US leaves chaos, destruction in Afghanistan
New beginning fraught with problems, uncertainty
Published: Aug 31, 2021 12:22 PM Updated: Aug 31, 2021 02:07 PM
A CH-47 Chinook is loaded onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 28, 2021. (U.S. Central Command Public Affairs/Handout via Xinhua)

A CH-47 Chinook is loaded onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 28, 2021. (U.S. Central Command Public Affairs/Handout via Xinhua)

The US completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan on Monday before the deadline, officially ending 20 years of the US-led invasion to Afghanistan and leaving the war-torn country with an uncertain future. Leaving nothing but chaos and destruction in the country, the US has met triple debacles on counter-terrorism, democratic reform and global governance and the military withdrawal should not be the end of responsibility but the beginning of reflection for the US, analysts said on Tuesday. 

After the massive but disorganized and humiliating withdrawal, a US military C-17 carried the last American troops out of Afghanistan on Monday, marking the formal end to the longest war in US history. 

A photo, which was provided by the US Central Command, showed US Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the very last American service member in Afghanistan, to board the C-17 cargo plane, and has gone viral. Although the expression of the US serviceman could not be seen clearly, his desolate image - as some netizens described it - showcased the US' debacle and the embarrassing way the US has left.

While the completion of the withdrawal ending the US presence in Afghanistan, "the diplomatic mission to ensure additional US citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave, continues," Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, announced during a news conference held by the Department of Defense on Monday. 

After 20 years of US and Western troops' occupation, Afghanistan has been returned to its people. Reuters reported that celebratory gunfire echoed across Kabul as Taliban fighters took control of the airport before dawn on Tuesday following the withdrawal of the last US troops. 

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted on Monday that "Tonight 12 midnight (Afghanistan time) the last American soldier left Afghanistan. Our country gained full independence."

However, with the exit of US and Western troops, the war-torn country is now facing bigger uncertainties with increasing concerns over in which direction the Afghan Taliban will lead the country. And also a more important question needs to be answered: what the US has left to the country over the past 20 years. 

Afghan Air Force’s A-29 attack aircraft are shown as armored vests lie on the ground inside a hangar at the airport in Kabul on Monday after the US pulled all its troops out of the country to end a brutal 20-year war. Photo: AFP

Afghan Air Force’s A-29 attack aircraft are shown as armored vests lie on the ground inside a hangar at the airport in Kabul on Monday after the US pulled all its troops out of the country to end a brutal 20-year war. Photo: AFP


Nothing but chaos, destruction 

The US has failed on fighting terrorism and promoting so-called "democratic reform" in Afghanistan, Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies in Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Zhu noted that for the past 20 years, the US has made Afghanistan an experimental base - to test weapons, counter-terrorism strategies and  "American-style democracy." It entered Afghanistan to take revenge for the terror attacks it received, not to help build the country. 

"It gave less care to casualties of Afghan civilians in military operations and strikes; and it remains indifferent to Afghanistan being the leading grower of opium and it even made profit from it. A war-torn country with tons of problems - this is the huge negative legacy the US has left to the region and the world," said Zhu. 

In the 20 years since September 11, 2001, the US has spent more than $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan. That's $300 million dollars per day, every day, for two decades. There have been 2,500 US military deaths in Afghanistan. That pales next to the estimated 69,000 Afghan military police and 47,000 civilians killed, according to data from a Forbes report on August 16. 

Ironically, what happened at Kabul airport in the past few days was the epitome of the US' 20 years in Afghanistan - it claimed to fight terrorism, but ran away amid terrorist attacks. It came to plant so-called "democracy" and its value and social systems in Afghanistan, but the Afghan Taliban which the US drove away 20 years ago, return to power, Zhu noted. 

The US paid a heavy price in Afghanistan and if the US has made some achievements on social development in Afghanistan, the achievements were actually made by the efforts of the international community with the Afghan people, the expert said. 

Zhu Weilie, director of the Middle East Studies Institute of the Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times that US interference in Afghanistan and its failures on crisis management and governance reflects its failure in the field of traditional security. 

The US' occupation of Afghanistan has become the indelible stain on its history. The international community, especially US allies, has a better understanding on how unreliable, untrustworthy and incapable the US is in terms of handling global affairs, Zhu Weilie said.

Afghanistan's recent chaos is directly related to the hasty and disorderly withdrawal of foreign troops. But withdrawal is not the end of responsibility but the beginning of reflection and correction, Geng Shuang, China's deputy permanent representative to the UN, said as the UN Security Council voted on a draft resolution on Afghanistan on Monday, urging relevant countries to draw lessons from the past.

"The US does need a thorough reflection both on the domestic new conservatism in the US and interference in regional disputes," Wang Jin, an associate professor at the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies of Northwest University, told the Global Times. 

Wang noted that with the end of military occupation, the US will play a part in the future Afghan situation by influencing the building of an inclusive government as the Afghan Taliban have promised, negotiating with the Taliban on whether to accept Afghanistan to the UN and paying attention to the human rights issues in Afghanistan, including the education of women. 

"The military's phase of this operation has ended ... The diplomatic sequel to that will now begin," McKenzie said at the Monday press conference. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on Monday that the US has transferred operations to Doha, Qatar. "For the time being, we will use this post in Doha to manage our diplomacy with Afghanistan."

New beginning

While US officials are racking their brains to find fancy words to sugar-coat the US debacle, the Afghan Taliban are celebrating their victory. The Taliban's top spokesman congratulated Afghans on their victory on Tuesday, hours after the last US troops left the country. "Congratulations to Afghanistan... This victory belongs to us all," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said from the runway of Kabul airport, AFP reported. 

Afghanistan has broken free from foreign military occupation and the Afghan people are standing at a new starting point for peace and reconstruction, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, said at a routine press conference on Tuesday.

The Chinese spokesperson also reiterated China's principles of respecting Afghanistan's sovereignty, not interfering with its domestic affairs and pursuing a friendly policy toward the entire Afghan people.

After the US and Western troops' exit, challenges remain for the Taliban on how to rebuild the country. For example, how to prevent conflicts within, how to deal with terrorist attacks, and how to get recognition from the international community. More importantly, fixing its economy is also crucial, Zhu Yongbiao said. 

Wang Jin said that Afghanistan faces anarchy with the building of the government under negotiations and many conflicts. Some political forces in Afghanistan are trying to challenge the Taliban's control like the militant group in the Panjshir Province and the Islamic State's Khorasan branch in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province.

The Taliban also have to deal with more than 300,000 militants from the former government as they could have turned into civilians but may emerge as rioters or robbers once they have their guns back, Wang Jin noted. 

During a recent interview with the South China Morning Post's This Week in Asia, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said, "China, our great neighboring country, can have a constructive and positive role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and also in the economic development and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan. It is expected [that] China [will] play its role."

Afghanistan needs assistance from the international community. Any single country is unable to help it. Considering the uncertainties, China's big companies are reluctant to invest in the country and projects that may have China's investment may not be able to take effect in a short time, Zhu Yongbiao noted. 

Neighboring countries and the international community are taking a wait-and-see attitude on whether the Afghan Taliban could fulfill its promises and what actions it will take. So will China, Zhu Yongbiao said. 

Wang Jin said that the Afghan Taliban hope to get assistance from regional countries, including China, Russia, Pakistan and Turkey. Instead of dominating over Afghan issues, China will stick to a positive and active role to help with its rebuilding and draw the red line for the Taliban on not offering shelter for or conniving with terrorists. 

Zhu Weilie noted that the international community should take action to encourage the Taliban to fulfill its promise instead of oppressing it. He noted that the UN resolution on Monday, which China and Russia abstained on, also showed the US' intention to exert pressure on Afghanistan through UN platforms and revealed its hegemonic intention to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.