They have all failed to conquer Afghanistan – the Greeks, Indians and more recently, the British in the mid 19th Century and the Soviets in the late 20th Century. And now the US empire is failing to subdue the tribes of Afghanistan despite enormous cost of people and treasure. What has not received much attention is that the Taliban depends very heavily on the opium trade which finds its market in the US and other developed countries. That opium trade determines what happens in Afghanistan and not military intervention.
Alongside the Americans, we keep fooling ourselves that a military solution is possible in Afghanistan. We have been told for 17 years that victory is just around the corner, with another surge of troops or improved training of the Afghan army. We keep conning ourselves. Countless people suffer as a result.
Australia’s involvement in the Afghan quagmire is our longest involvement in a war in our history – 17 years. Over 40 Australians have been killed in Afghanistan with over 260 casualties. It has cost about $A10 billion. We have lost lives and treasure for no purpose. But we won’t admit failure
In the never-ending war against the Taliban, the ebb and flow depends not on outcomes on the battlefield, but on the heroin trade that funds the Taliban. In The Guardian on 9 January 2018, Alfred W McCoy describes how the heroin trade explains the military failure of the US and its allies, like Australia ,in Afghanistan. He says:
Despite almost continuous combat since the invasion of October 2001, pacification efforts have failed to curtail the Taliban insurgency, largely because the US simply could not control the swelling surplus from the country’s heroin trade. Its opium production surged from around 180 tonnes in 2001 to more than 3,000 tonnes a year after the invasion, and to more than 8,000 by 2007. Every spring, the opium harvest fills the Taliban’s coffers once again, funding wages for a new crop of guerrilla fighters.
At each stage in its tragic, tumultuous history over the past 40 years – the covert war of the 1980s, the civil war of the 90s and its post-2001 occupation – opium has played a central role in shaping the country’s destiny. In one of history’s bitter ironies, Afghanistan’s unique ecology converged with American military technology to transform this remote, landlocked nation into the world’s first true narco-state – a country where illicit drugs dominate the economy, define political choices and determine the fate of foreign interventions.
When will we end the disaster of our futile involvement in Afghanistan both for ourselves and the Afghan people?
It is another glaring example of the risks we run in our unthinking commitment to the US Alliance.