Afghanistan – escape from Kabul

Image: Escape from Kabul (by air).

But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. – US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, 2002.

The Australian military adventure in Afghanistan has come to a tragic end with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban overnight. After 20 years war what do Australian governments have to show for it? Afghanistan returned to where it started after 9/11 – back in the hands of the Taliban!

In 2001, the Howard government fell in behind George Bush in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. The attack on the World Trade Center in New York, was the catalyst for the resumption of joint military operations with the 9/11 giving the US political cover for its operations. Successive governments have pledged to increase the share of military spending to 2 per cent of GDP, up from 1.6 per cent.

The Australian government went along uncritically despite the fact that all but one of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi.

In 2011, we wrote in these pages:

The premise behind the invasion has been to destroy al Qaeda and kill Osama. The US government has gloated in achieving the latter but the Taliban have proven undefeated and the war still rages. The real victims have been the Afghani civilian population …

Yet, in Australia during 2020, there was an outcry when a Chinese government official correctly criticised the Australian military adventure in Afghanistan:

The US-led mission to stop Taliban support for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan has failed. Its mission was flawed from the outset because it succeeded in increasing resistance to the American empire both in the region and elsewhere. Sadly for the Afghanistan people, victory of the Taliban may turn out to be a terrible setback. The Taliban has come a long way since it offered to surrender in December 2001. This offer by Mullah Omar was rejected by Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld. [Rumsfeld Rejects Plan To Allow ‘To Live in Dignity’ : Taliban Fighters Agree to Surrender Kandahar NY Times, 7 Dec 2001]

Not only has the 20 year occupation produced many deaths, refugees have fled the repression inside the country. The hypocrisy of the Australian government knows no bounds. Immigration Minister Dutton has undertaken to give visas to fleeing Afghanis who have given support to Australian troops. Like many such undertakings for humanitarian assistance by governments, this too is probably a lie.

In response to the number of lives lost, Prime Minister told ABC’s Lisa Millar: “No Australian who’s ever fallen in our uniform has ever died in vain, ever.” [ABC News Breakfast 16 Aug 2021]. So put the khaki uniform on, and you may die, but never in vain.

Tell that to the family and partner of Sapper Jamie Larcombe.

Sapper Jamie Larcombe and his partner
They lost their lives at Mirabad last night
Jamie died, despite first aid, 
unable to be saved
Gunshot wounds killed Sapper Larcombe
Air Vice Marshall Houston sighed
'Only 21 years old and his interpreter 
Buried according to local custom'.
               - Ian Curr, Last Train to Mirabad 2011

For over 20 years successive Australian governments have denied boat people from Afghanistan access to Australian shores. This policy fell heavily on the Hazara refugees fleeing repression in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. this world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.’ – Dwright D Eisenhower US President, 1953

Ian Curr
17 August 2021

Rescue Mission

Australian soldiers boarding RAAF flight from Amberley outside Ipswich in Qld. Destination – SBS caption reads Middle East – but where in the Middle East?

Chaos in Kabul

7 thoughts on “Afghanistan – escape from Kabul

  1. Crisis letter to Parliamentarians says:

    Dear Parliamentarian,

    Re: Seven urgent and practical steps Australia can take to provide safety and leadership on the situation in Afghanistan

    Australians are watching with alarm as the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. The events are particularly distressing to members of Australia’s Afghan diaspora who are hearing directly from family members and friends about the terrible violence within the country. There are already many reports of executions, mass rapes and forced marriages of young women and girls.

    Years of work to support the education, safety and autonomy of Afghanistan’s women, including programs generously supported by Australian aid, is being destroyed and many people are in fear for their lives. They include people who have worked with Australian and other western governments and organisations as translators, security and support staff, NGO workers and journalists. Members of religious minorities are also at grave risk, including the many Shia members of the Hazara community.

    We, the undersigned organisations and groups, appreciate the Government’s existing effort in working to provide visas to locally engaged staff, and ask that you urgently intensify these efforts to help these people evacuate Afghanistan. We believe that Australia can help to provide international leadership through its own response and by encouraging other governments to act. Civil society groups in the Asia-Pacific region, refugee-led organisations such as the Asia Pacific Network of Refugees and members of Australia’s Afghan diaspora have shown wide consensus on seven important and urgent actions the Australian Government can take:
    1. Do everything possible in coming days to evacuate people who are at grave risk within Afghanistan, including those who have worked for or assisted the Australian Government and Australian organisations (including the embassy, armed forces, NGOs and media), human rights defenders and women and girls whose lives and security are under great threat.
    2. Urge governments in the region to keep borders open for people trying to flee persecution in Afghanistan, including and particularly Pakistan and Iran.
    3. Offer additional refugee resettlement places for Afghan refugees immediately, as the Australian Government did in 2015 with 12,000 additional places for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Canada has already announced its commitment of 20,000 additional places for Afghan refugees. Australia could match this offer and urge other resettlement states to do the same, sending a strong and positive message to states receiving Afghan refugees that the world is ready to share responsibility in the protection of lives at risk.
    4. As many people are now at risk from hunger and lack of shelter due to their forced displacement, immediately increase Australian aid to the region to support programs to assist people who have been displaced across borders and, wherever possible, support organisations still offering assistance within Afghanistan.
    5. Extend the temporary visas of all Afghan citizens in Australia, as the Government did in May for citizens of Myanmar, to assure people that they will not be at risk of imminent forced return. As part of this extension, people whose asylum claims have been previously rejected should be supported to submit new claims in the light of the changed circumstances in Afghanistan.
    6. Extend permanent protection to 4300 Afghans on temporary protection visas, recognising that members of this group are unlikely to be able to return in safety for many years to come and need the assurance that they can continue to live in Australia without the constant fear of forced return.
    7. Assist Afghan Australians, including people with temporary and permanent protection visas, with urgent family reunion applications for relatives who are at particular risk, as members of minorities targeted by the Taliban or people likely to be targeted because of their connections to western nations. This should include giving priority to finalising family reunion applications which have previously been lodged but are waiting on a decision from the Department of Home Affairs.

    We urge you to address these critical priorities.

    Signed by:

    Gareth W R Smith & Maxine Caron
    Palestine Liberation Centre
    14 Cumbebin Park
    Byron Bay

  2. Tariq Ali, Debacle in Afghanistan says:

    Debacle in Afghanistan
    Tariq Ali
    16 August 2021

    The fall of Kabul to the Taliban on 15 August 2021 is a major political and ideological defeat for the American Empire. The crowded helicopters carrying US Embassy staff to Kabul airport were startlingly reminiscent of the scenes in Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – in April 1975. The speed with which Taliban forces stormed the country was astonishing; their strategic acumen remarkable. A week-long offensive ended triumphantly in Kabul. The 300,000-strong Afghan army crumbled. Many refused to fight. In fact, thousands of them went over to the Taliban, who immediately demanded the unconditional surrender of the puppet government. President Ashraf Ghani, a favourite of the US media, fled the country and sought refuge in Oman. The flag of the revived Emirate is now fluttering over his Presidential palace. In some respects, the closest analogy is not Saigon but nineteenth-century Sudan, when the forces of the Mahdi swept into Khartoum and martyred General Gordon. William Morris celebrated the Mahdi’s victory as a setback for the British Empire. Yet while the Sudanese insurgents killed an entire garrison, Kabul changed hands with little bloodshed. The Taliban did not even attempt to take the US embassy, let alone target American personnel.

    The twentieth anniversary of the ‘War on Terror’ thus ended in predictable and predicted defeat for the US, NATO and others who clambered on the bandwagon. However one regards the Taliban’s policies – I have been a stern critic for many years – their achievement cannot be denied. In a period when the US has wrecked one Arab country after another, no resistance that could challenge the occupiers ever emerged. This defeat may well be a turning point. That is why European politicians are whinging. They backed the US unconditionally in Afghanistan, and they too have suffered a humiliation – none more so than Britain.

    Biden was left with no choice. The United States had announced it would withdraw from Afghanistan in September 2021 without fulfilling any of its ‘liberationist’ aims: freedom and democracy, equal rights for women, and the destruction of the Taliban. Though it may be undefeated militarily, the tears being shed by embittered liberals confirm the deeper extent of its loss. Most of them – Frederick Kagan in the NYT, Gideon Rachman in the FT – believe that the drawdown should have been delayed to keep the Taliban at bay. But Biden was simply ratifying the peace process initiated by Trump, with Pentagon backing, which saw an agreement reached in February 2020 in the presence of the US, Taliban, India, China and Pakistan. The American security establishment knew that the invasion had failed: the Taliban could not be subdued no matter how long they stayed. The notion that Biden’s hasty withdrawal has somehow strengthened the militants is poppycock.

    The fact is that over twenty years, the US has failed to build anything that might redeem its mission. The brilliantly lit Green Zone was always surrounded by a darkness that the Zoners could not fathom. In one of the poorest countries of the world, billions were spent annually on air-conditioning the barracks that housed US soldiers and officers, while food and clothing were regularly flown in from bases in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It was hardly a surprise that a huge slum grew on the fringes of Kabul, as the poor assembled to search for pickings in dustbins. The low wages paid to Afghan security services could not convince them to fight against their countrymen. The army, built up over two decades, had been infiltrated at an early stage by Taliban supporters, who received free training in the use of modern military equipment and acted as spies for the Afghan resistance.

    This was the miserable reality of ‘humanitarian intervention’. Though credit where credit is due: the country has witnessed a huge rise in exports. During the Taliban years, opium production was strictly monitored. Since the US invasion it has increased dramatically, and now accounts for 90% of the global heroin market – making one wonder whether this protracted conflict should be seen, partially at least, as a new opium war. Trillions have been made in profits and shared between the Afghan sectors that serviced the occupation. Western officers were handsomely paid off to enable the trade. One in ten young Afghans are now opium addicts. Figures for NATO forces are unavailable.

    As for the status of women, nothing much has changed. There has been little social progress outside the NGO-infested Green Zone. One of the country’s leading feminists in exile remarked that Afghan women had three enemies: the Western occupation, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. With the departure of the United States, she said, they will have two. (At the time of writing this can perhaps be amended to one, as the Taliban’s advances in the north saw off key factions of the Alliance before Kabul was captured). Despite repeated requests from journalists and campaigners, no reliable figures have been released on the sex-work industry that grew to service the occupying armies. Nor are there credible rape statistics – although US soldiers frequently used sexual violence against ‘terror suspects’, raped Afghan civilians and green-lighted child abuse by allied militias. During the Yugoslav civil war, prostitution multiplied and the region became a centre for sex trafficking. UN involvement in this profitable business was well-documented. In Afghanistan, the full details are yet to emerge.

    Over 775,000 US troops have fought in Afghanistan since 2001. Of those, 2,448 were killed, along with almost 4,000 US contractors. Approximately 20,589 were wounded in action according to the Defense Department. Afghan casualty figures are difficult to calculate, since ‘enemy deaths’ that include civilians are not counted. Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives estimated that at least 4,200–4,500 civilians were killed by mid-January 2002 as a consequence of the US assault, both directly as casualties of the aerial bombing campaign and indirectly in the humanitarian crisis that ensued. By 2021, the Associated Press were reporting that 47,245 civilians had perished because of the occupation. Afghan civil rights activists gave a higher total, insisting that 100,000 Afghans (many of them non-combatants) had died, and three times that number had been wounded.

    In 2019, the Washington Post published a 2,000-page internal report commissioned by the US federal government to anatomise the failures of its longest war: ‘The Afghanistan Papers’. It was based on a series of interviews with US Generals (retired and serving), political advisers, diplomats, aid workers and so on. Their combined assessment was damning. General Douglas Lute, the ‘Afghan war czar’ under Bush and Obama, confessed that ‘We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing…We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we’re undertaking…If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction.’ Another witness, Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy Seal and a White House staffer under Bush and Obama, highlighted the vast waste of resources: ‘What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion? … After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.’ He could have added: ‘And we still lost’.

    Who was the enemy? The Taliban, Pakistan, all Afghans? A long-serving US soldier was convinced that at least one-third of Afghan police were addicted to drugs and another sizeable chunk were Taliban supporters. This posed a major problem for US soldiers, as an unnamed Special Forces honcho testified in 2017: ‘They thought I was going to come to them with a map to show them where the good guys and bad guys live…It took several conversations for them to understand that I did not have that information in my hands. At first, they just kept asking: “But who are the bad guys, where are they?”’.

    Donald Rumsfeld expressed the same sentiment back in 2003. ‘I have no visibility into who the bad guys are in Afghanistan or Iraq’, he wrote. ‘I read all the intel from the community, and it sounds as though we know a great deal, but in fact, when you push at it, you find out we haven’t got anything that is actionable. We are woefully deficient in human intelligence.’ The inability to distinguish between a friend and an enemy is a serious issue – not just on a Schmittean level, but on a practical one. If you can’t tell the difference between allies and adversaries after an IED attack in a crowded city market, you respond by lashing out at everyone, and create more enemies in the process.

    Colonel Christopher Kolenda, an adviser to three serving Generals, pointed to another problem with the US mission. Corruption was rampant from the beginning, he said; the Karzai government was ‘self-organised into a kleptocracy.’ That undermined the post-2002 strategy of building a state that could outlast the occupation. ‘Petty corruption is like skin cancer, there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine. Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably okay. Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.’ Of course, the Pakistani state – where kleptocracy is embedded at every level – has survived for decades. But things weren’t so easy in Afghanistan, where nation-building efforts were led by an occupying army and the central government had scant popular support.

    What of the fake reports that the Taliban were routed, never to return? A senior figure in the National Security Council reflected on the lies broadcast by his colleagues: ‘It was their explanations. For example, [Taliban] attacks are getting worse? “That’s because there are more targets for them to fire at, so more attacks are a false indicator of instability.” Then, three months later, attacks are still getting worse? “It’s because the Taliban are getting desperate, so it’s actually an indicator that we’re winning”…And this went on and on for two reasons, to make everyone involved look good, and to make it look like the troops and resources were having the kind of effect where removing them would cause the country to deteriorate.’

    All this was an open secret in the chanceries and defence ministries of NATO Europe. In October 2014, the British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon admitted that ‘Mistakes were made militarily, mistakes were made by the politicians at the time and this goes back 10, 13 years…We’re not going to send combat troops back into Afghanistan, under any circumstances.’ Four years later, Prime Minister Theresa May redeployed British troops to Afghanistan, doubling its fighters ‘to help tackle the fragile security situation’. Now the UK media is echoing the Foreign Office and criticising Biden for having made the wrong move at the wrong time, with the head of the British armed forces Sir Nick Carter suggesting a new invasion might be necessary. Tory backbenchers, colonial nostalgists, stooge-journalists and Blair-toadies are lining up to call for a permanent British presence in the war-torn state.

    What’s astonishing is that neither General Carter nor his relays appear to have acknowledged the scale of the crisis confronted by the US war machine, as set out in ‘The Afghanistan Papers’. While American military planners have slowly woken up to reality, their British counterparts still cling to a fantasy image of Afghanistan. Some argue that the withdrawal will put Europe’s security at risk, as al-Qaeda regroups under the new Islamic Emirate. But these forecasts are disingenuous. The US and UK have spent years arming and assisting al-Qaeda in Syria, as they did in Bosnia and in Libya. Such fearmongering can only function in a swamp of ignorance. For the British public, at least, it does not seem to have cut through. History sometimes presses urgent truths on a country through a vivid demonstration of facts or an exposure of elites. The current withdrawal is likely to be one such moment. Britons, already hostile to the War on Terror, could harden in their opposition to future military conquests.

    What does the future hold? Replicating the model developed for Iraq and Syria, the US has announced a permanent special military unit, staffed by 2,500 troops, to be stationed at a Kuwaiti base, ready to fly to Afghanistan and bomb, kill and maim should it become necessary. Meanwhile, a high-powered Taliban delegation visited China last July, pledging that their country would never again be used as a launch pad for attacks on other states. Cordial discussions were held with the Chinese Foreign Minister, reportedly covering trade and economic ties. The summit recalled similar meetings between Afghan mujahideen and Western leaders during the 1980s: the former appearing with their Wahhabi costumes and regulation beard-cuts against the spectacular backdrop of the White House or 10 Downing Street. But now, with NATO in retreat, the key players are China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan (which has undoubtedly provided strategic assistance to the Taliban, and for whom this is a huge politico-military triumph). None of them wants a new civil war, in polar contrast to the US and its allies after the Soviet withdrawal. China’s close relations with Tehran and Moscow might enable it to work towards securing some fragile peace for the citizens of this traumatised country, aided by continuing Russian influence in the north.

    Much emphasis has been placed on the average age in Afghanistan: 18, in a population of 40 million. On its own this means nothing. But there is hope that young Afghans will strive for a better life after the forty-year conflict. For Afghan women the struggle is by no means over, even if only a single enemy remains. In Britain and elsewhere, all those who want to fight on must shift their focus to the refugees who will soon be knocking on NATO’s door. At the very least, refuge is what the West owes them: a minor reparation for an unnecessary war.

    Read on: Tariq Ali, ‘Mirage of the Good War’, NLR 50.

  3. IPAN: The U.S. and Australian invasion of Afghanistan an unmitigated disaster says:

    From: Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN)

    Recent events in Afghanistan show the need for a peaceful and independent foreign policy.

    Continuing the ANZUS alliance with the United States must now be seriously questioned.

    The Australian Government must at the very least offer refuge to people from Afghanistan after twenty years of bloodshed.

    The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) reiterates the call made two decades ago in 2001 by millions of people around the world and here in Australia: war is not the answer and will only lead to devastation.

    Invoking the ANZUS Treaty in the wake of the September 11 attacks, former Prime Minister John Howard took Australia into a bloody and disastrous war in Afghanistan without a vote from Parliament.

    Twenty years of the disastrous war in Afghanistan has led to:
    41 Australian soldiers killed
    261 Australian soldiers wounded
    Over 500 soldiers committing suicide
    Over $9 billion in wasted public funds
    Over 47,000 innocent people from Afghanistan killed (at a conservative estimate)
    Millions of people from Afghanistan displaced

    IPAN calls of Australia to pursue an independent and peaceful foreign policy to prevent the travesty that was the invasion of Afghanistan from repeating.

    IPAN spokesperson, Bevan Ramsden said:

    “IPAN calls on the Government to pursue an independent and peaceful foreign policy, especially following the recent events in Afghanistan.”

    “While Australia cannot undo the 20 years of war it was a part of, it can immediately increase and expedite its humanitarian visa intake to the tens of thousands of people fleeing the country, especially, women, Hazaras, Sikhs, Hindus, Shias, members of LGBT community and members of civil society.”

    “It is time our political leaders learned the lessons of history, time to re-examine the ANZUS Treaty that drew us into this war. We must evaluate the costs and consequences of this alliance and question whether its continuance is in the best interests of security and peace for the Australian people.”

    “After a generation of violence, the Taliban have returned to power in Afghanistan. This conflict is a sobering reminder of the futility of war.”

    IPAN Media Liaison: 0428 973 324 or

  4. Dutton's lies says:

    From a report on SBS 18 Aug 2021 5pm

    On refugees
    “There are others in Europe that make these commitments (to accept refugees) and don’t follow through with it,” Dutton told ABC News on Wednesday afternoon (18 Aug).

    Mr Dutton said there are concerns around security threats and that all applications for Australia’s humanitarian program would be carefully scrutinised.

    “If you are going to take 20,000 people that you don’t have security checks on, then I wouldn’t recommend that. I don’t believe that is in our country’s best interests,” he said.

    He said more evacuation flights out of Kabul are planned (the first just flew to Oman), but that the number of people on board would be affected by weather and the ability of people to get to the airport. (Weather is fine and quite normal)

    “The reality will be the circumstances on the ground, whether people can get through roadblocks, get into the airport terminal, whether they can present themselves to the airport. (Why doesn’t Dutton negotiate safe passage with the Taliban?)

    “There’s ([also] bad weather that is forecast over a 3-4 day period, which may make flights in and out impossible.” (Rubbish, weather is ok .. see map). Why does SBS print these lies?
    Evacuation from Kabul

  5. Difficult to govern ... says:

    It is curious and troubling that Western Media are still portraying the Taliban as a monolithic political organisation.

    The United States freezes all Afghan monetary reserves.
    “Most of the Afghan central bank’s reserves are frozen at the Federal Reserve. And the International Monetary Fund will block more than $400 million in aid.” – New York Times.

    Purveyor of lies and misinformation
    Meanwhile the Australian Broadcasting Commission seeks its ‘news’ on the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan from that impeccable purveyor of lies and misinformation, the Voice of America:

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