and gentlemen. Let’s be honest and be clear on this matter. We all know what casualty means. Casualties can happen anywhere and at anytime. Whether by road accident, war etc., What most of us saw on TVs or the ground in Afghanistan, is a casualty of the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Such disgusting and upsetting scenes were sad. It’s a tragedy for humanity to some extent. But the truth of the matter is, your military plans or rehearsal can sometimes fall apart. Anyway, it happened. Now, the whole world especially the neighbours of Afghanistan, must work together and sort out this withdrawal casualty mess. The Americans and their allies did not lose the war in Afghanistan, in my view. The war ended officially more than a decade ago. The truth is, the Afghan government lost the political battle to the Taliban. Remember that the Taliban are Afghans and also Pashtuns, who are the majority tribe in Afghanistan. The fact is, they are now in power, and we have to work with them diplomatically and hold them accountable for their actions. That’s it. No ifs and no buts.

    A deal was negotiated between the US and the Taliban before President Trump left office. By then, the Taliban were more than 50% popular and stronger than the Afghan government. Political parties and government officials were warned to come together and fight the common enemy who was growing in millitary strength, popularity and have the will to fight. Unfortunately, the politicians did not listen, and the Afghan Defence forces don’t have the will to fight the Taliban. We all saw the end game. The Taliban are in power, whilst the President and others fled the country, and worst of all, the Afghan Defence Force abandoned their posts, left their weapons behind and melted away. President Trump reduced the number of American soldiers from “15,000 men to 2500 men”. According to some sources, the “15,000 American troops” were in Afghanistan when the Taliban had “5% support” in the country. How do you expect 2500 American troops to stop the advance of the huge and mighty Taliban forces, with more than 80% popularity, who have captured the whole country, armed to the teeth with American and allied forces weapons to stop the Taliban from taking the capital Kabul? You must be joking.

    See the Taliban in those pictures. The Americans can do the job to dislodge and defeat the Taliban, but they will suffer heavy casualties and ask for reinforcement. That would have ignited another long bloody and messy war in Afghanistan. That was what the Biden Administration was not willing to do, in my view. I’m worried about the gains made in Afghanistan, especially the empowering and education of young women and girls not to be lost. Another concern is for armed military personnel not to start military coups to topple democratic and legitimate governments globally. The threat to the National Security of America and NATO countries is another area of concern. What happened in Afghanistan is a bad example in that respect. Frankly speaking, the Taliban executed a bloodless seizure of power in Afghanistan. Anyway, we are where we are right now. Continue with the evacuation and find a diplomatic formula to work with the Taliban to get things done, President Joe Biden. Period! God bless President Joe Biden, The NATO forces and the people of Afghanistan.

  4. What a nice article Mr Mansaray; but I dont think the United States is responsible for the fall of the Afghan govt; Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans. Love your country and protect your citizens.

  5. Mr. Mansaray, thank you so much for this wonderful comment. Indeed you are gifted with knowledge and wisdom, may you live for long with a good health and continue to enjoy the fruit of your knowledge. Our country Sierra Leone, has to be proud of you, and I personally do. In fact and of course that, everything is subject to be change. This is an example to show that only the power of mighty God will remain forever. Taliban is not even a government yet but a movement, as it is called in the Arabic language “Harakat Taliban” meaning (Taliban movement). The God mighty is the supreme and nothing is above Him.

    Mr. Mansaray, the truth you revealed in this forum eloquently for everyone to read and understand, trust me is fair, firm and consistent. I also thank our brothers and sisters who sat down and created this powerful, honored “PLATFORM”, for everyone to gain knowledge from it, and a special thanks to Mr. Abdul Rashid Thomas. Again, brother Mansaray thank you.

  6. “Marines don’t fight wars they fight battles”. America is great I can say this emphatically. The allied forces of America called NATO are also powerful. For every objective they set, they have always succeeded in achieving it. From 2010 to date, I have bee following up the battles between the American and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban are no march to the American and NATO Forces when it comes to fighting battles. These group combined together always think of possible ways to solve the world problems in a well constructive manner. They did not go to Afghanistan to decolonize Afghanistan. At first, the Taliban of Afghanistan happened to seize power and misused it by making their country as a training camp to attack other nations. America and the NATO forces had to intervene in other to deter such from happening and indeed 20 years on, such practices stopped. These same group went on to train the Afghan army and Police force to take over their territorial integrity, but the Afghans failed themselves.

    America and NATO through observations and interviews from the locals came to realize that indeed the Talibans are loved by their Afghan people so they decided to hold talks with their leadership and then set out an exit plan from Afghanistan. Does it mean they did not do right?. Once more I say America and the NATO Forces are great when it comes to world peace.

    To justify my statement, it is established that the Taliban forces were warned not to interrupt the evacuation process that is on-going now in Afghanistan or else face the full force of America and NATO forces power. Indeed, with such proclamations, there has been no attack on America and NATO Forces till date. That again is an indication of how powerful they are when it comes to world peace. Please note that the evacuation proces is not only about American citizens, but also Afghan people who have voluntarily chosen to leave their country because they want to seek peace elsewhere.

  7. This is a hard reality. If a system supported for two decades cannot stand on its own, I think that system does not worth existing. In my view, afghans who claimed to be anti-Taliban were either not pro-western so they spent two decades in this confusion and ambitions at the same time. Confusion because they invited the Western powers so they could not ask them out, then ambition was geared toward the American dollars they were enjoying, thou not interested in Western culture.

    If the Taliban is a patriotic group, after this victory over the West, they must now do a frank evaluation, by taking the necessary culture and leaving the unnecessary ones out. The golf states that supported the Taliban should now show that they can perfectly replace the western intervention with their own acceptable culture to give Afghanistan permanent peace.

  8. Mr. Mansaray’s article is what I will call “superb”. There is no way anyone can say the whole picture of the situation is not captured here. WELL DONE SIR!!

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