In this edition of Just Peace, first broadcast on October 16, 2021 on WRFG-Atlanta, co-producers and hosts Heather Gray and Ernest Dunkley talk to investigative reporter Greg Palast about his article, “My Own Forever War: Afghanistan and 9-11”. The trio also discuss the culpability of the United States for the current situation in Afghanistan and what we should do to help the people of this troubled nation who now find themselves living under Taliban rule.
Heather Gray: My name is Heather Gray and the program is Just Peace. I’m here with co-producer Ernest Dunkley, and I’m pleased to say that this evening we’re going to be having a discussion with Greg Palast, who we’ve talked with a lot in the past. It’s always such a treat to hear from him and get his update on what’s happening in the world. Greg Palast is known for his investigative reports for The Guardian and Democracy Now, and is the author of several New York Times bestsellers, including The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Palast has been investigating suppression of the Black vote in Georgia for eight years. You can catch Palast’s reports on GregPalast.com and on Twitter @Greg_Palast. So Greg Palast, as I’ve said, it’s a treat to have you on our show again. Thank you for joining us.
Greg Palast: Right, well, most of you know me for covering vote suppression, especially in Georgia in the last eight years. In fact, I was just back, I’m doing more work there and I intend to be there for much of your election year next year. But I’ve had some other things on my mind as well and so this will make for an interesting discussion. A very different side of Greg Palast, and maybe a different perspective…
Gray: I know that one of the things, the major thing we’re going to be discussing is the situation in Afghanistan. The question is, how do we start with this? There’s just so much there. What prompted your interest in Afghanistan? I know you’ve written about it, so tell us about it.
Palast: If you go to GregPalast.com you’ll read one of the longest stories I’ve written in a long time, but I think you might want to take a look at it, called “My Own Forever War: Afghanistan and 9-11”.
Well, actually, let me start from the beginning… Where it started was the bombing of the church in Birmingham when four little girls were killed. That was 1963 and my father was listening on the radio to one of your affiliate Pacifica stations… And he was furious, angry, beside himself about the death of these four little girls, killed by the Ku Klux Klan. And he said, “Look, your job is going to be to fight those people.”
Now I was 11 years old, but he threw this burden on me. “That’s what you’re going to be doing.” And I did, that is I fought, you know, I’ve been going after vote suppression. But always, to him, it’s going after those fascists. The fascists wearing the white hoods, the Ku Klux Klan, or the fascists wearing swastikas, whether in Germany or in Rome, Georgia, and the fascists wearing black turbans in Afghanistan.
My father believed you had to fight these fascists, whether it’s the Ku Klux Klan, or the Ku Klux Taliban. And he put this burden on me. It’s very easy to say some fights are our fight and some fights are someone else’s fight and just too bad. And we can’t save everyone on this planet, America can’t. But the hell if I’m going to just turn my back and celebrate [our withdrawal from Afghanistan].
What happened is that if you go to GregPalast.com, you’ll see a picture of my former office, that is, I had an office in the World Trade Center on the 50th Floor of Tower Two. When it went down, I happened to be at the beach that day.
Gray: Normally you would have been at the office?
Palast: Of course. And I assumed that everyone I worked with was dead. But we had a plan to get out, because remember the building was attacked by Al-Qaeda in 1993. So, we had a plan. We said, no matter what happens, everyone gets out and takes the elevator. We don’t care if they say don’t go back there. Anyway, the people I knew got out. Three-thousand didn’t.
But, we now have more than three-thousand trapped in Afghanistan. And one of the things that set me off on this long screed… And there was something else too… In 1999, my friend Michael Griffin, a great progressive writer, wrote a book about the Taliban called Reaping the Whirlwind. He said, I don’t know why I’m writing about the Taliban, no one knows who they are, no one cares, but I just feel like someone has to document what is basically a terrifying combination of Hitlerism and medieval philosophy which is occupying Afghanistan. And, like I say, I’m against fascists, whether they’re in Nazi Germany or Ku Klux Klan, Georgia.
So I, at that time, called for our intervention in Afghanistan. Why us? Why America? Because we created the mess… They had a government that we didn’t like. It was an elected government versus an unelected government and it was socialist. And then some of the pro-Soviet elements overthrow that government, but it was still not a fanatic [government], it wasn’t the Taliban. But we saw an opportunity when the Soviet Union was there to overthrow the government of Afghanistan supported by the Soviets and bring down the Soviet Union. And it worked…
I was working at BBC television and we uncovered that one of the things that the US-backed was an organization called WAMY, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, and they were funding, a related charity was funding what they called a “compassionate young man” to go to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. The compassionate young man whose name was Osama bin Laden.
Gray: When was that? What year are we talking about?
Palast: That was back in the ‘80s. So, we uncovered this in November, 2000, when I reported it on BBC television and we sent bin Laden to Afghanistan… We created a Frankenstein factory of Islamofascists.
Gray: We being the United States?
Palast: The United States with some of our good allies, and Pakistan, which is very close to these guys, and Saudi Arabia, which put up most of the money to overthrow the Soviet-allied government. So, we succeeded overthrowing their democracy and we walked away. There were 50,000 Afghans in Kabul alone who were murdered by shelling and warlord mayhem.
Then the Taliban took over and, if you remember, George W. Bush cuddled up to them. He invited the Taliban to Sugar Land, Texas, where they got to meet with Ken Lay and those characters. They were our buddies, we were giving them money to supposedly end the opium growing. But, you know, they had kept the Soviets out and brought down the Soviet Union.
But Michael Griffin, in his book Reaping the Whirlwind, said the Taliban, they are giving support and alliance and getting money and are supported by this guy bin Laden and the United States is making a very big mistake. And the book, by the way, was published in August of 2001, before the attack, saying the United States is not paying attention to the deep threads of the Taliban’s ally Osama bin Ladin, and his threat to attack the United States itself.
Now, if we’d followed Griffin and my suggestion that we remove the dictatorship which we had imposed… I want to remind people, we had imposed this Taliban dictatorship, as Biden is doing now… Why is it not imperialism when we impose the Taliban on people who don’t want them? So, we are responsible for that murderous government.
And we talk about just women… If you read my story, one of the things that really got me motivated to write this, it was kind of the final straw after everyone was celebrating. Literally there was one left wing group which said “join us for a virtual celebration of the end of the Forever War.” Remember “Forever War”… that’s the Donald Trump phrase. And believe it or not, Heather, Donald Trump isn’t always right. We didn’t have a Forever War. Not one single US soldier died in the year before we surrendered — and surrender is what it is — to the Taliban. And turning over this nation, without their approval.
Now, keep in mind, the Taliban with their Wahhabist religion, this is something that’s very alien to Afghanistan. It’s a nation where the prevailing form of Islam is Sufi or Sufi-influenced, which is dancing, you know, whirling dervishes, music, ecstatics, love, even celebration of sexual love between men and women. This is the Sufi religion, and that is Afghanistan…The Taliban could not win an election in Afghanistan. Am I supposed to be worried about elections in Georgia, but say to hell with it, we can invite in to run the government of another nation the fascist dictatorship that those people would never vote for?
Remember, we may not have liked the government of Afghanistan, but it was elected. And they had Pashtun leaders who were elected by the majority Pashtuns, and now it’s terror. And when the Taliban came in, the first week, there was Fawad Andarabi, who was a famous folk singer in Afghanistan. He invited the Taliban in, ‘cause he was singing Sufi songs, et cetera, folk songs. So, he invited the Taliban commanders in for dinner and a feast to show his honor for them. To say, look, okay, I’ll do what you want. I obviously won’t be singing anymore, but, you know, whatever you say. And they ate his dinner and they had a wonderful feast, and then they took him out and shot him in the head in front of his family.
Gray: Wow. In front of his family.
Palast: And then three groups of women who were vaccinating children were gunned down.
Gray: Why is that?
Palast: Well, they’re women.
Gray: I know they’re women, but does it have something to do with the vaccination of children?
Palast: Oh, yeah, they don’t want Western vaccines… But what I’m talking about is they don’t say stop doing it. They gun you down. And that does a good job of stopping it.
By the way, while there is music on the radio, there’s no instruments allowed. The Women’s Orchestra of Afghanistan, which is famous for both classical and Afghan music, was able to finally escape. Most of them had to burn their instruments. There are women in Afghanistan now that are all burning their diplomas, less they be found.
It was not a Forever War. We only had three-thousand troops there. A heck of a lot less than we have in Korea. And I understand it. Look, we went through this end the Forever War business before. It was in 1877. For two decades the United States had been engaged in a civil war. And when I say two decades, let’s remember that the US troops were not in combat. They were just in Kabul, helping protect, making sure that the capital was not taken over by these fascists and helping support the army by keeping their air force flying.
So we had the same thing in the South. We had a Civil War which started with bloody skirmishes from Kansas to Harpers Ferry, and finally broke into open war in 1861. And battles ended in 1865, but Grant was insistent that we maintain an army of occupation, otherwise Black people would lose their rights. They’d been given the right to vote. They’d been given rights to their property. They’d been given all kinds of civil rights and the chance for greater education, et cetera. African-Americans were suddenly citizens and Northern Americans did not understand why we had our troops there after 20 years, what our troops were doing this foreign territory.
Remember 150 years ago, to someone in Ohio, the idea that their kids would be in some swamp called Georgia so that Black people can have rights, it just seemed insane. Northern people didn’t want it. They were done with the Forever War. It’s not our problem. Why are Black people our problem? And so we went through the same thing and in 1871, as part of a whole rigged election business — that’s another story, but the important thing is that US Congress voted to remove the occupation troops from the South and the result was, yeah, great, our Forever War ended, we thought. But rather, a hundred years of night descended on the South and Black people were slaughtered — slaughtered — not just lost their rights, lost their lives. I’m sure you know that story even better than I do from the history of Georgia and the history of the South.
So we went through the same Forever War, it’s not our business. I’m sorry Afghanistan is our business. We overthrew their government — their elected government — and now we’ve turned over their government to a terrorizing Wahhabist force that very few people in Afghanistan would ever support, and now they are scared for their lives, for good reason. They’re women or Hazaras or Sufis or Shia, or someone singing a song.
Gray: I want to jump in here for a moment. Could you give us some background of the Taliban, on what their religious faith is and so forth? I mean, something to better understand this fascist position that they have, as you’re referring to. So could you give us a little bit of a background on that?
Palast: They were created out of the madrassas supported by Saudi Arabia, mostly in Pakistan. And at first, by the way, the Taliban — and Tali just means student. They were students who wore white, black turbans…they were actually non-violent and they helped end the civil war between the violent factions, for example, headed by a guy named Hekmatyar. And I want to emphasize them stopping Hekmatyar’s massive murderous shelling of Kabul. So actually they didn’t start out so bad. They had a very strong, very old-fashioned Wahhabist idea of Islam, which is alien to Afghanistan and its Sufi musical religious tradition. Basically, it’s almost a music and dance-based religion, and suddenly you’ve got these guys that will kill you or whip you for singing or dancing.
But people were happy with the peace. But then the killing started and they turned into a violent group. And especially going after those in the North of Afghanistan who are Uzbeks and Tajiks. Most Afghans are Pashtuns, from an ethic area that crosses into Pakistan, and those who did not follow the Wahhabist, Salafist as it’s often called, form of Islam… It’s not a disagreement about how to worship, they killed people. Just this week we had 87 Hazara killed in two new mosque bombings.
And again, we talk a lot about what’s happened to women. This is important, I talk about in my story. A woman who was a newscaster in the Kandahar area, she escaped, and it’s a good thing she did because they came to her house to look for her to kill her, and they fired guns into her house. One other journalist, a male journalist who was working for the German news agencies, they were hunting him down because he’d worked with a foreign news agency. They couldn’t find him, so they just shot a member of his family, just to make a point. They just gunned them down. He wasn’t there, okay, well then, you’re good enough — bang. This is the type of terror.
How many women now are going back to universities? Zero. There were a hundred thousand women in universities in Afghanistan, a year ago. Now, effectively, that’s shut down. Girls schools…girls are allowed to go to school for the first few years of their lives, enough to learn reading and writing, to be able to be wives, but that’s it. And they can’t be in public without a male companion. And pretty soon they will all be covered. Don’t forget it’s not just Kabul, once you get out into those foreign areas. So you have an alien form of medieval Islam imposed on a nation which would never choose to be occupied [by the Taliban].
Gray: I think that’s kind of what I’m looking for. It is a medieval philosophical or religious base, right?
Palast: Yes. Well, in fact, if you go again, I hated to put some of these lurid pictures in my article, but I had no choice. There was a woman about to be a machine gunned, apparently for adultery. She’s going to be machine gunned to death. I could have used a worse pictures. I actually have pictures of the bullets going through her. This is the Taliban. This is Taliban control.
And like I say… Look, everyone would put me, and I suppose I put myself on the progressive end of politics. And I do. I’m happy to see, very frankly, there was some real schadenfreude to see the American empire slip on a kind of diplomatic banana peel. To see imperialism habits’ cumuppance. To see the arrogance and the lies that we were told by Bush and Cheney and Obama and everyone else [exposed].
Look, I’m not a fan of US wars of occupation. And that’s why, for example…You know, anyone who compares this to Vietnam, I was in Vietnam. The people in Vietnam wanted Hồ Chí Minh. [And the Afghans] don’t want the Taliban. We were on the wrong side of Vietnam, that’s what happened there. But what’s happened is since Vietnam, unfortunately, the left has begun to identify itself as just kind of blind pacifism. And I’m sorry, that’s the basic disagreement I have. You have to fight fascists. They don’t understand anything else. And you certainly don’t hand other people to a fascist occupation.
Gray: And that’s what happened?
Palast: And that’s what happened. We handed it over. And by the way, I’m furious that Biden would say like, oh, the Afghans wouldn’t defend themselves. How dare you? You know it’s purely a racist statement. This guy wanted, by the way, to have a constitutional amendment to prevent Black children from being bussed to better schools. Biden showed his visceral racism when he said Afghans wouldn’t defend themselves. 66,000 Afghan soldiers died fighting the Taliban. Sixty-six thousand —and that was before his announcement of surrender, and not counting the Afghans who fought side by side with us after the United States was attacked. The Uzbeks especially, and the Tajiks who were in the Northern Alliance didn’t say, well, we don’t care what happened in New York. We don’t care if the World Trade Center went down, that that’s not our war. No, they said, okay, we’ll join with you and we’ll get rid of these fascists who are attacking you and attacking us too. So, I’m just very concerned about this type of racism… It’s very easy to say that people of color are cowards. It’s an old trope. Black people didn’t defend [themselves]. I mean, I actually just heard Kanye West say, well, you know, Black people were enslaved for 400 years, it sounded like they made a choice. No. That was not their choice. It was never their choice. The people of Afghanistan, this is not their choice. We turned them over.
Gray: Let me ask you this question also Greg… Are there any other entities like this entirely in the Middle East? Like the Taliban? They seem unique to me…
Palast: Well, obviously, there’s no question that they’re the extreme end. But…we have supported a very sophisticated, wealthy, Wahhabi dictatorship called Saudi Arabia… And that’s one of the problems. In fact, this move into Afghanistan was funded by Saudi Arabia with this idea of expanding their fascistic view, their very closed medieval view of Islam. That was what they wanted in return for putting up the money and sending in guys like bin Laden to take on the Soviets.
So… unfortunately, the Taliban are not unique, and it would not exist without the support of Saudi Arabia. Plus, while it’s certainly not as bad, Pakistan’s military and the ISI, their intelligence service, has been supporting the Taliban forever, including the Taliban in killing Americans. We know it, the Pakistanis know it. Remember that they gave, basically, effective asylum to bin Ladin, the military.
So it’s not just the Taliban and, in fact, Ahmed Rashid wrote a brilliant book on the whole area, the “stans” in general, the whole Central Asian area, which I’ve been to, by the way. I have reported from it.
Gray: You’ve reported from where?
Palast: From Central Asia. I didn’t go to Afghanistan, I was in the neighboring countries like Azerbaijan, where you get to see what happens when you have these fascists takeover. So Saudi Arabia’s is also supporting these Islamofascist movements in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. You name it, they are trying to push the governments to the right or take over those governments.
And so we have this terror descending on this nation and this idea that they just won’t defend themselves, you have to understand the old Northern Alliance, Ahmad Massoud, his father led the Northern Allience to successful victory over the Taliban in 2001. He begged the United States for the weapons to fight the Taliban — and we say they won’t defend themselves? He says he was begging for the weapons, Massoud… And he tried to remind Biden, he said that Franklin Roosevelt created the arsenal for democracy so that Britain could survive against Hitler. It wasn’t America’s war, but we supported the British. We are effectively supporting allies. He said help us, just give us the weapons.
And the other thing is we forced the Afghan air force… And by the way, when I was in Kazakhstan, I met with the [Director of the Department of International Relations] of Afghanistan at the time, Yahya Maroofi [see footnote]. He was on his way to have a meeting with the Taliban to negotiate. The Afghan government wanted to negotiate. And they were told by the US government, you may not negotiate with the Taliban, they’re terrorists. Now what happens? Trump ignores the Afghan government and has secret negotiations with the Taliban to turnover the nation to them without even allowing the Afghan government — the elected Afghan government — into the room. And Biden, instead of saying that’s not American, that’s disgusting, we can’t do that… He did the same thing. He kept talking to the Taliban, excluding the Afghan government, and then removed from the Afghan military the one thing that kept the Taliban at bay, which is air cover.
They didn’t ask us to fly the missions. They didn’t ask us to take the bullets. They didn’t ask us to go to the front lines. They simply said, keep our planes flying. ‘Cause they were using US contractors to keep their planes flying. And by the way, we didn’t give them a choice. We said, we’ll give you the money, but you have to hire our guys to do it. So when we pulled out our guys, they had no air force, no air cover.
It was just like when the French abandoned the British troops and the British troops dropped their weapons ran to Dunkirk. It wasn’t because British troops are gutless and won’t defend against the Nazis. They ran to Dunkirk because they were stabbed in the back by the French. And here we did the same thing to the Afghan military. And this idea that it was going to become Taliban, that Afghanistan was going to be taken over by the Taliban no matter what, that’s ridiculous. They hadn’t been able to do it for 20 years. They never got much out of their Eastern provinces in the mountains. They didn’t have a chance of taking Kabul, but then they were abandoned.
Now we saw this in Iraq, remember? Obama removed all the troops from Iraq and he said, no problem. He just walked away from Iraq and then ISIS stormed across Syria and Iraq and was at the gates of Baghdad and we sent back a few troops and suddenly the mighty unbeatable ISIS disappeared. Well, now ISIS is back in Afghanistan, Mr. Biden, and so is Al-Qaida. ‘Cause he said we had one job, according to Biden, and it’s done so we can get out. And that was to eliminate Al-Qaida. Well, Mr. Biden, you have a guy named Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is Al Qaeda, in the cabinet. In fact, he’s the Minister of Interior.
Gray: Where? In Afghanistan?
Palast: In Afghanistan. So, the “Minister of Interior” should be read as “Minister of Imprisonment & Torture” — ‘cause that’s what the Interior Minister is there, the Minister of Torture, he’s Al-Qaida. So, I’m sorry, we literally didn’t just put the Taliban in, we put in Al-Qaeda. So after 20 years, when the Taliban could not possibly win… Yeah, it was a difficult, unremitting, un-stopping war, for them. The Americans, for five years, we’re not in combat roles. And it’s a lie to say that it’s a Forever War. A war just like in the South, where we had occupation troops so that they weren’t in a war. Did some troops get killed in the South, American troops, after the Civil War? You bet. Take a look. Have some troops been killed in Korea since the ceasefire in that war 50 years ago? Yeah, but we have 35,000 troops there, but no one says that war continues. But we are there for a reason…
The left is forgetting its anti-fascist roots, when we had the Lincoln Battalion. In 1937, Americans went to Spain to fight Hitler and Franco’s fascists and they were reviled in America, including after World War II, even though they fought Hitler. They were called premature anti-fascists. Well, count me in, I’m a premature anti-fascist myself. You know, I’m sorry, you gotta fight the Klan, whether they’re wearing white sheets or black turbans.
Gray: Absolutely… This is so incredibly complex, all of this. It’s just hard to grasp it all. But why did Trump choose to negotiate with the Taliban?
Palast: Well, because he didn’t want the Afghans in there saying you can’t just run away and turn over this nation to the Taliban… Trump actually wanted to invite the Taliban, assuming he was reelected, he actually wanted to invite the Taliban to the September 11th 20 year anniversary memorial. It’s stunning…What happened was, he was blocked. General Milley, Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to Trump and said, ‘You can’t do this. All our allies will be slaughtered. We’ll be turning over this nation to our enemies. America can’t surrender.’ After we told these people to fight the Taliban, 66,000 Afghan military lost their lives fighting the Taliban, now [Trump’s] gonna say, oh, well, too bad, we’re turning over your nation to these guys?!
Gray: Why didn’t Trump have a relationship with the Afghan government though?
Palast: The US government? Like I say, I spoke to Maroofi and I know Hamid Karzai, these are actually quite good people… The last elected president, Ashraf Ghani, was, I will not say a wonderful president, but he was elected and elected counts…. Obviously, Trump didn’t want anyone getting in the way of saying “I’ve ended the Forever War.” Biden never said I’m just going to follow Trump’s plan. When he ran for office, he didn’t say, ‘Well, yeah, Trump’s right.’ In fact, the Democrats were screaming bloody murder when Trump went off to talk with the Taliban and play games. You should have heard Rachel Maddow and the rest. ‘How could he do that? That’s terrible. He’s turning over the nation to these women killers.’ But then Biden came in and said, ‘Well, I’m going to go along with the Trump plan.’ Suddenly, these same Democrats, who were excoriating Trump… suddenly Biden’s a wonderful guy. Peace in our times, he’s the new Neville Chamberlain. You know, he’s satisfied Hitler, we won’t hear from them again. And by the way, we will hear from them again, just as we did in Iraq. We’re going back into Afghanistan, but now it’s going to be very costly to do so. We will be back. Write it down. Greg Palast said so. Just as we went back into Iraq, just as we went back into Afghanistan after we abandoned them. And we were warned, this is going to bite us. This is going to bite back in America, and it did, when my office building was blown down. We’ll be back.
Gray: Let me ask, Ernest, do you have any questions here?
Ernest Dunkley: Actually, you’ve answered my question.
Palast: But I want to say this… I want to say that I’m very, very sympathetic to my fellow progressives who wanted to get the hell out of Afghanistan. Who wanted to end this idea that we solve everything with bombers and troops and the 101st Airborne. We have to distinguish between a fight against a liberation struggle in Vietnam. The people of Vietnam, North and South, overwhelmingly supported Hồ Chí Minh and independence.
In Iraq, we were lied into a war with this con of weapons of mass destruction, which didn’t exist. There was no lying us into Afghanistan. They were allied with, supported Al-Qaeda, which attacked us and killed Americans by the thousands and it would have continued. It would have continued. There was a reason… It’s ridiculous, I keep hearing, ‘Well, we were lied into Iraq and Afghanistan.’ No, no, let’s not play that game. That’s actually the game that George Bush played. Remember, he kept conflating Afghanistan with Iraq, talked about Al-Qaeda and Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq, as if they were the same thing. And they weren’t. Now I see some of my fellow friends on the left combining them saying, oh, we were lied into Afghanistan. No, we weren’t. We did the right thing, maybe for the wrong reason, but we did the right thing in removing a fascist state that we had created. Right now, the darkness is falling on Afghanistan and we are responsible.
Gray: I’m always repeating Dr. King’s statement: Where do we go from here? You have suggested a lot of things that are likely to happen, Greg, but what do we do? I guess my other question is, given what’s happened in Afghanistan, how does this coordinate with other countries in the Middle East? Are there going to be some collaborations?
Palast: Well, obviously the Taliban survived with the grace of the Pakistan government, becoming more and more fascist. Imran Khan, the current Prime Minister, is a cricket player, not a politician, who is way over his head and is really just the glove puppet for the Pakistani military. And they look at the Taliban as their cat’s call to control Afghanistan. Afghanistan has always been the center of the “great game” as it’s called. You know, who controls that Central Asian strategic area. But there is always that problem. It is blow back. You invite in bin Laden to kick over the Soviets and it comes back and bites you. It’s going to bite Pakistan, believe me. And it also strengthens the effective military dictatorship in Pakistan and that won’t help as you’re going to now see tensions rise enormously with India.
Gray: What’s happening with India?
Palast: India is always in this confrontational position. They were hoping… it looked like there might actually be beginning a kind of a uneasy peace between Pakistan and India, but it’s becoming more and more strained, especially with Pakistan’s effective takeover through the Taliban of Afghanistan. It’s very dangerous.
Also, as Ahmed Rashid, the great expert on Central Asia has said, you give a base to Afghanistan and it becomes a base for ISI-K. Well, by the way, just ‘cause ISIS and the Taliban don’t like each other… Believe it or not, no matter how medieval and right-wing the Taliban are, ISIS believe they’re not right-wing and crazy enough. But they’re now in there and that’s one of the things that our military was helping to prevent, was the rise of ISIS. The Taliban can’t handle ISIS and that will spread throughout the stans.
I’m very worried. Americans don’t know anything about Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kudistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan. When you go to these places, they’re always on the edge of falling back 500 years… I’m sorry, I can’t just say those people don’t count to me, ‘cause they do count to me. There’s always that question: Am I my brother’s keeper? And the answer is ‘yes’. And in Afghanistan, you’re going to have to be your sister’s keeper, ‘cause there’s a lot of women, by the millions, terrified. And when I hear the left saying, well, let’s just let in everyone, everyone who wants to leave Afghanistan can come here. Well, everyone wants to leave Afghanistan and you’re not getting out — that ain’t happening. Emptying out Afghanistan into Michigan is not the solution. Let’s stop turning over other people’s nations to fascist regimes.
Gray: Let me ask you this, too. What do you think Biden expected to happen when he made this decision?
Palast: That’s a good question, because Ryan Crocker, who was the Ambassador under Obama…He actually said Biden’s not fit to be Commander in Chief. He was warned and warned and warned that we’d have a complete collapse in Afghanistan without American air support and those troops there. Again, our troops didn’t get killed, but they terrified the Taliban. That’s all they needed to do, just be there and be scary. And he was warned, you can’t do this. So, Ryan Crocker said, ‘Look, either Biden refused to listen to the experts and the generals and the State Department… And when Trump did that, we all went crazy. Oh, he’s ignoring the generals.’ Well, Biden bitch-slapped the generals. Even his own Secretary of Defense, Austin, let the New York Times know that he was totally against the withdrawal of these last troops…’Cause he ignored all the advice. How can you say he didn’t know what would happen? This horrible collapse and the quick takeover of the nation by these fascists, when he was told that by everyone. Ryan Crocker told him his, the Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff told him, his own Secretary of Defense told him. I want to know why they haven’t held congressional hearings. I want to know what people like Blinken [are doing], our supposed Secretary of State, who says his number one concern is human rights. Really? Give me a break.
Gray: Right! I just want to ask these questions about the impact of all of this. You’ve mentioned the Soviet Union briefly here, so where are the Soviets in this situation now?
Palast: Well, you know, the Soviets are gone. We’ve got, of course, Putin. So now we have a fascist… We did a good job, we used Afghanistan to bring down the Soviet Union, and now we have a fascist, belligerent Russia. That was a good deal. And obviously Putin is enjoying himself, seeing America get kicked in the teeth. And I don’t care about whether America gets kicked in the teeth, when it deserves it… And the Chinese, of course, which is another fascist state, now sees a green light to go after the weaker Muslims in China. You know, if you can’t protect the people of Afghanistan where you have troops… In fact, the official Communist Party daily said blind surrender in Afghanistan shows that the U.S, is the paper tiger. So, all our screaming and crying and hand ringing about the Muslims of China and their mistreatment, they’re laughing it off. They’re laughing it off and they’re already cutting deals with the Taliban. [China’s leader Xi Jinping] already had meetings with the Taliban leadership.
Gray: Well, my question, again, is what will the relationship be say with Putin and the Taliban government?
Palast: I think that they’re going to get along famously, eventually. Obviously, the Russians are a bit shy about getting too deeply involved in Afghanistan, but they’re not going to leave it to Pakistan or to China to pick up all the goodies. Let’s not forget that Afghanistan has a huge untapped supply of uranium. It has something that China has been monopolizing, craving for decades, which is rare earth minerals, and coal. Lots of coal. Remember China is a major importer of coal. Afghanistan has coal, uranium and rare earth, so [Russia’s] more than happy to support a Taliban government that will let them get their hands on these resources.
Gray: So, was the US benefiting from these resources as well?
Palast: No, we kept them in the ground because we didn’t need the uranium. Remember we had ended our nuclear industry. So we’re more than happy just to let it sit in the ground. And the rare earths? I assumed that if there was peace, we were going to get our hands on it some way. And the last thing we need in this world is to be digging up more coal. But without question, China’s going to move in for the coal. ‘Cause they’re massive coal importers and they’re trying to avoid having to rely on Australia, so that geopolitics is going on too. So the Taliban are going to have a lot of support from Pakistan and China, and possibly Russia might come in, thinking it can’t be left out of the division of spoils. But this is dangerous, because as they arm, they will spread their philosophy to the rest of Central Asia.
Gray: So, where is the US going be under these circumstances in the future do you think?
Palast: We’re going to be in trouble because no one’s going to believe that we will defend them.
Gray: I see.
Palast: I think it’s dangerous for the Middle East. I think that you’re going to see…frankly, Israel’s going to say, we can’t count on the US, so we’re going to have to do whatever we need. I think it’s just going to add tensions everywhere. Taiwan panicked, as you see. The Chinese, the minute we surrendered in Afghanistan, the Chinese redoubled their claims on Taiwan, on the South China Sea, threatening our ally Vietnam. Remember Vietnam is now our closest ally in the region. They’re threatening Vietnam, they’re threatening the Philippines, and they’re trying to put the economic squeeze on Australia.
Gray: Who is?
Palast: The Chinese. And so, I’m very concerned that we’re emboldening fascist states around the planet… And it’s more concerning… The fact that Biden would adopt Trump’s military and political and foreign policy — really?
Gray: Let me ask you this though, Greg. The thing is, Trump made this deal with the Taliban, right? So, did Biden think that he needed to follow through on this previous agreement with the former president?
Palast: Well, Biden wants it both ways. On the one hand, he wants to say, ‘Oh, well, Trump had already signed a deal.’ He ignores all of Trump’s other deals. Is he pulling out of South Korea or out of NATO? No. That was another Trump idea. So, one, you can’t blame it on Trump. Number two, Biden wants to take credit. It’s my idea. Time to go. Period. And worse, he wanted to do it by September 11th for the 20th anniversary so he could do a PR stunt and say I ended the war before 20 years.
Dunkley I don’t think he’s all there.
Palast: I might agree with you.
Dunkley I don’t think he’s all there because that move on the chess board was so ridiculous…
Palast: Yes…And you bring up something which is important, which is scary. Because even if you agree that it was time to get out of Afghanistan, for whatever reasons you have, it’s your right and that’s your view, I don’t think any sane person would have said it should have been done the way it was done.
Palast: We lost in that one bombing 170 Afghans, and 13 Americans died. Thirteen Americans died… You have to understand that more US soldiers died during this surrender than died in five years in Afghanistan. In five years we haven’t lost 13 people.
Palast: And that’s what people don’t understand. They keep thinking we’re in combat there. The combat had ended, for Americans anyway. And so, it does raise the question, whether Biden is literally all there. Or he’s just a cranky old guy who’s doing a Trump. Like, ‘I don’t care what my experts say. I’m gonna do it my way.’ But…where is the United States Justice Department in defending African-American voters in Georgia, and Asian-American voters in Georgia who are under attack?
Gray: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Palast: And so you can’t go along with the idea that we don’t care about women in Afghanistan, and then…suddenly we shift around and we care about people in Georgia. It doesn’t work that way. You have a guy, Biden, who doesn’t actually seem to care. Period. Sorry.
Gray: Well, I’m curious to know…so how much money was being spent in this Afghanistan occupation?
Palast: Well, as we know, we spent about $4 trillion in 20 years. But people, when they talk about the massive amount spent, the amount we were spending in the last couple of years was de minimis. We only had 2,500 troops and about a thousand contractors, and while we were spending money, most of that money was spent on US-based services, in other words equipment for their planes, et cetera, which comes back to the US. We didn’t just give them the money and it went out there. Like most of US aid, it goes out and somehow it comes back to us. We’re giving you money to pay our contractors. Which is one of the things, by the way, the Afghan government complained to me [about]. The US government was knowingly letting big defense contractors bribe government officials to keep those contracts.
So, yeah, so it wasn’t very much. The annual amount spent in Afghanistan was fractional compared to what it was in the first 10 years, when we were in active combat. That’s a whole different thing. When we first went in, we spent a fortune. And again, if we hadn’t abandoned the Afghans in 1998, we wouldn’t have had the attack in 2001. You know, if you don’t stand up to fascists, there are fascists. They’re going to get you… I don’t know how else to do it. So yes, there is a Forever War, it’s a Forever War between the oppressed and oppressors, between fascists and their victims, between democracy and liberty. And it doesn’t matter where it is, whether it’s in Macon, Georgia, or in Kabul or in Azerbaijan. Yeah, it’s kind of a Forever War, and it’s been here for thousands of years, since the beginning of civilization, them and us.
Gray: Okay. Our time is going quickly here. I would like to ask, I guess, what will likely be a final question… Given this tragic situation that we’re in right now, what should be done now, Greg? Or what should we advocate for?
Palast: What can we do now? First of all, we put ourselves in a terrible position, that we let these maniacs take over the capitol and continue to get support from Pakistan, and China now. But the first thing to do is ask the Afghans themselves. Again, one of the worst things that Trump did, and Biden picked it up, is excluding the Afghans from the discussion of what should be done.
The first thing I would do is, if we can find him, cause he’s in the hills somewhere in the North near the Uzbek border, is [talk to] Ahmad Massoud. Massoud is the head of what was the Northern Alliance. We should be speaking with the Afghan women’s groups who are here. We should be speaking with Hamid Karzai, who our government has always hated, but he’s actually quite a respected man and the most respected Pashtun leader. The Pashtuns are the number one ethnic group in Afghanistan. So, we need to speak with Karzai. He has stayed in Afghanistan. He’s effectively under house arrest. But I think we can communicate with him simply because the Taliban would like us to provide, of all things, aid to them. The problem is, of course, we can’t trust the Taliban to use any money we give them to feed their people.
There’s starvation right now. Today I was reading about a woman in Afghanistan who had to sell her children to pay off debts… It’s a complete implosion of the economy. And so we do have some leverage with the Taliban. But I would start by actually doing something we haven’t done in the last two years, talk to the Afghanis themselves.
Palast: What can we do to help you?
Gray: How could that be done?
Palast: Well, again, we have to reach out to, I would say, Ahmad Massoud, who is the clear leader of the non-Pashtoon Afghans of the North. That’s the minority, but that’s an important group. We have to speak with Hamid Karzai and other Pashtoon leaders and people like Yahya Maroofi. Maroofi is now, I believe, in Switzerland. So, there are people we can speak to who are recognized leaders of the Afghan people…So what we have to do is something we haven’t done in years, ask the Afghans what they want to do.
Palast: …And I think in the North, they want weapons. They want to fight this government. And in the other areas, they want concessions. Which, by the way, Trump did have conditions on the Taliban, which they didn’t meet. The US did not start withdrawing any troops because the Taliban weren’t meeting the conditions. It’s not really true that Biden was following through with a Trump plan, because Trump had conditions and Milley and Austin noted that. [Lloyd] Austin being our Secretary of Defense, [Mark] Milley being the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they told that to Trump, we had conditions. At least under Trump there were conditions, and we convinced Trump that they weren’t meeting the conditions. And Biden literally said to them, quote, “No conditions, we’re leaving.” And that created mayhem, absolute mayhem.
Gray: So where are we left?
Palast: Go to GregPalast.com, read my story, for another reason; because I want to keep this in the context of not just Afghanistan, but this idea that the left has to go back to its origins.
We progressives need to go back to our origins of people ready to fight fascists. We were ready to fight the Klan, we were ready to fight the Nazis, we were ready to fight the Confederacy, and we have to be ready to fight fascists, wherever they may be. Just as the Lincoln Brigade took on Hitler in 1937. Don’t wait until your office building is knocked down.
Now is the time to start thinking about our role in the world and what we want to defend. People who are being oppressed have a right to protection and get someone else’s foot off their neck — especially if we put it there.
Gray: Well, thanks so much for that. And I want to thank you so much for your vast detailed understanding and analysis of all of this situation. Thank you.
You can also listen to this interview on our SoundCloud.
Note: Yahya Maroofi acted as the counterpart to Condoleezza Rice and was the Hamid Karzai government’s representative in “secret“ talks with the Taliban when I met with him in Kazakhstan.