It is now evident that United States imperialism has lost all its human and financial investment in Afghanistan. The Taliban have almost occupied Afghanistan without a fight.
What has been spent in Afghanistan in the name of development, “democracy” and training of the armed forces for the last 20 years was unprecedented in world history.
According to the Cost of War Project, the US poured US$2.2 trillion into Afghanistan. This money could have provided basic education and health care all over the world. According to a 2020 report by the US Department of Defense, it spent $815.7 billion on war expenses — seven times Pakistan's total foreign debt (US$116 billion).
Despite doing so much, the US’ hasty pull out from Afghanistan and the collapse of Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s government implies that all this investment is now being handed over to the Taliban, without a single bullet fired.
The casualties in this war can be estimated from the fact that by April, 47,235 civilians, 72 journalists and 444 aid workers had been killed. In all, 66,000 Afghan soldiers also fell.
The US lost 2442 troops and 20,666 were wounded. In addition, 3800 private security personnel were killed. Soldiers from 40 countries took part in NATO's Afghan forces. Of these, 1144 soldiers were killed.
The number of people who sought refuge outside the country is 2.7 million, while 4 million have been internally displaced. US imperialism lavishly borrowed to fund this war. It paid an estimated $536 billion in interest alone. In addition, it spent $296 billion on medical and other expenses for returning combat troops.
It spent $88 billion on training the 300,000 Afghan soldiers who are surrendering without a fight, and $36 billion on reconstruction projects such as dams and highways. The US also spent $9 billion in compensation so that Afghans would not cultivate poppies and sell heroin.
The US thought that development would persuade the Afghans not to side with the Taliban. But this did not happen (though Taliban popularity was also questionable), nor did it eradicate poverty. At present, the unemployment rate in Afghanistan is 25% and 47% of the population live in poverty. These are World Bank estimates.
However, some human progress has been made. For example, the average age has risen from 56 to 64 years, and the number of children who die before the age of 5 has halved. Literacy rose from 8% to 43%. In the cities, 89% have access to safe drinking water — up from 16%.
Afghan soldiers are leaving their weapons and fleeing; those weapons have fallen into the hands of the Taliban. The Taliban are no longer occupying 1996 Afghanistan but the Afghanistan of 2021, where trillions of dollars have been invested.
This defeat of the US cannot be compared to the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan after the 1986 Geneva Accords. The USSR trained forces and men survived in government another three years after their departure. Now, Ashraf Ghani and Co fell within days, once the Taliban offensive started after the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.
The historical lesson of Afghanistan is that the forces created by the direct military intervention of foreign forces cannot defend the country.
Soviet forces stayed 10 years and failed. For 20 years, the US and NATO forces remained stationed in Afghanistan, their trained Afghan army dispersed without a fight.
The reason is clear: the Afghan people and soldiers had no ideological basis to fight.
Ashraf Ghani & Co were involved in mega corruption. The class divide was sharp. Afghans did not fight for the Americans. How could they fight for their agents?
Ashraf Ghani & Co represent the worst form of capitalism. The Taliban, on the other hand — despite all their brutality — were able to cleverly exploit religion. They had an idea of a religious state. Ashraf Ghani could never make it clear which state he wanted.
The Taliban's victory is bad news for progressives around the world. Criticism of the US’ agents is not intended as support of the Taliban. Opposition to both will continue. Only the victory of a truly democratic socialist ideology can stop the future bloodshed in Afghanistan.
The Taliban's victory is not a sign of peace but a message of perpetual civil war. The establishment of another religious fanatic state in South Asia will promote religious sectarianism throughout the region and anti-peace measures will continue.
[Farooq Tariq is a long-time socialist activist and writer in Pakistan.]