U.S. Imperialists Suffer Humiliating Defeat in Afghanistan as Oppressive Taliban Regime Returns to Power

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As we go to press the pro-U.S. government and armed forces of Afghanistan have collapsed. These are forces that the U.S. armed, trained, bragged about, and spent 20 years and billions of dollars on, so that they could ensure a stable Afghanistan firmly under U.S. domination, without significant numbers of U.S. troops having to be there. The U.S. also had tens of thousands of its troops in Afghanistan, including as many as 100,000 at the peak, involved in both fighting and training.

But as soon as the U.S. (first under Trump, continuing under Biden) declared that it was pulling its own troops, contractors and mercenaries out, the Afghan forces began to crumble. And as the declared date of complete U.S. withdrawal (September 11) approached, the collapse accelerated in the face of an offensive by the much smaller—but fanatical and battle-hardened—army of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban that the U.S. had driven out of power in 2001.

By Saturday, August 14, the Taliban had seized almost every major city in Afghanistan except the capital of Kabul—in many cases the Afghan army either melted away without a fight or switched sides. By Monday, Afghanistan's president Ghani had resigned and fled the country and Taliban forces had taken control of the presidential palace; the U.S. flag had been lowered from its huge embassy, and its thousands of employees finished burning documents and were helicoptered to Kabul airport for hurried evacuation. The Biden administration was scrambling to put 6,000 U.S. troops on the ground, primarily to ensure that U.S. military, diplomatic and civilian personnel could get out before the Taliban seized complete control of the city, including the airport.

The Humanitarian Crisis and the Nightmare of Taliban Rule

To be clear, the Taliban—extreme religious fundamentalists who ruled Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until being driven out by the U.S. and its allies in 2001—were and are a nightmare for the masses of people. And their victory is especially ominous for women—under the Taliban’s version of Islamic Shariah law women are treated as literal property of the men in their families, forced to wear oppressive head coverings (the burka) when they go out, and subjected to medieval punishments and even death for violations of these codes.

Moreover, the Taliban (like the U.S.1) has a track record of exacting vengeance on anyone who has cooperated with their enemies, including not just high-level officials but low-level functionaries, soldiers, teachers and so on.

Because of all this, and because of the fighting, as Taliban control spread across Afghanistan, large numbers of people—(the UN estimates about 400,000)—have fled their homes, going west across the border into Iran,2 east to Pakistan, or to the capital of Kabul. In all these conditions people are desperate, often without food or water—and this is happening in the midst of the COVID pandemic as well. Imagine living hungry and homeless, without sanitation or access to healthcare, among hundreds or thousands in the streets or in refugee camps as a deadly epidemic wraps its tentacles around one person after another!

The U.S.—NOT the “Good Guys”

So the situation right now is genuinely dire for the masses of people in Afghanistan. At the same time, the myth that the U.S. defeat is some great tragedy, that America is “the good guys” in this situation and that the government that it backed for 20 years was an inspiring experiment in democracy, is completely at odds with reality.

Take for instance the Afghan state and military: In the U.S. media and among political leaders, the rapid collapse of these armed forces is treated as both a mystery and a tragedy. It is neither. In reality it is a predictable reflection of the fact that this was a reactionary military fighting on behalf of foreign occupiers and the oppressive and corrupt government those occupiers had put in place. From the time the U.S. began preparing to invade Afghanistan in 2001, it forged alliances with an ugly array of warlords and regional despots who were “won over” to the U.S. by a combination of bribes, perceived opportunities to increase their power over the people of Afghanistan, and/or rivalries and feuds with the just-as-or-even-more reactionary Taliban forces.

So their loyalty was always up for grabs, and when it became clear the U.S. was leaving and that the Taliban would therefore win, most folded or went over to the Taliban. The soldiers in these armed forces were often unpaid, half-starved, and fighting for nothing more than a paycheck. They too were not about to throw their lives away in a losing battle to defend one oppressive regime against another.

Life During Wartime in Afghanistan

U.S. media have also tried to paint Afghan society under U.S. control as some kind of beacon of democracy and for the emancipation of women. This is a cruel joke. In spite of the trillions the U.S. keeps moaning about spending (most of which went to bombing and killing people, or was siphoned off by corrupt officials at every level), conditions for Afghan people were horrifically bad, even as compared to most other third world nations.

First, there was the toll of the war itself—at least 43,000 and perhaps as many as 220,000 civilians died by war-related causes. U.S. and Afghan military repeatedly carried out bombing attacks on wedding parties, funeral processions, schools and hospitals—just two weeks ago the Afghan Air Force bombed a private hospital in Helmand Province, killing two people and destroying the facility. Over 60,000 Afghan soldiers died in the war.

On top of this, in this already impoverished country, crops and villages were destroyed, and the economy distorted and disrupted. 1.3 million children under the age of five faced malnutrition. At least one in four Afghan children between the ages of 5 and 14 have to work to help their families survive. As of 2014, only 54 percent of children (male and female) went to school. Yet Human Rights Watch reported in 2017 that “only between 2 and 6 percent of overseas development assistance has gone to the education sector.” All this while vast sums went into the war machine, or into the pockets of the pro-U.S. elite.

Role of Minor Reforms in Sustaining an Oppressive Regime

Yes, it is true that in the major cities, particularly Kabul, with their larger middle class and educated populations, there was a certain degree of lessening of some of the oppressive strictures, relations and conditions facing the vast majority in the rural areas, the smaller cities and the urban slums. In Kabul bolder women could wear jeans rather than traditional Islamic dress, intellectuals and journalists could speak up to some degree (though there was still considerable risk of attack by either the government or the Taliban), there were elections to public office, including many women being elected.

But rather than being the beginning of a society-wide transformation, of uprooting oppression, poverty and exploitation, these were minimal concessions being made to a portion of the population in order to win their allegiance to a regime that served foreign imperialism and rested on a barbaric social order3. Those who mistakenly believed that something more and better was going on, and who really stepped out to fight for the rights of women, for example, are now painfully learning that the U.S. never gave a fuck about that, and they are being left high and dry to face Taliban retaliation as the U.S. ushers its people (and a few Afghans) out of the country.

Going Forward

The situation now is very fluid. As we say in our main editorial, “As the Taliban Take Over Afghanistan and America Is Driven Out in Defeat... WHERE DO THE INTERESTS OF HUMANITY LIE,” the humiliating defeat of the U.S. project to dominate Afghanistan and the whole region is a very good thing, but the victory of the Taliban is a bad thing. And so the immediate situation confronting our sisters and brothers in Afghanistan has grown even more dire. There is great fear among many in Kabul—one young Afghan woman journalist described the streets as largely deserted, especially of women and children, and she said that she herself had to desperately search for hijab (head covering) instead of her normal jeans for fear of what the Taliban might do.

People there will have to find the ways to fight against this—and bring forward another way. And people around the world will have to find the ways to support them. But if there is one thing that the 20-year U.S. “project” in Afghanistan should have taught everyone, it is that for humanity to find a way out of this mess means taking up the struggle and the science to overthrow all oppressive systems (however difficult that might appear) rather than taking the “easy” but doomed path of backing one oppressive order against another.


1. Many of the “dangerous terrorists” that the U.S. tortured and/or imprisoned after al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center turned out to be people who held very low-level jobs—like drivers—within the Taliban or al-Qaeda. And of course many of the U.S.'s prisoners had nothing to do with those organizations at all. [back]

2. Where there are reports that some have been shot and killed by Iranian border guards. [back]

3. The Intercept reports that much of the urban middle class “threw their weight behind the post-2001 order largely for pragmatic reasons: It gave them a reliable government, police, or army salary with which to build a home or raise a family.” [back]

Afghan youth fleeing to Pakistan. Photo: Rusen Takva



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