My own Forever War: Afghanistan and 9-11

Last week, Fawad Andarabi, a well-known folk singer in Afghanistan, invited the new Taliban leaders to his home to show his compliance and respect. Taliban don’t approve of folk singing. But they enjoyed his luncheon, then took him out and shot him in the head.

The same day I heard of Fawad’s execution, I got an email from a progressive women’s organization, good friends of mine, who invited me to join them via Zoom for a virtual “celebration of the end of the Forever War in Afghanistan.”

Murdered folk singer Fawad Andarabi (center wearing green)

I understand my friends’ glee, and my fellows on the Left cheering what we see as the endgame of George Bush’s chest-beating war-mongering, the comeuppance of imperialist foreign occupation. I get it.

But there’s a problem, and it makes me sick in my heart.

My friends holding the Zoom celebration once visited Afghanistan. They knew many women there.  But there were none listed on their party roster. Maybe Afghan women don’t want to celebrate the end of the Forever War. Because, for them, the war is just beginning.

*

In the end, I’m a reporter. Facts are my life and religion.

And these are the facts: In the last year, until Biden’s mad dash for the exits, not one single US soldier died by hostile action in Afghanistan. Not one.

And it’s a fact that combat for US soldiers, the crazy night raids, the hapless “surges”, ended years ago.

It was Donald Trump who coined the catchy phrase: “Forever Wars.” Believe it or not, Trump got the facts wrong.

And Trump’s lies don’t become the truth just because they are repeated by Joe Biden.

We had only 3,000 troops remaining on the ground. If that’s an “occupation,” then Kim Jong-Un is correct to say that 28,000 US troops are “occupying” Korea.

But our tiny commitment, the threat of our power, was enough to keep the Taliban fascists out of Kabul.

…Enough to allow the number of girls in primary school to increase 330% and women’s secondary education to rise by 650% compared to the prior Taliban days.

…Enough to protect 100,000 women enrolled in Afghanistan’s universities — enrolled until this week.

…Enough to finally allow women access to medical services, adding an average 11 years to women’s lives.

And the future for women?

This month, Nagina Anwari and all female news reporters were banned from the air in Kandahar. They’ve escaped, following death threats, an attempted kidnapping and Taliban firing weapons at her mother’s home, hunting for her daughter.

Women have been told not to leave their homes without a related male to accompany them, a rule from the last Taliban regime which resulted in widows’ deaths by starvation and untreated illness.

Will that last? Signs are not promising. Right after Biden’s announcement, three women were gunned down for vaccinating children — and three bombings at girls’ schools in Kabul killed dozens.

Here is a photo of one woman, sitting quietly, about to be machine-gunned by a Taliban. I know you’d rather look away. So would I.

When I said no American soldier died this year in Afghanistan, of course I meant to say, “before Biden surrendered.” His who-the-hell-cares retreat resulted in 13 American soldiers dead (more than killed by hostile action in Afghanistan in five of the past six years).

And let’s not forget, as we often do, the 170 Afghans at the Kabul airport who died with the Americans.

*

I have to tell you, that this week, I came the closest I ever have to just quitting.

When I first raised doubt about abandoning the women—and men—of Afghanistan, I was deluged by nasty notes telling me to “stick to vote suppression in Georgia, Palast.”

I’m sorry, I can’t. Because I’ve been to Central Asia, to every inhabited continent, and seen women effectively caged their whole lives, seen journalists, poets and anyone who dissents, gunned down, strung up, beaten, silenced.

Many applauded when I defended the Cofan indigenous people of the Amazon against their oil company killers. I’m glad those victims met approval. But don’t ask me to fight for democracy, for liberty, in only one part of this globe.

I cannot in my heart agree to care about those poisoned in the Amazon, to care about voters of color in Florida, but not voters in Kabul; about those we now leave to the executioners.

*

Trump excluded the government elected by the people of Afghanistan in his bargaining with the Taliban. We were horrified but not surprised that Trump would ignore democracy. But I am more than surprised that Biden would follow in Trump’s exclusion of the people who would suffer the consequences of what is nothing more than another US-sanctioned coup d’état.

To justify this overthrow of the elected government, we dismiss Afghans’ desire for democracy, to control their own lives.

I’ve investigated elections from California to Kazakhstan. Whatever you think of the Kabul government, they were, I assure you, the choice of the people.

No one elected the Taliban, Joe. Except you and Donald.

*

Facts and history. Facts and history.

This is not the end of a 20-year war. It began forty years ago when the US and Saudi Arabia armed Islamists to overthrow the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. The plan was to use Afghans to bring down the Soviet Union. It worked.

We won. But did the Afghans?

But our victory would have a price. For BBC Newsnight, I tracked the US-blessed Saudi charity that sent the anti-Soviet fighter they called, “that compassionate young man, Osama bin Laden” to Afghanistan.

After we overthrew the Afghan government, the US watched blithely as Sirajuddin Haqqani and other warlords we backed slaughtered 50,000 civilians in a war for control of Kabul.

America couldn’t care less.

That is, until September 11, 2001. Then, the FBI put up a $5 million reward for Haqqani, al Qaida’s ally. Biden should collect it: After all, Biden located Haqqani — he’s now Afghanistan’s new Interior Minister.

*

On September 11, 2001, the Frankenstein we created, the “compassionate young man,” turned on us.

Not that we weren’t warned.

I ask you to read my good friend Michael Griffin’s history of the Taliban — published in July of that year, warning that the US was not taking seriously the threats to the USA by the man who funded, and was protected by, the Taliban.

Griffin’s book, Reaping the Whirlwind, warned of the cost of us abandoning Afghanistan. History never forgets. We will, I promise you, reap the whirlwind again.

*

Biden has praised himself for the “extraordinary success” of the evacuation. This was not some mission to save lives before a hurricane. When you turn over a nation to the enemy, and your troops flee, that’s called surrender.

And who pays for surrender? Mohammed will pay. We cannot publish his last name for good reason. In 2008, a helicopter carrying two US Senators went down in Taliban territory. In full panic, the US called on Mohammed to risk his life to rescue the Senators, John Kerry and Joe Biden. Today, Mohammed is pleading for his own family’s rescue. But Biden has left him behind. Hey, there was not enough time before the September 11 photo op. “Mission Accomplished”!

The Biden crew even turned over to the Taliban the names of Afghans authorized to fly to the US, naming those who worked for America. Then we left them there. What do you think the Taliban will do with that list?

According to Joe, those Afghans are cowards who “are not willing to fight for themselves.” So, the 66,000 Afghans who have laid down their lives to fight the Taliban were cowards, Joe, their lives and deaths just nothing?

But the American soldiers, who laid down their weapons and fled at your order, are heroic. I wonder if Biden would have tagged Afghans as cowards if they were white as a Delaware Senator’s son?

Would you call the British soldiers who dropped their weaponry and ran to the beach at Dunkirk “cowards” as well? The British, like the Afghans soldiers, fled to Dunkirk because they were suddenly left to die by their supposed ally, the most powerful military on the planet — at that time, the French army, then far larger than the German invaders.

Yahya Maroofi, Afghan government peace negotiator, in meeting with Palast in Kazakhstan.  The Afghan government was excluded from talks on the fate of their nation by Trump and Biden.

The Brits of 1940, like the Afghans of 2021, relied on their ally for air cover and back-up. Biden not only told our soldiers to flee, but ordered out the contractors who kept the Afghan Air Force flying. Afghans did not ask us to fly the missions, only to maintain the planes.

By the way, they would have loved to keep their own air force flying; but, as I was told by Afghanistan’s former peace negotiator, Yahya Maroofi, the US insisted on giving those contracts to Lockheed and other US privateers.

*

In 1877, the US pulled all our troops out of the defeated Confederate States. The (white) American public was tired of two decades of Forever War and the expensive, dangerous and seemingly endless Occupation. Why the hell should anyone in Illinois give a damn, put their soldier son in harm’s way, to what Northerner’s considered foreign states, to fight the Ku Klux Taliban? So, that year, the US evacuated the army of occupation. America cheered. And night fell on the South. For a hundred years.

*

And let’s stop the nonsense comparison of Afghanistan with Viet Nam.

The difference is simple: In Viet Nam, we were on the wrong side.

*

And now we’re giving currency to ignorant statements such as, “We were lied into these wars.” That’s repeating George Bush’s evil trick: conflating Afghanistan with Iraq.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but there truly were mass destroyers in Afghanistan. Destroyers of New York… and Kabul. Am I only allowed to cry for New York and not the dead of Afghanistan?

*

Facts and history. Why won’t they just shut up?

Hitler did not attack Britain until Britain declared war on Germany. And Hitler certainly had not attacked the USA.

And that was one reason why most Americans were dead set against FDR turning America into the Arsenal for Democracy against Hitler. And Americans did not approve of Roosevelt provoking Japan with a suffocating embargo simply because the Japanese had murdered hundreds of thousands of Chinese.

What the hell was America doing putting itself at risk for yellow people?

Or getting tangled in “the Jews’ war” in Europe, as it was called.

I was just re-reading George Orwell. He wrote that Hitler was encouraged by the English brownshirts of the Far Right and the Communists who defended the Hitler-Stalin Pact; but the worst of all were the “pacifists,” by which he meant those who simply wanted to keep Britain out of Europe’s war.

Yes, you could call FDR and Churchill “war-mongers.” And we should give thanks they were.

And give thanks to those who in 1937, even before Roosevelt and Churchill, took up arms against Hitler and the Fascists in Spain. Men like Orwell and, from the US, the courageous Lincoln Brigade.

During Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, Lincoln Brigade members were black-listed, vilified as “pre-mature anti-Fascists,” that is, opposing Hitler too soon.

I guess I’m a premature anti-Fascist as well. Having read Griffin’s writing on the Taliban, I called for US intervention in 1999. If others had joined us, I could have lunch this Saturday, September 11, with those who worked on my floor in the World Trade towers.

On this grim anniversary, if you want to honor those I worked with, don’t light little candles. Rather, thank those Afghans who went after their killers.

Because some things really are worth dying for. Even in a nation not our own.

“Not our war.” Facts and history howl at us. America itself would not exist except for Lafayette and the French soldiers who died for our revolutionary cause. It wasn’t their war. But without them, Washington’s men would have been meat on the end of the red-coats’ bayonets.

Do you agree with Trump who said, looking at the graves of American soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, “I don’t get it. What’s in it for them?”

*

Can we answer Trump?

Is there something you would die for?

Just asking.

One Member of the British Parliament said,

“Many of us who served in Afghanistan have a deep affection for the Afghan people. I had the honor of serving alongside them in Helmand. We trained together, fought together and in some cases, we died together. They were our brothers in arms. But I shudder to think where those men are now. Many will be dead, many now consider themselves to be dead men walking. Where were we in their hour of need? And that is shameful.”

“To see [America’s] ‘Commander-in-Chief’ call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran… SHAMEFUL!

“Those who have never fought for the colors they fly, be careful about criticizing those who have.”

 

Biden declared that, “Human rights are at the center of U.S. foreign policy.” Should we now laugh or cry?

*

Recently, Ahmad Massoud, an astronomy student at Oxford, left England for the Panjshir mountains. Is he just another Afghan who won’t fight for his country, Joe? His family fought for ours: Al Qaida assassinated his dad on September 9, 2001, knowing that the US would find in Massoud an ally against bin Laden’s Taliban protectors.

Just weeks ago, the younger Massoud begged the US military to give him the weapons we were leaving behind. Massoud specifically invoked FDR and his Arsenal for Democracy.

We turned down Massoud. Instead, we left the Taliban enough lethal supplies to open a multi-billion dollar Walmart for terrorists.

*

In 2006, I published Armed Madhouse, a book about the lies, greed and monstrous incompetence that conned us into Iraq.

Lying us into war is a crime. But so is lying us out of one.

In 2003, the US kicked over Iraq’s government and then, eight years later, tired of that Forever War, abandoned the Iraqis, who would soon face the ISIS blood-cult. It was “inevitable” that ISIS would win, having rolled across most of Iraq in weeks, just as the Taliban rolled across Afghanistan.

But, in Iraq, President Obama, facing up to his mistake of withdrawal, accepted his responsibility to Iraqis, and returned troops.

Fifty-four US soldiers died defeating ISIS in Iraq.

Do you think these Americans were evil Imperialists? Dupes and fools? I’m sorry, I don’t. I honor them.

*

When Trump ignored the advice of Gen. Mark Milley, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not to abandon the Syrian Kurds, the pundits squealed that Trump was ignoring the advice of the his military experts. And we applauded Defense Secretary James Mattis for resigning in protest.

And when Trump cut out the Afghan government from his dealings with the Taliban, his surrender parading as a “Deal,” the Democrats, for good reason, went wild.

Biden wants to play it both ways. He wants to say his hands were tied by Trump’s deal, yet wants credit for withdrawal.

But let’s be honest. Trump, under pressure from Gen. Milley, held off withdrawal because the Taliban had ignored the deal and launched a spring killing spree.

According to the New York Times, Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tried to talk Biden out of withdrawing our remaining small non-combat force. Biden ignored them. Like Japan’s Hirohito, Biden chose surrender “without conditions,” not even demanding the Taliban agree to safe passage of our allies.

Can you imagine if Trump did this? The howls of anger from the Democrats?

And can you imagine if Trump had left our troops to flee in deadly, chaotic retreat? Biden blames the military for closing Bagram air base, but that was only after Biden told the military he would not authorize the additional protective troops needed to keep it open. Why were routes and gates in and out of Hamid Karzai Airport turned over to the Taliban, not controlled by our own soldiers?

For Biden to blame the deaths of soldiers and Afghans on our generals — when they told him not to leave at all — disgusts me, the Trumpian don’t-blame-me façade of an empty man.

*

Which brings us to Biden’s “no good time to leave” canard. Biden’s bug-out was ordered in the middle of the “fighting season.” Waiting until later in the year, when snows in the mountains would stop the Taliban, we could have, at the least, protected our troops and allies, and given the Kabul government leverage to negotiate — and given them the air cover which kept the Taliban at bay for two decades.

But Biden was panicked that he’d miss an important public relations opportunity: to “end the war” before the 20th Anniversary of the September 11 attack. The sad truth is that those 13 Americans and 170 Afghans died for a damned PR stunt.

Imagine the punditocracy if Trump had done that.

And where is Obama? This surrender is Biden’s bitch-slapping his former boss whom Biden tried to talk out of Afghanistan — just as he tried to talk Obama out of the raid on Osama bin Laden.

Obama’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker has the guts to lay it out, unvarnished:

“I’m left with some grave questions in my mind about his [Biden’s] ability to lead our nation as Commander-in-Chief. To have read this so wrong — or, even worse, to have understood what was likely to happen and not care. What President Biden has done is to embrace the Afghan policy of President Trump, and this is the outcome.”

 

Gen. Mattis, disagreeing with Trump’s “Forever War” idiocy, resigned in protest. It makes me fear for our nation that Generals Milley and Austin do not have the integrity to resign, knowing their Commander-in-Chief put our men and morals at risk. Rather, they leak their displeasure to the Times. Cowards with brass ribbons.

*

Why am I so shaken, why do I give a damn about some people in the desert mountains in Asia? Why do I care about universities thousands of miles away that will be closed, or women I’ve never met who will be whipped, or “married” for a night to their rapists?

Blame my father, who could never forgive the world for turning its back on the Holocaust.

If you’re wondering why I care about what happens to the African-American vote today in Georgia, it’s because my father transferred his anger to me, his anger over “Me First/America First“ cruelty.

He was beside himself with anger and grief when white supremacists murdered four little girls in an Alabama church. And he told me, just a little kid, that I had to do something about it.

But now, I admit, I am ready to surrender.

Last week, I spoke to a nice blonde lady holding a Starbucks cappuccino and take-out bag. She was wearing a T-shirt printed with those slogans you see on lawns. You know, “In this house we believe… Women’s rights are human rights” and, “Love is love,” in defense of LGBTQ rights.

I asked her, if women’s rights are human rights, are Afghan women included in “human”? I know that’s not fair. And I’m sure she’s a good person. And she did say she hoped, “someone would come up with something.”

Please, on this September 11, for one day, will you take those virtue-signaling signs off your lawn, to respect those gay Afghans who will be thrown from roofs, the women executed for singing a song or worse, presenting the news.

Maybe Biden and Trump are right. Maybe surrender was our only option, and certainly the cheapest. It’s a shame about the Afghans, but hey, it’s no longer our war.

What now? I just read that the Taliban are hunting a journalist who reported for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The Taliban haven’t found him, so last week, they simply shot a member of his family.

*

It was so long ago that my father drafted me into his Forever War against fascists. Fascists in swastikas, in white hoods, in black turbans, in the offices of grinning, conniving voting officials.

My father’s voice haunts me. So I type. My harmless bullets.

It seems that no one joined my friends’ virtual party from Afghanistan. No one from Afghanistan would celebrate the “end of the Forever War.”

Please forgive me if I don’t join in the celebration either.

Greg Palast

Greg Palast has written four New York Times bestsellers, including Armed Madhouse, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, now a major non-fiction movie, available on Amazon and can be streamed for FREE by Prime members!

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