Spearhead Analysis – 21.03.2019
By Fatima Ayub
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
As the so-called ‘War on Terror’ enters its 18th year, a new revelation by a Danish journalist questioning the effectiveness of the intelligence apparatus behind the grueling war has thrown the proponents of the War in complete disarray.
It appears the Taliban’s Supreme leader Mullah Omar spent the last years of his life in southern Afghanistan’s Zabul province – just a few miles away from a US military base. According to new research by Dutch journalist Bette Dam who interviewed the Taliban leader’s longtime bodyguard, Jabbari, Mullah Omar started to live ascetically and in isolation shortly after the US-led invasion began. But his location, in plain sight and a few km shy of the Zabul US military base, remained a shy secret that no US intelligence could crack.
The book that has gained controversial global traction because of its ground-breaking claims further exposes the breakdown of US Intelligence along with Mullah Omar’s distrust of Pakistan, resulting from the latter’s siding with USA in the Global War on Terror.
For Pakistan and many others who have been at the receiving end of the indignant US call for ‘do more’ over the past decade, the idea that one of the world’s most wanted masterminds outmaneuvered and brought the world’s greatest, most technologically advanced, military force to its knees, is a situation dripping in irony.
Americans and Afghans officials have long beaten the drum of “how could Bin Laden live near Abbotabad military academy without the Pakistan army knowing”. In the same vein, Afghanistan and the US regularly claimed that the Omar, the Taliban supreme leader left Afghanistan after the US-led invasion and took sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. Following Dam’s publication of the tell-all book, a former chief of the Afghan intelligence service NDS, described the report as a “manipulative piece of propaganda” and claimed to have “piles of hard evidence which shows that he [Omar] never stepped into Afghanistan after escaping to Pakistan.”
Unsurprisingly, Dam’s findings have thrown the carefully constructed US-Afghan narrative in disarray. She writes, “After 2001, Mullah Omar never stepped foot in Pakistan, instead opting to hide in his native land— and for eight years, lived just a few miles from a major U.S. Forward Operating Base that housed thousands of soldiers. This finding, corroborated by the Taliban and Afghan officials, suggests a staggering U.S. intelligence failure, and casts even further doubt on America’s claims about the Afghan war. Mullah Omar refused to go to Pakistan because of his deep-seated mistrust of that country, and his involvement in the insurgency was minimal.”
This new revelation has also opened up the pandoras box on the alleged US success in the War on Terror and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost at the cost of attempting to win the insurmountable war, that has been used as a pawn to extract from the American taxpayers upwards of $100 billion each year, under the guise of ‘global security.’ The book also shed light on the infamous “Shah Wali Kot Agreement” struck between the Taliban and Hamid Karzai after the US invasion in 2001, and the consequent immediate hand over of Taliban leadership by Mullah Omar to Mullah Obaidullah. It was agreed that Under Obaidullah, the Taliban were to surrender and retire from the war. However, the US administration, which considered the Afghan Taliban a serious threat, managed to block Karzai’s attempts to reconcile with the Taliban. Close to two decades and four US administrations later, it is powerfully ironic that the USA is today relying on Pakistan to help it kickstart talks between the Kabul government and the vociferously hostile Taliban leadership to come to a power-sharing solution, as it looks to silently exit it’s resources from the seemingly unsolvable Afghan quagmire.
The tale of Mullah Omar is perhaps then emblematic of the total failure of the Afghan war. Like many other militant leaders, like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Ayman al Zawahiri, Omar was “killed” a couple of times before he was found to be alive again. Past US administrations have long blown the trumpet of victory before victory was even closely imminent. In 2002, a year after his famed declaration of all-out war, President George W. Bush announced that the terrorist group had been “defeated.” In 2004, the commander-in-chief reported that the Taliban was “no longer in existence.” Yet, somehow, they were. By 2011, Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of US forces in Afghanistan, claimed that his troops had “reversed the momentum of the Taliban.” Two years later, then-commander Gen. Joseph Dunford spoke of “the inevitability of our (US) success” there.
It is a testimony to the resilience of the Taliban that they outwitted US drone operations time and time again – both Haqqani and Omar died natural deaths while Zawahiri is still assumed to be alive. It is unfortunate that the question of who has been killed in the countless CIA drone operation, in the place of these individuals is rarely asked. Any casualties are surmised as ‘collateral damage” and to date, the 507,000 people killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are remembered – unnamed – under the looming shadow of the War.
As the American military presence in Afghanistan continues in its 18th year, it is perhaps befitting that the legitimacy of US actions under the so-called ‘War on Terror’ be questioned on account of its massive intelligence failures. The Taliban today contest control of about 44 percent of that country, while Afghan government control and influence over districts had declined by about 16 percent. Mullah Omar as it appears died a natural death in 2013 in Afghanistan. But six years after Omar’s death, the Taliban today negotiate with the Americans on an equal footing.
If the US is still hell-bent in claiming its ‘victory’ in the War on Terror, then perhaps the incumbent US President Donald Trump’s open-ended, timetable-free “Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia” may prove offer a good description of what amounts to ‘victory’ for America today. As he described it in 2017:
From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.
Victory’s definition begins with “attacking our enemies” and ends with the prevention of possible terror attacks. As US journalist Nick Turse pointedly noted – “Victory” today is defined as “attacking our enemies.”
Thus, under President Trump’s Afghanistan strategy, or even within North Africa or the Middle East, it appears that every time the US bombs any supposed ‘terrorist’ presence in these conflict regions, the United States is winning or, perhaps, has won the war against terror.
As a result, a conventional army—at least the US military—now loses only if it stops fighting. The bar for victory then for the West has undoubtedly been lowered and by this standard perhaps, the US has and will continue to write itself the victor in its military history.
The new and questionable US-set rules of contemporary warfare aside, it is only fair that the same question that was asked of Pakistan post-OBL now be asked of the US and Afghan intelligence agencies – that negligence by any state’s intelligence be looked at as complicity in harboring the ‘enemy.’ And to demand similarly that complicity be punished and the ‘do more’ rhetoric to be applicable to the entire global community – specially to serve as a reality check to those that flout a self-proclaimed claim to Victory.