Cemetery of Empires: Lessons of War in Afghanistan for US and Ukraine

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

By the decision of US President Joe Biden, the US military would leave Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, on the anniversary of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in New York
23:31, 25 May 2021


At the moment, the United States has completed the withdrawal of troops by 20%. Their partners in the training and advisory Operation Resolute Support are following their example. Ukraine has provided its military transport aircraft for the removal of equipment from the German contingent. Georgia withdrew a company of its military personnel from the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where they performed rapid-response tasks. Over the 20 years of the presence of foreign military personnel, Afghanistan has not turned into an oasis of democracy and stability in the center of Eurasia, but the protracted armed conflict had not the last impact on the development of military technologies and made the United States look differently at its place in the world, like other countries whose military visited the cemetery of empires.

Democracy doesn't work

According to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, promoting democracy in the world does not work through costly military operations or regime change. Afghanistan is a confirmation of that, which failed to turn into an established state, unlike Japan, South Korea or the former republics of Yugoslavia such as Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. In the armed conflict in Afghanistan, over 2.300 American troops and about 1.200 soldiers from other countries were killed. This is more than the victims of the September 11 attacks (over 2.900 people). The longest war in the history of the United States cost over $ 2 trillion. By comparison, insurance losses from the September 11 attacks were $ 40 billion.

Related: Afghanistan, Taliban start historic negotiations to end war

The Americans failed to achieve significant political changes in Afghanistan, to overcome the flourishing corruption among Afghan officials, which holds back the development of the state. The US-sponsored government in Kabul controls only 54% of Afghanistan's territory, while the rest is a war zone or controlled by various armed groups. The Afghan army and police, on whose training the Americans spent billions of dollars, are suffering heavy losses. In early May 2021, the Taliban captured the Burqa region in northeastern Afghanistan. More than 3.300 Afghan soldiers died in 2020. Taliban leaders do not want to negotiate with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on joint governance of the country and do not accept the secular model of state development.

The terrorist threat remains high in Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, the US military toppled the self-proclaimed Taliban Islamic emirate, which provided safe haven for al-Qaeda. They killed the terrorist Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in 2011 and eliminated other prominent figures of the organization, including his son, Hamza bin Laden. Yet al-Qaeda, led by doctor and theologian Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the ISIS cell are not going to leave the country. In 2019, over 1.7 thousand terrorist attacks took place in Afghanistan, which claimed the lives of more than 8.6 thousand people. During a terrorist attack near a school in the Dashte-Barchi district on May 8, 2021, about 60 people were killed. This time, the Taliban denied any involvement.

Geopolitical aspect

As the war in Afghanistan has shown, the possibilities of the United States are not unlimited, and it is impossible to claim hegemony in a diverse multipolar world. The White House is trying to maintain a presence at the junction of the Middle East, South, and Central Asia and restrain the influence of Russia and China in a different way. The Americans came to the conclusion that if it is impossible to defeat the enemy, then it means that a compromise must be found with him.

Related: Eternal War: Is Afghanistan ready to say goodbye to American military?

It is not surprising why the administration of US President Donald Trump entered into agreements in 2020 with the Taliban leadership that, in exchange for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, they would not provide shelter to international terrorists. Negotiations are possible between the government in Kabul and the Taliban leadership on the future development of Afghanistan in the Moscow format. Since 2017, consultations have been periodically held in Moscow with the participation of the Taliban, Afghan officials, as well as observers from the United States, Pakistan, China, and Central Asian countries. It is possible that a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan will become one of the topics of talks between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during their meeting in June.

A compromise between the Kabul government and the Taliban is in US interests. If the transport infrastructure is restored, Afghanistan can become an alternative way for the Central Asian countries to the South Asian markets. For example, in 2020, Kazakhstan's trade in India grew by 27.3% and amounted to $ 2.4 billion. Today, the transit role is played by China, which is a common competitor for the United States and India. Washington is interested in reducing the dependence of the former Soviet republics on Beijing and finding an alternative to China's Belt and Road Investment and Logistics Initiative.

The most likely scenario is the continuation of hostilities between the Afghan government and the Taliban after the withdrawal of foreign troops. In this case, the Biden administration will continue to provide financial and all kinds of military assistance to the Afghan government. The US military could be replaced by private military campaigners to advise and train Afghan security forces.

In recent years, the US military activity in Afghanistan has been reduced to the exchange of intelligence information with the Afghan special services, night raids of small groups of American special forces in the rear of the militants, the elimination of field commanders using attack drones, airstrikes on the positions of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. during joint operations with the Afghan army.

Related: US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq is irresponsible

For this, the US military can use airfields in other countries. The United States and its partners have experience in using the airbases of Al-Udeid in Qatar, Al-Minhad, El-Dafra in the UAE for air operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The use of British military bases in Oman is possible. It is geographically convenient to fly to Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan, but there are no American bases there. Plus, the Americans do not trust the Pakistani special services, they suspect them of links with the Taliban. For example, a special operation to eliminate bin Laden took place without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities.

Rumor has it that the US is now negotiating with the authorities of the Central Asian countries to provide the US military with access to their infrastructure. At one time, the United States used airfields in the cities of Khanabad in Uzbekistan, Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, and Kulyab in Tajikistan for military operations in Afghanistan. Since Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are members of the CSTO and there are Russian military bases there, the Americans are preferable to negotiate with the government of Uzbekistan. Although in this case, the Russian Federation may impose sanctions against Uzbekistan - to limit the admission of labor migrants, to boycott the products of local producers.

New military technologies

Afghanistan became the first battleground where the US military confronted hybrid threats. To solve combat missions, not large military formations were used, but relatively small subunits. There has been a transformation of the US military, which has become more mobile and computerized. The war in Afghanistan served as an impetus for the development of the military-industrial complex and the use of artificial intelligence technology. It is worth dwelling on the most interesting developments.

During the war in Afghanistan, General Atomics began equipping Predator drones with Hellfire air-to-ground missiles. The purpose of this innovation was to hunt the terrorist Osama bin Laden. Prior to this, drones were used only for reconnaissance purposes. Subsequently, the more advanced MQ-9 Reaper strike drones were adopted. One such device costs $ 30 million. Despite the fact that precision drone strikes lead to significant civilian casualties and are subject to public criticism, their use reduces casualties among the US military. Drone operators can fly them from the United States. The MQ-9 Reaper drones are in service in the UK, France, Italy, and Turkey.

Related: United States reduces number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq

Attack drone MQ-9 Reaper (USA)

Similar drones are produced by Israel (Eitan), Turkey (Bayraktar), China (Cloud Shadow, Wing Lung). In Russia, the S-70 Okhotnik unmanned bomber, the Orion and Korsar multipurpose drones with missile weapons are in the process of testing. Turkish "Bayraktars" have proven themselves well in the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Ukraine plans to buy 48 such drones from Turkey and has already received 6 units. The Ukrainian company "Ramzai" has developed a helicopter-type attack drone with "Barrier-V" guided missiles on board, and the "Vizar" machine-building plant of Zhulyansky has a project of the "Sokol-300" strike drone.

Attack drone "Bayraktar" (Turkey)

Helicopter-type drone "Ramzay" (Ukraine)

Kratos, Boeing, and General Atomics are participating in a U.S. Air Force competition to develop the Skyborg family of AI-powered fighter jet drones. Their task is to provide cover for F-35 fighter-bombers from anti-aircraft missile systems or independently carry out too dangerous combat missions. This project is underway.

Skyborg drone project (USA)

The war in Afghanistan contributed to the development of armored vehicles. To protect the US military from mine explosions and improvised devices, armored vehicles with a reinforced V-shaped bottom (MRAP standard) were developed, capable of deflecting the blast wave from the crew. Force Protection Inc. produced over 1,500 Cougar armored vehicles, and International Truck produced about 7,500 MaxxPro armored vehicles. The Oshkosh Corporation L-ATV armored car is planned to replace the legendary Humvee off-road vehicles. The price of such cars ranges from 500 thousand to 1 million dollars, and they are in service with about 30 countries of the world.

Armored car MaxxPro (USA)

Analogs are produced by Turkey, France, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Russia and a number of other countries. The Ukrainian automobile plant KRAZ produces the "Shrek" armored car with a V-shaped bottom on the basis of the KrAZ-5233 truck.

Armored car "Shrek" (Ukraine)

The Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s had a similar effect on the development of the military-industrial complex. If at the initial stages of the war, the Americans used some types of weapons from the Second World War, then later they switched to new types of small arms and military equipment at that time, including M-16 assault rifles, M-60 light machine guns, "air batteries" based on military transport aircraft. They began to use helicopters en masse.

Related: Australia unveils details of war crimes by its own special forces in Afghanistan

What are Ukrainians doing in Afghanistan?

Ukraine has been taking part in the US and its allies' operation in Afghanistan since 2007. According to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, 21 Ukrainian servicemen are serving in Afghanistan. Among them are medics, sappers, and instructors who train Afghans in the maintenance of Mi-17 helicopters. Paradoxically, the Ukrainian contingent remained even after the demarche in 2014 by then Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who recognized the results of the pseudo-referendum in Crimea. The Afghan authorities perceived the annexation of Crimea as the reunification of the Russian people. The fact is that the largest Afghan ethnic group, the Pashtuns, expresses claims to the northwestern regions of Pakistan, where their tribesmen live and is not averse to reuniting with them.

The reason for the restraint of then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was the hope that the United States would appreciate the contribution of the Ukrainian contingent to strengthening Afghan statehood and the fight against the Taliban, and this would somehow positively affect our prospects for joining NATO. But the doors to NATO are closed for countries that have problems with territorial integrity and unresolved armed conflicts. By the way, the Ukrainians have already set foot on Afghan soil as part of the Soviet military contingent. The Afghan war of 1979-1989 claimed the lives of over 3.300 immigrants from Ukraine. More than 8 thousand Ukrainians were injured.

Related: U.S. officially began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan

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