On the 40th anniversary of our Afghanistan war, remember!

Summary: On the 40th anniversary of the start to our war in Afghanistan, let’s see why we fought and what we have accomplished – at what cost. Let’s do so before we wreck another country. Remembering is the first step to learning. Learning is the first step to reform.

Memorial dedicated to the wars of the Afghans, in the Memory Park at Anapa, Russia.
Eventually, these will be erected across America.

Soviet memorial to the soldiers who fought in their War in Afghanistan.
ID 126113300 © Madhourse | Dreamstime.

An important anniversary went by unnoticed in America: the 40th anniversary of the start to our War in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union had installed a secular government in Afghanistan, by many measures one of the best it has had in modern times (a low bar). But irrespective of the effect on the Afghan people, America decided to destroy it for advantage in our misnamed “Cold War” – our mad “Great Game” with the USSR.

On 3 July 1979, President Carter signed a secret “Finding” which “Authorized CIA support for insurgent propaganda and other psychological operations … {and} America’s supplying of non-military aid …” As with Vietnam, a small beginning would grow into a long, vast war. President Reagan greatly expanded the CIA-run war (Operation Cyclone), with Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson as the salesman. Films starring Rambo and James Bond taught us about our glorious mujahideen allies. Years of celebration followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces (such as the WaPo’s “Anatomy of a Victory: CIA’s Covert Afghan War” in July 1992).

Eventually, we realized the obvious, that we had put into power a fundamentalist Islamic government far more hostile to us than the regime we overthrew. A new invasion was needed, this time with a long occupation to install a friendly puppet government. 9-11, one of the most successful military operations in history, provided the excuse. Executed mostly by men from al Qaeda’s cell in Hamburg Germany, they spent 2000 and 2001 preparing in California and Florida. So the Bush Jr. administration employed the Big Lie, blaming the Afghanistan government (later debunked by the 9/11 commission) and launched Operation Enduring Freedom. (Do the women in Afghanistan laugh at that name?) Our leaders often lie about such things, but we always believe them.

A wave of the usual propaganda supported the occupation. Such as a book recalling our past glorious involvement: Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times (2003) – and the film version: Charlie Wilson’s War (2007).

It would cost at least 2,372 American dead, uncounted tens of thousands of Afghanistan deaths, and tens of billions of dollars.  Fourteen US troops have been killed by hostile forces this year in Afghanistan, the highest in five years. A stream of videos shows US forces committing wars crimes (e.g., here and here). As the occupation nears the end of its second decade, it becomes more difficult to conceal the failure that so many of us predicted so long ago. Even the Congressional Research Service admits it in their August 1 status report.

“By many measures, the Taliban are in a stronger military position now than at any point since 2001, though at least some once-public metrics related to the conduct of the war have been classified or are no longer produced (including district-level territorial and population control assessments, as of the April 30, 2019, quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction).”

Look at what we have done

“Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
— James Bond in Goldfinger (1959).

Understand that this is a long-term bipartisan US government policy, not an isolated mistake. America has helped overthrow three secular regimes — Afghanistan in the 1980s (Operation Cyclone), Operation Iraq Freedom in 2003, and Libya (Operation Unified Protector in 2011). Fundamentalist Islamic regimes replaced all (in Libya, with chaos as a co-partner). We attempted to do this again Syria (i.e., Operation Inherent ResolveTimber Sycamore), but were stopped by the Russians.

On this anniversary, let’s look at what we have done to Afghanistan. It made great progress in the 1950s and 1960s. This continued (with ups and downs) in the turbulent 1970s, with a quiet coup in 1973 against the monarchy and the communist revolution in 1978. The communists accelerated the pace of modernization, with more rights for women. Afghanistan was not Heaven before our intervention, or even Buffalo NY. For details see “Women in Afghanistan” by Amnesty International, October 2013.

“Afghan women were first eligible to vote in 1919 – only a year after women in the UK were given voting rights, and a year before the women in the United States were allowed to vote. In the 1950s purdah (gendered separation) was abolished; in the 1960s a new constitution brought equality to many areas of life, including political participation.”

We helped end that. The following photos show a nation working to join the world’s civilization. The first photo shows the fantastic change from then to now, with women’s role in society rolled back several centuries. At the College of Medicine in Kabul, two Afghan medical students listen to their professor as they examine a plaster cast from a human body. Photo from The Atlantic: “Afghanistan in the 1950s and 60s“.

Women at the Kabul Medical School in 1962 - Afghanistan
AFP/Getty Photo.

A scene in a Kabul record store, date unknown (probably late 1950s or early 1960s). From a photo essay by Mohammad Qayoumi in Foreign Policy.

Women at a record store in Kabul, Afghanistan

A photo from Kabul in 1967 by Dr. Bill Podlich published in the Daily Mail: “Life before the Taliban“. Back then girls attended high school (shown here in their uniforms). See women at the park – in western clothes, with no male escort.

Kabul - 1967 - High School girls - Afghanistan

Women at a park in Kabul, Afghanistan - 1967

Here are photos of Kabul in the 1970s (validity, sources and dates are unknown).

Women of Kabul in 1970s - Afghanistan

Women at a Kabul Park - Afghanistan

For more photos of this troubled country see the “Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan” page at Facebook.

Afghanistan today

Women in Afghanistan-Reuters

The Taliban enforce their version of Islamic Sharia law. Women and girls are tightly regulated. See some of the details in “Women in Afghanistan” by Amnesty International, October 2013.

  • Banned from going to school or studying.
  • Banned from working.
  • Banned from leaving the house without a male chaperone.
  • Banned from showing their skin in public.
  • Banned from accessing healthcare delivered by men (with women forbidden from working, healthcare was virtually inaccessible).
  • Banned from being involved in politics or speaking publicly.

“There were many other ways their rights were denied to them. Women were essentially invisible in public life, imprisoned in their home. In Kabul, residents were ordered to cover their ground and first-floor windows so women inside could not be seen from the street. If a woman left the house, it was in a full-body veil (burqa), accompanied by a male relative: she had no independence.

“If she disobeyed these discriminatory laws, punishments were harsh. A woman could be flogged for showing an inch or two of skin under her full-body burqa, beaten for attempting to study, stoned to death if she was found guilty of adultery.”

For a more vivid picture see this photo of Bibi Aisha, punished for fleeing her husband’s house in Kabul, Afghanistan. From TIME: “Women of Afghanistan“. Forcibly married at 14. Fled at 18 after years of abuse. She was caught and mutilated by her family as punishment. This is the Afghanistan we helped build. Remember that we were told that we fight in Afghanistan to help its women (see more about this bizarre lie here, here and here). Enjoy the bitter irony.

Bibi Aisha - TIME
Bibi Aisha. Photo by Jodi Bieber/TIME.

Conclusion

Afghanistan has had civil wars running since 1978. We did not start these wars, and they would have run without us. But our years of interference have contributed to Afghanistan’s problems. Nor can we claim bad luck, after making similar mistakes in Iraq and Libya. Interventionists talk about our Responsibility to Protect. If that is a valid reason for our help overthrowing those governments, we should be prosecuted for malpractice.

My second post, in 2003, said that the US government was lying about Afghanistan – and that the trend had turned against us. This is my 200th post about the Afghanistan War. The government had convinced Americans to believe their lies, and few care about the cost – about the blood of American or Afghanistan casualties.

Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about our war in Afghanistan, about women and gender roles, about ways to reform America, and especially these…

  1. Study body counts to learn about our wars: how we fight, why we lose.
  2. Two generals chat about Afghanistan (a funny, sad, horrifying look at our war).
  3. Why Trump’s plan for Afghanistan will fail.
  4. How We Learned Not To Care About Our Wars.
  5. Our generals reveal why we lost in Afghanistan, and will continue to lose.
  6. On the 16th anniversary of Afghanistan, see why we lost.
  7. William Lind: Breathtaking news from the Pentagon about Afghanistan.

Two enlightening books about the Afghanistan War.

Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way by Tim Bird and Alex Marshall (2011).

The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan by Jack Fairweather (2014).

Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way
Available at Amazon.
The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan
Available at Amazon.

11 thoughts on “On the 40th anniversary of our Afghanistan war, remember!”

  1. <<>>

    Unless I missed it, neither of those links mentioned anything happening in Afghanistan.

    That aside, I tend to agree with you. I’m an Afghanistan veteran, so it’s tough to say. Similar to Vietnam, we can’t go in and win a war to change the course of a country when the only vigorous, energetic people are the ones opposing us. We defeat them in combat pretty much every time, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

    1. Dark,

      (1) “Unless I missed it, neither of those links mentioned anything happening in Afghanistan.”

      What links? They did not post in your comment.

      (2) “I’m an Afghanistan veteran, so it’s tough to say.”

      Why is it “tough to say”? The evidence is overwhelming.

      (3) “We defeat them in combat pretty much every time, but that doesn’t seem to matter.”

      Fourth generation war has been by far the more frequent kind of war since Korea. Yet people still express astonishment about it. Bizarrely, our military leaders did not understand it at the end of the Vietnam Peace talks, as seen in this conversation between Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. (Chief of the U.S. Delegation) and Colonel Nguyen Don Tu (Chief, North Vietnamese Delegation). From Summers’ On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (1982).

      Summers: “You know you never defeated us on the battlefield”
      Colonel Nguyen Don Tu: ”That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

      That so many (most?) still don’t understand it almost 70 years later is beyond amazing.

      1. Weird that didn’t show up. The links in the paragraph that starts “It would cost at least 2,372 American dead,”
        Don’t be autistic, I meant in an emotional sense.
        Yup.

      2. Dark,

        (1) “The links in the paragraph that starts “It would cost at least 2,372 American dead”

        Search for the word “Afghanistan”. Or look under operations “Enduring Freedom” and “Inherent Resolve.” As an Afghanistan vet, I would expect you to recognize at least one of those names.

        (2) “I meant in an emotional sense.”

        Our resident telepath, Professor Xavier, is off-duty today. We only know what you say, not what you mean.

  2. From a British and Australian view point, I am English and live in Australia now.

    I also think we need to look at the cycles Islam seems to go through, there is a liberalised version and return to fundamentalism as a recurrent cycle in history. I grew up with Muslims in London, who listened to pop music, I had a Pakistan girlfriend at one point, we slept together and she went on to marry someone else. This was in the 1980’s when multiculturism seemed to work better, than now. In 2000 before I left for Australia, there were more headscarves, the Muslim guys were dressed like any Westerner, but the girls had headscarves and weren’t allowed boyfriend and I remember a girl was murdered in the secondary school down the road for having a white boyfriend and getting pregnant.

    Saudi Arabia has funded, I believe some very fundamental Madrases. I located a couple of examples, but I was not able to find the one I read on the cycles of fundamentalist – secular – fundamentalist and so on.

    https://brill.com/view/book/9789004245068/B9789004245068-s009.xml?lang=en

    https://thearabweekly.com/egyptian-scholar-sees-isis-last-phase-islamic-fundamentalism

    And of course, we need to do our best not to get involved in any more war in other countries, and get out of those we are in now.

  3. It’s tragedy of epic proportions. The USA doesn’t seem to want to harm the population. They just want ‘regime change’, but the evil is always close behind. My mother visited Afghanistan in about 1974. She bought a picture book. All the women looked to be as free as here. Girls in western styled School uniforms, etc. Calm before the storm. The perpetrators in the West never have to pay for their crimes. Just the soldiers traumatised and ignored get to bring some of the trouble home. Nobody learns.

    1. Kaboshi,

      Did you read the post? Apparently not. Let’s have an instant replay of the very first paragraph. The words you missed are in bold.

      “An important anniversary went by unnoticed in America: the 40th anniversary of the start to our War in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union had installed a secular government in Afghanistan, by most measures one of the best it has had in modern times. But irrespective of the effect on the Afghan people, America decided to destroy it for advantage in our misnamed “Cold War”, our mad “Great Game” with the USSR.”

      In case you had forgotten, our opponent in the Cold War was the Soviet Union – not Russia. It was composed of people other than Russians. Stalin was Georgian. His successor, Georgy Malenkov, was Macedonian (although born in Russia). Nikolai Tikhonov was half Ukranian. Nikolai Tikhonov was Ukranian (I think; he was born there). Etc.

      1. The modernity seen in the pictures did not come from Russians or communists. It was a joke right?

        It was introduced by Mohammed Zahir Shah, the last King of Afghanistan, 1933-73. He wanted to modernize Afghanistan like Ataturk had done in Turkey. Zahir Shah saw that his country was peaceful and neutral. Thus he had good relations both with Russians and Americans. He was and still is popular with his countrymen. He made several attempts to return, but was blocked by Russian and Pakistani meddling. And when he returned in 2002, at 87 years of age, he was still prepared to work for his country, and he had support from both the people and the Loya Jirga, But he was blocked by USA who supported Hamid Karzai.

        Soviet union invaded 1979 and installed their puppet.Karmal. It was they who pushed secularization provoking the rise of islamism, while making themselves thoroughly unpopular by wrecking the country.

        Whatever the Americans have done, the Russians did 10 or 100 times worse.

      2. Kaboshi,

        “Soviet union invaded 1979 and installed their puppet. Karmal. It was they who pushed secularization”

        No, Karmal did not institute the secularization program after the Soviet invasion on 24 December 1979 – or after Karmal toke power (upon Amin’s assassination) on December 27. Those began with the Saur Revolution on 28 April 1978.

        I think the Wikipedia version is a more neutral.

        More broadly, I agree with experts who believe that if we had let them fight it out there are decent odds that some kind of compromise could have been arrived at. Perhaps a loose Federation, with ample precedent in Af history. Or a moderation of the central govt’s policies. But the US and Pakistan aid to the insurgents made it a long, brutal, drawn-out fight – and put the Islamic fundamentalists in charge at the end.

      3. Kaboshi,

        I forgot to reply to your first sentence.

        “The modernity seen in the pictures did not come from Russians or communists.”

        As the post says, it came from the government following the Saur Revolution. It was more socialist than communist. It was, like almost all Af govts, borderline incompetent. But it put the nation on a path to modernization.

        “It was a joke right?”

        While this surprises people with a cartoon right-wing version of history, socialist and communist governments are often modernizers. As are right-wing authoritarian governments. Life is often hard and brutal in the third world.

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