"Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine--
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget--lest we forget!
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget--lest we forget!"
-- Rudyard Kipling, "Recessional"
The final contingent of British soldiers were airlifted out of Afghanistan last week, marking the sorry end of Britain's fourth failed invasion of Afghanistan. With them went the remaining detachment of U.S. Marines in Helmand, as the U.S. continued shrinking its presence in Afghanistan.
Well has Afghanistan earned its title, "Graveyard of Empires."
To be more precise, this honor belongs to Afghanistan's Pashtun (or Pathan) mountain tribes, who bend their knees for no man.
In my book, "War at the Top of the World," I called Pashtun "the bravest men on earth." I'd been with them in action against the Red Army. Later, I would add the fierce Chechen to that illustrious fraternity.
The old British imperialists are gone, but the occupation of Afghanistan continues. The new regime in Kabul just engineered by Washington to replace uncooperative former ally Hamid Karzai, rushed to sign an "agreement" allowing the United States to keep some 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan for years. This American garrison will be exempt from all Afghan laws.
However, there's much more to this arrangement. The U.S. combat troops, tactfully labeled "trainers" or "counter-terrorist forces," are too few in number to dominate all Afghanistan. Their task is to defend Kabul's U.S.-backed government from its own people and to defend the all-important U.S. airbase at Bagram.
Washington clearly plans to continue dominating Afghanistan and Iraq in the same way that the British Empire did. Small numbers of British troops garrisoned the capital; white officers led the native mercenary army. But Britain's real power was exercised by RAF units based in Iraq and Northwest Frontier Province.
Any native "disturbance" would be bombed and strafed by the RAF. In the 1920s, Winston Churchill authorized RAF to use poison gas bombs against restive Pashtun and Kurdish tribesmen. Ironically, seven decades later I discovered British scientists who had secretly been sent by the British government to Iraq to build germ weapons for Saddam Hussein to use against Iran.
The "Pax Americana" will be similarly enforced by U.S. airpower based at Bagram. U.S. warplanes flying from Bagram, Qatar, and aircraft carriers on 24 hour call have been the only force keeping the Pashtun movement Taliban and its allies at bay. Without intense employment of U.S. air power, western occupation forces, like the Imperial British armies before them, would have been cut off and driven from Afghanistan.
Without U.S. air power, American garrison troops and large numbers of "civilian contractors" and old-fashioned mercenaries the Kabul regime would soon be swept away. Afghanistan's government army is likely to collapse as quickly as Iraq's did before ISIS. Most of southern Afghanistan would declare for the Taliban which, however harsh, speaks for the majority Pashtun people. The still active Communist Party is still highly influential among northern Tajik and Uzbeks, and controls the dreaded national intelligence service.
Unfortunately, the U.S. garrison in Kabul will continue to make Afghanistan safe for opium, which is the base for heroin. Americans have simply turned a blind eye to their ownership if the world's top producer of heroin.
As Washington still talks about the so-called War on Drugs, Afghan opium production rose in 2013 from $2 billion to $3 billion. The UN says over 500,000 acres of land in Afghanistan are now devoted to the opium poppy -- right under the eyes of the U.S. garrison.
While U.S.-installed rulers in Kabul pay lip service to opium eradication, the rural warlords who support them, and receive stipends from CIA, continue to grow rich on the opium trade. Trying to blame Taliban for the scourge of opium is dishonest: when Taliban was in power it eradicated almost all of the nation's opium production, reported the UN Drug Agency, except in the region controlled by the Communist Northern Alliance -- which today shares power in Kabul. Its most powerful member, Gen. Rashid Dostam, a notorious war criminal, was just appointed vice president in the new US-backed government.
When the full history of the Afghan war is finally written, CIA's involvement in that nation's drug trade will become a notorious episode. French intelligence became deeply involved in the Laotian opium trade to pay its Lao mercenaries. The U.S. was up to its ears with its Contra allies in the Central American cocaine trade.
Now, U.S. intelligence has besmirched its name once again aiding and abetting Afghan drug lords so as to supposedly wage war on "terrorists." In dirt-poor Afghanistan, there are only two sources of income: cash from Washington, and narcotics. The collusion of senior members of government, military and police is necessary to export tons of opium to either Pakistan, Central Asia or Russia -- where morphine addiction is now a major epidemic. Afghanistan's flourishing drug trade has deeply corrupted high-ranking officials in Pakistan and former Soviet Central Asia. Russia is suffering a spreading wave of opium and morphine addiction and deaths.
Adding to this shameful record, the U.S. Congressional auditor for Special Reconstruction of Afghanistan just reported that much of the $104 billion appropriated for Afghan "reconstruction" has to no surprise been wasted or stolen. Some of it has been used to irrigate opium poppy fields. Spare parts are unavailable for Russian helicopters bought by the US for use in battling Taliban and supposed opium fighting. Why? Because the U.S.-imposed trade sanctions on Russia bars the US from buying the spare part. Catch-22.
By now, the longest war in U.S. history has cost some $1 trillion, maybe more. No one can properly account for the billions and billions of U.S. dollars flown into Afghanistan (and Iraq) and dished out to the natives -- or the numbers of Afghans killed.
For Washington's allies, like Canada and Britain, the war has been a total waste of lives and treasure. For Canada, 158 dead for nothing; for Britain 453 dead. Forget all the claims about "mission" and "nation building." This war has been a total failure for the western powers. As former president Hamid Karzai stated, the only thing that the US and its allies has accomplished in Afghanistan is to kill a lot of civilians. An exaggeration? Yes, but one believed by many Afghans and much of the Muslim world.
So this war will simmer on, at least until Washington finds some face-saving way out of the mess in the Hindu Kush. It's extremely difficult for a great power and its political leaders to admit defeat at the hands of lightly armed mountain tribesmen.
If the U.S. was wise, it would simply quit Afghanistan. But power, like opium, is highly addictive. So America's longest war will drag on and on.