Will Afghanistan regain its former status?

Recently, US President Biden officially announced that he will withdraw troops from Afghanistan before May 1, 2021, and withdraw all American soldiers before September 11. The longest war in American history is expected to end at the special node of the 20th anniversary of the “September 11” terrorist attack.

Of course, after the United States proposes to completely withdraw from Afghanistan, the biggest question is whether Afghanistan will become the same Afghanistan again? People still clearly remember that after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan for 10 years, it finally withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Since then, Afghanistan has been in a state of warlord melee. The Taliban rose rapidly in 1994 and captured the capital Kabul within two years.

The situation now is no better than when the Soviet Union left. The Taliban control most of the territory of Afghanistan, and government forces and pro-government militias can only control the city and part of the traffic arteries. There are many factions in the Afghan government, and officials are generally corrupt and inefficient. Not only is the morale of the Afghan army low, there are also a large number of pro-Taliban undercover agents and informants. The United States, including the United States, is well aware that if all US troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, it is possible to repeat the scene after the Soviet withdrawal. So will this situation happen in the end?

Although the situation today is quite similar to when the Soviet army withdrew, we must have an updated understanding of the general situation of Afghanistan, that is, this country is undergoing an urbanization movement. United Nations data shows that from the time the U.S. military defeated the Taliban in 2001 to 2019, the urban population of Afghanistan has increased from two million before the war to more than six million, accounting for one-fifth of the total population. The population of the capital Kabul has reached more than 3.2 million, and the population of Kabul before the war was only about 1 million (Afghanistan has a long-term lack of demographic data, and the numbers are not accurate).

Compared with other countries in the same period, the process of urbanization in Afghanistan is quite fast. This is of course due to the influx of international aid, and urbanization has also profoundly affected the development of the security situation in Afghanistan. Several important results of urbanization include the emergence of more educated people, more job opportunities and business possibilities, and more accurate demographics. The development of the urban economy and population is probably the only right thing the US military did after the occupation of Afghanistan, because it is equivalent to weakening the foundation of the Taliban.

Why do you say that? A ruling advantage brought about by urbanization is actually the reduction in management and control costs, because the city is characterized by a denser population. The police and the army only need to control the main roads in and out of the city and set up checkpoints at important crossings to completely control it. City, and it is difficult for the opponent to secretly gather forces to attack strongholds in the city. In a mountainous country like Afghanistan, once you leave the city, guerrilla organizations like the Taliban will have a lot of room for activity, and the cost of controlling the countryside is much higher than controlling the city, because you need to put a lot of troops on a day without seeing a single person. And must ensure that they can continue to receive supplies and ammunition.

After the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, the biggest mistake is to try to control the entire Afghanistan, and the cost-benefit ratio of this control is very poor. Last year, there was an Afghan war film “Outpost” adapted from a real battle. The plot tells the story of a US frontline post that was suddenly besieged by the Taliban. This post was located at the bottom of the mountain and was attacked by fire from the commanding heights from all directions. . In a real battle, the U.S. military did set up an outpost like this. Although setting up an outpost at the bottom of the valley violates military common sense, the U.S. military wanted to control the road from Afghanistan to Pakistan at the time, and the location at the bottom of the valley happened to be at the junction of the two main roads. It is believed that a checkpoint must be set up here to block the passage of the Taliban into Pakistan. Of course, this setting turned out to be a stupid idea in the end, because the outposts at the bottom of the valley were difficult to hold. Although the US military had strong air support, it could not withstand the casualties caused by continuous attacks. However, what will happen if this post is abandoned? The result is nothing more than activities organized by Taliban in surrounding villages. In short, in order to control the rural areas of Afghanistan, the United States has spent huge costs but achieved little success. The Taliban still control the rural areas. However, the urbanization process is weakening the foundation of the Taliban’s control, because more rural laborers want to go to cities for development, which is a common phenomenon in the process of urbanization all over the world.

The Barakchai dynasty of Afghanistan from 1836 to 1973 adopted a rule of population control rather than geographic control, which was to control only the cities and towns of Afghanistan without participating in rural governance, or even directly levying taxes on the rural areas. If there are forces against the dynasty in rural areas, they will be suppressed or even massacred. This kind of retaliation is very cruel and bloody. This kind of governance method based on controlling the city is actually a product of the cost-benefit balance of the feudal dynasty era.

So back to the question at the beginning, will Afghanistan become the same Afghanistan again? Considering that the success of the Taliban is actually mainly based on the countryside, it is still difficult to capture the main cities of Afghanistan so far, and this is not just because the US military is still there. The air power and heavy weapons of the Afghan government forces can effectively deter large-scale offensives. Even if the U.S. forces fully retreat, they can still rely on surrounding bases to provide certain air support and intelligence support. What’s more, there are still a large number of paramilitary organizations such as military contractors in Afghanistan assisting government forces.

Take the Burmese army’s response to ethnic local armed forces as an example. Although local armed forces have high morale and good training, it is still difficult to capture government-controlled towns and can only engage in guerrilla warfare with government forces in the countryside and mountains. From the experience of the Burmese army, it can be seen that there is a great possibility that government forces with international support will keep the city. Even in Iraq, where the situation is even worse, government forces managed to keep Baghdad under the powerful attack of the Islamic State organization.

After all, one-fifth of Afghanistan’s population now lives in cities, and half of them live in the capital, Kandahar. These populations can provide government forces with enough soldiers to continue to fight the Taliban, and the last time the Taliban swept Afghanistan, the country’s urban population was less than one-tenth. This may be the biggest difference between this U.S. withdrawal and the last Soviet withdrawal.