I'VE BEEN STEELING MYSELF for this moment for a few years now, but the reality of the new Biden Administration's unilateral decision to abandon Afghanistan regardless of outcomes has still struck me like a metaphorical punch in the face.
I should know better, but after years of covering this war and the men who fought it, I can't help but feel the pain. After all that effort, all that sacrifice, with so many lives impacted, President Joe Biden is just walking away.
President Biden's, non 'conditions based' announcement of unilateral withdrawal of all US military personnel from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 comes as no surprise. It is actually a four and a half month extension on his predecessor President Donald Trump's, original May 1, 2021 withdrawal deadline, which was negotiated in February 2020 during the almost bizarre 'peace talks' with the Taliban in Doha Qatar. Negotiations conducted with no participation of Afghanistan's legitimate democratically elected (and also severely dysfunctional and corrupted) government and therefore the Afghan people they represent.
Despite the term 'consultations' being thrown about in the US President's announcement, Australia, like almost every other major contributor to the US led military effort to rid Afghanistan of its dangerous militant Islamist and narco-militia warlords, had next to no say in the US decision.
Instead we have to scramble to get out in time, to ensure we are not the last patsy standing after President Biden raised the white flag.
While President Biden stated his aim was to 'end these forever wars', the US cut and run is nothing of the sort. Biden's decision may, almost certainly temporarily, end US military operations in the country; but the President's decision does not end the war in Afghanistan.
Instead of 'ending these forever wars', the US withdrawal will almost certainly escalate the war in Afghanistan. Exactly as President Obama's announcement of pending Coalition withdrawal in 2009 escalated a low intensity conflict in Afghanistan into a high intensity conflict, his statement invigorating the Islamists and narco militias and reigniting their will to fight.
This is a war which is very likely to spiral exponentially out of control as the already shaky Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan teeters under even more pressure. A war which might very well push the already struggling Afghan National Security Forces to the verge of collapse. A war which may even see significant elements of the Afghan National Security Forces defect to the Islamists, along with all those US and European combat systems we gave them.
Insanely, the February 2020 negotiated agreement with the Taliban in Doha did not even discuss real 'peace'. The US negotiators simply agreed to abandon the battlefield and the democratic government of Afghanistan and its people to the Taliban in return for an already dishonoured promise of a ceasefire to allow Coalition forces to withdraw unmolested.
Instead of a ceasefire, the Taliban have ratcheted up violence, waging a relentless campaign against the democratically elected Afghan government and the security forces that we in the Coalition raised, trained and led in battle.
The situation in much of the country is critical, with the Taliban effectively controlling more than 40 percent of the countryside and rural populations and effectively ruining the lives of millions more in areas which they 'influence' to use the ugly term now popular to describe Islamist terror without upsetting the snowflakes.
Instead of 'peace' we now have more war than before the Doha surrender was signed. In 2020, US and Coalition aircraft delivered more aerial ordnance than at any time since the height of the initial surge ISAF campaign to clear Afghanistan in 2009.
Alongside the Taliban, the psychotics of Islamic State in Khourisan, a splinter of the barbaric al Dawla Islamiya that made Iraq and Syria's rivers run red with the blood of their victims, is expanding its control of parts of eastern and northern Afghanistan. The almost silenced online IS propaganda channels are now openly boasting of the massacre to come across the Hindu Kush after the US departs.
Al Qaida remnants, the very raison d'etre of the USA original entry into Afghanistan, remain in their mountain caves, no doubt confident that they will soon have their victory over the 'Great Satan'. They know that the Taliban's promises to keep Afghanistan al Qaida free are just a joke. A joke on the USA and all of us who followed them into Afghanistan.
The very worst part of the US unilateral and 'no conditions' based withdrawal is that it could not have come at a worse time.
While it is not widely reported, Islamism across the Moslem world is in steep decline outside of Afghanistan. A sea change in attitudes brought about by the horrific reality of Islamic State and its sickening Caliphate combined with IS's eventual complete and humiliating utter defeat under a rain of Coalition (including Australian) Precision Guided Munitions has seen young Moslems, particularly young Arabs, reject religious extremism and embrace modernity in their tens of millions after decades of cheering on one or another of the many mad mullahs who preached 'death' to the West.
The old joke about the Taliban 'having no watches' is naive. Dark ages movements like the Taliban are not immune to the trancendent weight of political and ideological timing and are under pressure across the globe. They are yesterday's news.
The reality of a connected digital world, pouring the best and worst of outside influences into the minds of modern Afghans through their mobile phones has banished the ignorant, poverty stricken, superstitious and easy to control population of Taliban Islamist ruled Afghanistan of 2001 forever.
Most Afghans now routinely live lives which would earn a Taliban death sentence and only the old, stupid or backward want to return to the simple life of religion, burqas and goats, and summary execution for adhoc religious offences.
The only way for the Taliban to rule modern Afghanistan is with the liberal application of the AK-47 and the noose. Any return to power will be horrific.
I believe that the US withdrawal is way too much and way too soon. It seems as if the US leadership is hell bent on snatching defeat from the jaws of acceptable victory. Not the type of comprehensive victory achieved by the Australian Imperial Force on the Somme in late 1918, or won by our Diggers in New Guinea in 1942-44. But the kind of 'good enough' victory won by US led forces, including Australians, in Korea in 1953.
To appropriate and misuse a old quote ... "the only thing sadder than a victory, is a defeat." I think we are about to find out how much worse defeat is than even an ugly stalemate.
As someone old enough to remember the shocking sight of the collapse of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the fall of Saigon in 1975, I can promise you a defeat in a war is no fun. It has enormous ramifications that directly affect the losers. Running away early doesn't ease the pain or the loss of national integrity.
The symbolism of a Taliban victory in Afghanistan, the battlefield triumph of Islamic Jihadis over the corrupt crusader infidel and their GIRoA puppets as it will be portrayed in Islamist propaganda, has the very real potential to electrify and reinvigorate surviving Islamists and reignite their violence. It will inspire terrorist attacks in our own cities like Islamic State's victories did in 2014-17. Possibly even igniting another major Jihad in the same way that the Mujahideen victory over the Soviets and their allies in Afghanistan in 1989-96 ignited Osama Bin Laden's Jihad on the West, which started our war in Afghanistan in the first place.
History tells us that Islamic Jihads are fuelled by victory creating a fervour that has historically led to more victories. But Jihads also emaciate quickly after defeat or even stalemate. They are fair weather offensives that do not weather strategic or tactical reversals well.
I fear we are handing the Islamists a reprieve just as their movement was loosing momentum and their followers evaporating. Not only a reprieve, but we are effectively handing them the keys to Kabul and ancient Kandahar, both redolent with Jihadist imagery and the apocalyptic religious symbolism that comes with that.
And it is all so unnecessary. Coalition deployments in Afghanistan are tiny, even the US has less than a brigade in country, almost half of whom are mentor officers manning keyboards in the airconditioning. Only a tiny fraction of the most elite forces are facing the enemy on the battlefield. The risks to the majority of Coalition soldiers have been extraordinarily well managed to a point where Coalition forces casualties are small and confined to convoy attacks and random indirect fire incidents.
That doesn't mean that our personnel in Kabul are safe. They are not. But they are well protected and extremely proficient at avoiding the Taliban's attacks.
Maintaining the status quo in Afghanistan is to borrow a modern military term 'low cost' in both blood and treasure.
To use an old poker playing term, all we needed to do was hold 'em, not fold 'em. But fold 'em we have.
To me it makes no sense to throw in the towel at this point. Times are moving against the Taliban and their Islamist mates, why take our fist out of their face right now?
But that decision is not mine to make.
Tragically, the US President's decision to cut and run makes every promise we made to the Afghan people a lie.
One thousand times worse from where I sit here in Queensland, because this unilateral surrender to the Islamists makes everything Australia told our 38,000 veterans of the war in Afghanistan a total confected lie. A lie that was designed to motivate them to take the ultimate risks to their person while those calling the shots have since decided to not to honour their pledges.
So much for 'resolute support'.
John Hunter Farrell
15 April 2021