The events in Afghanistan in the past weeks, from the dramatic withdrawal of the US troops to the quick take over by the Taliban from the Afghan government and the evacuation prose is assuredly a top contender for the story of the year.
The Taliban takeover is coming after 20 years of US military presence and engagement in the country. Following the US military withdrawal which had been announced weeks before by President Joe Biden, the Taliban took control of the governing of Afghanistan. They did this in a matter of days, taking provincial capitals one by one till they seized Kabul, the center of power.
Reacting to the international backlash that has trailed its withdrawal and the consequent humanitarian crisis in the country, the US government said it left with the assumption that the Afghan military force, both air and land, numbering above 300,000 men, was well equipped to defend itself against any form of internal aggression, especially from the Taliban.
Currently there are contradictory reports which reveal that the Afghan force is actually somewhere around 50,000 men. Who should take the blame for the wrong figures? The US also argued that it had spent above 2 trillion dollars and lost somewhere around 2,500 soldiers in the course of its 20 years sojourn in Afghanistan. So these and many more justified its withdrawal from a war or rather mission that has no end in sight.
Furthermore, white house argues that the original intention of coming to Afghanistan was not to ‘colonize’ it, but to make sure that it is not a base from where attacks are lunched against the United States, like was witnessed in the September 11 attack on the world trade center which claimed thousands of life. So for Biden, the mission has its own success as there has been no foreign attack on US soil since then.
Afghanistan is called the ‘graveyard of empires’ because of its history of defeating intruding stronger nations, not minding the myth that it has never been defeated. The main reason given for this in the past and the present too is its mountainous terrain. A country where more than 49 percent of its total land area lies above 2,000 meters.
The argument for the mountains of Afghanistan will appear like propaganda, sold by governments and bought by the media and academics, until you remember the past and presently the situation in Nigeria.
The excuse of mountains brings to mind the excuse by the Nigerian government over the years as to why it finds it difficult in dealing with the problem of Boko Haram insurgents in the country. For years running, successive governments and the media have mystified the so called woods of Sambisa Forest as if it is more fortified than Fort Knox or say the pentagon.
From the certain forest of Sambisa thousands of lives has been lost thousands of miles away from the forest and blood is drowning the green leaves of Sambisa. Even if there were no mountains in Afghanistan that it be as flat as Denmark, or if Sambisa was a desert, yet, with the same social and political factors on ground, insurgency will in no way be abated.
But should a highly developed military like the US complain about the mountains of Afghanistan? It is a yes and no situation. The ethical rules of engagement in war or violent conflict mean that a lot of humanitarian conditions are taken into consideration.
It should be noted that it is easier for opposing forces anywhere in the world to tackle government power through covert means/violence than through open combat. Because in a society, there are many routes through which individuals and groups get the attention of government or state power; they come through union strikes, protests, media campaign, etc. But when an ‘organization’ meets government in the area where government theoretically should have monopoly- the monopoly of force – then it is a very critical situation.
Resilient opposing forces will continue to strike and hide till they become strong enough or find the moment to engage in open warfare.
Why was the Afghan government not able to stand on its own just few weeks after the United States withdrew its troops from the country? This is after 20 years of diverse form of foreign intervention; military, finance, professional and many others.
Whether in the high shielding mountains of Afghanistan or in the tender forest of Sambisa, we find the problem of implicit governments who lacked the (political) will to answer the question which insurgency posed.
Trying to analyze the Afghan situation in the past 20 years with that of Nigeria is not a very easy one considering the third party influence of US in Afghanistan which is not openly the case in Nigeria. Yet, we can imagine what the situation will be like if the US was not involved, don’t forget that it came to ‘protect itself’.
Some similarities with these nations are; both are developing countries, widespread or institutionalized corruption and low human development index. There is also the area of conspiracy from foreign actors.
The governments of these two 3rd world countries are the determining factors of how confrontations begin and end in their nations. Every government around the world has a voice or body language they project into the community. Those close enough to the power circle, whether as active members or not, have a good grasp of this government language in question and will relate to it belligerently or benevolently in relation to its demands and perception of the governments capability to respond to it. Yet, no matter what is brought before it, governments must be tactical in responding.
Take the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region for example. Putting aside humanistic considerations, the Ethiopian government and the rebels have engaged in an all-out war which has plunged the nation into great humanitarian crisis, with thousands of lives lost already and the war still ongoing.
What really matters at the final analysis is what we can call “the conscience of war”. Closely associated with it is the will of governance. In the conscience of war, the parties involved do not prop themselves to see if they are right or wrong, especially the non-governmental actor, as the popular saying goes “he who is down fears no fall”.