What Does The US Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan Mean For China?

                          by David Parmer / Tokyo

September 11,2021 will see the last American soldiers leave Afghan soil. Well, that is the plan anyway. The US’s “forever war” had to come to a close sooner or later. September 2021 is sooner than many think prudent, but a lot later for those who think that an anti-terrorist action morphed into a long-term, unsuccessful and costly exercise in nation building.

Opinions are mixed on what will happen in Afghanistan once the US and NATO leave. Now not many experts see a collapse of the Afghan government similar to that when the US pulled out of Viet Nam in 1975. There seem to be too many stakeholders in the region including Pakistan and Russia and Tajikistan and China that have no interest in seeing a failed state on their borders or in their region.

A civil war might be one outcome if the government collapses, or loses any claim to a mandate to govern. Some sort of compromise might be worked out with the Taliban in power sharing, but an Isis (Daesh) controlled “caliphate” would be in no one’s interest.

China has real concerns about a spillover of any chaos taking place in Afghanistan. Even though it takes robust measures to patrol its border with Afghanistan, it still must be vigilant to prevent an increase in cross-border crime, smuggling, or terrorism.

East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) terrorists dedicated to removing China from Xingjiang have found shelter with the Taliban, and there are reports of Uyghur fighters participating in the war in Syria.

China has supported the Afghan government military in terms of supplying both training and equipment. Beijing has vehemently denied that there have ever been any PLA boots on the ground despite press reports to the contrary. Perhaps China’s “plausible deniability” is that if anyone were in Afghanistan, it would be police and not PLA.

Whether China’s efforts in Xinjiang to inoculate the populace against radical Islam are working will only be able to be grasped in the long run. China’s angry pushback has neither explained its actions in Xinjiang nor done anything to change perceptions in most of the rest of the world.

After September 11, 2021 China will continue to have its Xinjiang Uyghur problem and the political fallout worldwide, and it will also have the threat of anything from a civil war to an era of Afghan warlordism to the possibility of an ISIS caliphate on its border.

With this kind of situation, it is pretty hard to find any kind of “silver lining.” What do you think about this? Please let us know.

Photo: US Army via flickr

Photo: Matthew Lee via flickr

Person of Interest: General Llyod Austin, Biden’s Pick for Secretary of Defense.

On December 9, President-elect Joe Biden nominated retired General LLoyd Austin to be his Secretary of Defense. General Austin retired from the United States Army in 2016 after a distinguished military career that saw him, after his graduation from the United States Military Academy, fill assignments at some of the Army’s most elite units including the 82nd Airborne Division, the 10th Mountain Division and a stint as instructor at his alma mater, West Point.

General Austin saw combat duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2010 he was put in charge of all US forces in Iraq where he oversaw the draw-down of US forces. In 2011 he was appointed Army Vice Chief of Staff and in 2013 he took command of US Central Command, or CENTCOM. General Austin retired in 2016 and moved to the private sector where he was on the board of Raytheon Technologies, a major American military contractor. 

According to US law, to be appointed as Secretary of Defense a retired officer must have been out of uniform for a minimum of 7 years. General Austin has only been retired for 4 years, so it will be necessary for him to get a congressional waiver before he can take up the post. There is precedent for this, as recently as the current Trump administration where retired General James Mattis had the 7-year requirement waived.

The question is whether a hostile and divided congress reflecting the mood of a hostile and divided nation will give General Austin a “pass.” For Biden and the Democrats Austin checks off a lot of boxes in terms of experience. He would be the first black Secretary of Defense. General Austin has also teamed up with Joe Biden in the past, and they reportedly have a good working relationship.

Will General Austin face some grilling during his Senate confirmation? He probably will. Will he appear as a competent and knowledgeable interviewee? Surely he will. And finally will General Austin achieve another “first” in his long and distinguished career of government service? He probably will. 

What do you think? Let us know your opinion on this and any other topic that we cover here at RG-21.  

Photo: Wikipedia



Voices From The Graveyard of Empires

                       by David Parmer

Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires because foreign powers from Alexander the Great to the British and the Russians, and now the Americans, have seen money, power and blood drained away in its sandy soil.

What makes it attractive to great powers is its key position in central Asia, an ideal base from which to influence the region. What makes it impossible to manage is a tribal society that has its own timeless agenda that has been unhurried and unchanged for centuries.

Is intervention in tribal and religious warfare possible? Yes. Is it necessary? Is it profitable or advantageous to the intervening parties? It seems only history has the answers to those questions.

The former Soviet Union had boots on the ground in Afghanistan from December 1979 to February 1989. It sustained an estimated 14,000 casualties during that time. The cost was between 1–3 billion rubles per year.

And what were the Soviets thinking? In excerpts from a Politbureau session on January 21, 1987, published by the National Security Archive, we can get a good idea. Many of the attendees are well know to us; Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Head of the Central Committee International Department Anatoly Dobrynin, and Politbureau member Mikhail Gorbachev.

During the discussion, some members try to find any bit of good news, and attempt to put a positive spin on things. However, it is abundantly clear that the Soviet policy in Afghanistan has failed. What is telling, and is perhaps the loudest voice from history, is Eduard Shevardnadze’s blunt admission of Soviet failure; it is sad, truthful and final.

“Very little is left of the friendly feelings toward the Soviet people, which existed for decades. Very many people have died, and not all of them were bandits. Not a single problem was solved in favor of the peasants. In essence, [we] waged war against the peasants. The state apparatus is functioning poorly. Our adviser assistance is ineffective. Najib was complaining about the petty patronizing on the part of our advisers.

I am not going to discuss now whether we did the right thing by going there. But it is a fact that we went there absolutely not knowing the psychology of the people, or the real situation in the country. [emphasis added] And everything that we were and are doing in Afghanistan is inconsistent with the moral face of our country.

The Soviets did retreat from Afghanistan in February 1989, and Mr. Shevardnadze was proved right in his assessment of the situation. And now in 2016 we again have a situation in Syria and Iraq that parallels the Soviet failure. Maybe the most important thing that Shevardnadze said in the meeting was this:

“But we need a political decision. Otherwise we will reap the fruits of a serious political and military defeat.”


The National Security Archive (The George Washington University) Politburo Session, January 21, 1987 Anatoly S. Chernyaev Notes:

Photo: Rusting Soviet T-62 Tank in Kandahar Afghanistan, Kenny Holston via flickr