Thedecision of President Joe Biden to end America’s longest war in Afghanistan was reportedly driven by a determination not to sacrifice more American lives. But what he got was what he feared the most. The overthrow of Afghanistan government by Taliban forces almost 20 years after the group was ousted from power by NATO forces, was hardly anticipated. The Taliban has taken over the government of the war-torn country of 39 million people. Biden also defended the chaotic withdrawal of American troops.
However, last week’s multiple explosions near Kabul airport which killed scores of people, including 13 American military personnel and Afghan civilians, might not have been contemplated. Although ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings, the Afghan scenario is a sad reminder of America’s fiasco in Vietnam in the sixties.
While there were prior warnings of a Taliban resurgence even before President Biden announced imminent U.S. withdrawal of its troops in April, the manner the Taliban forces made stunning territorial gains, amassing control of the country in a sweeping surge in just nine days, could serve as an inspiration for insurgents to strike in other countries like Nigeria, where the Boko Haram has continued to unleash attacks in many states in the North.
The Afghan debacle is a wake-up call on the Nigerian authorities to sit up in the war against terrorism. No government should underestimate the power of terrorists and their sponsors. The Taliban success in Afghanistan is an example of what a terror group can do and the threat they pose to any country. For many years, America was confident that the Taliban would be wiped out for ever. Washington was in no mood for a negotiation to end the war, even when the Afghan war had cost American taxpayers over $2trillion in 20 years, according to figures from Watson Institute, Brown University, USA.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, reportedly said that Americans had no interest in leaving the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, to live out his days anywhere in Afghanistan. America wanted him captured or dead. Almost 20 years later, the table turned. The U.S. agreed to a negotiation signed with the Talibans in Doha, in February, 2020, by the Trump administration. It favoured the Taliban. It was an agreement Biden said during his inauguration that he was determined to uphold. Now, it looks like a betrayal.
With the Taliban in power, it appeared the U.S. was probably over-confident in 2001. They thought the Taliban had gone away and would not come back. The Americans wanted revenge over the 2001 September 11 attack on the Pentagon Building. What they now have is a defeat, a humiliation of some sort. In the end, the war left nearly 2,500 Americans dead fighting on Afghan soil. The toll on Afghans was far higher. At least 240,000 Afghans, many of them civilians, died. If America had agreed to a deal in 2001, defence observers say, a worse outcome than what U.S. has suffered, would have been averted.
The Taliban reportedly went into the 2020 negotiations far stronger than before. Their safe haven in Pakistan, to which many of the troops fled in 2001, had turned into a big supply line. Moreover, at the height of the American presence, the Talibans were able to keep a growing stream of recruits coming both from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also had hush money from opium trade, which made it possible for them to have a strong foothold in rural areas of Afghanistan, steadily moving into cities. All of this helped their success when it mattered most, forcing the unconditional surrender of the Afghan government and the ousted President Ashraf Ghani, now residing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan is a lesson to many third world countries contending with insurgency. Nigeria must learn a useful lesson from the Afghan experience and rejig its war against terrorism. It is likely that the Taliban victory will spur the Boko Haram insurgents to launch more deadly attacks. Nigeria like other countries with insurgents should understand their modus operandi and design new strategies to defeat them. There is urgent need for the nation’s military high command to be more vigilant. Lack of military intelligence or poor judgment could have been responsible for the recent daring attack on the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna. If the Taliban could overcome the Soviet Union’s military intervention after 10 years in Afghanistan, other insurgent groups could be emboldened to achieve the same feat.
One lesson from Afghanistan is that nation-building is a local matter. While foreign powers could help, it is the people that should build their nation. There is need to address the multiple issues of poverty, unemployment and other factors that stoke the embers of violence and conflict. Good governance must be emphasised. More than ever before, our fault lines have widened. They are issues that terrorists can easily exploit. The military should design new strategies to win the war on terror. Let no one be deceived that the war on terror is about to be won.