United States Latest In A Long Line To Fail In Afghanistan

Dr. E.C. Beuck

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Abandoned Soviet Artillery in AfghanistanTimothy Dinneen, US Army on Wikimedia Commons

The United States is withdrawing from Afghanistan. The Graveyard of Empires has broken another invader. The Taliban have been patiently rebuilding their strength since being ousted from the country, and after twenty years they took back control of Kabul early this week. Yet the United States is only the latest in a line of foreign invaders ultimately unable to impose their will on the country.

In the eighth century, the Arab conquests saw their first major setback when they failed to conquer the Zunbils of Kandahar. They would struggle against the tribes who lived there for a long time, and it would take centuries to convert the majority of the inhabitants to Islam.

The Mongol Empire, the largest such empire in landmass the world has ever known, faced massive resistance in the Bamiyan valley in the early thirteenth century. So infuriated were the Mongols at the resistance that they would go on to slaughter most of the population of the valley. Yet, when the Mongol Empire weakened the region fragmented again.

The Mughal Empire, while somewhat successful due to the light touch they brought to bear on those who lived there, nonetheless had to deal with constant tribal revolts throughout the time the controlled the area. Their control would prove to be strongest in the cities and along the roads, but far weaker in the countryside.

Eventually, the Safavid Empire would attempt to convert the Pashtun tribes to the worship of Shia Islam after they kicked the Mughals out. This sparked a revolt that saw the Safavid governor in Kandahar killed, Safavid forces beaten multiple times by Pashtun tribesman, and the Pashtun leader Mirwais Hotak would go own to briefly conquer parts of Persia while securing his own people’s independence.

More recently both the British and the Soviet Union experienced firsthand the difficulties of controlling Afghanistan. Though both had various successes in taking territory and winning on the battlefield, each was eventually forced to leave the country. In the case of the Soviet Union, this would mean abandoning a lot of military equipment in the country.

So why exactly have so many conquerors, invaders, and armies failed over so many centuries in Afghanistan? A number of reasons have been pointed out, such as the fact the diverse tribes and ethnic groups that call the country their home are sometimes hostile to each other and often hostile to outsiders. This prevalence of violence and the existence of so many tribes, groups, and factions has led to every village being constructed with some defense in mind, making them both difficult to control and to govern. Perhaps most of all is the extremely difficult physical terrain in the country which makes any occupation costly and doomed to having to deal with guerrillas as well as a population that is committed to resisting, for decades if need be.

Ultimately the costs of occupying Afghanistan by the United States were dead in the tens of thousands across all sides and a price-tag of up to $6.5 trillion (due to interest payments) by 2050. With the United States now withdrawing and the Taliban surging in to fill the power vacuum, the weeks and months ahead will gradually reveal how these massive changes will impact the country and its people.

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Holding a PhD in Political Science, I write about current events and on political topics related to international relations, international law, conflict both between and within states, and the interactions between technology and politics.

Washington, DC
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