Why could US pull back from Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, but not Russia and Israel First Post 17 Jan 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar



Why could US pull back from Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, but not Russia and Israel First Post 17 Jan 2024

          When Putin launched his ‘special military operation’ into Ukraine, his stated end goals were to ‘forestall Kiev’s punitive action’ against Ukraine’s Russian speaking Donbass region as also ensuring that it remains neutral, does not join NATO, thereby providing a base for the US. Once Russia had pushed through enough, created the requisite buffer zone, it was willing for talks to end the conflict. It was here that the west, with an anti-Russia intent, determined that the war would continue and Ukraine would become its frontline state.

          The west jumped in to support Ukraine, with a strategy to draw Russia into a second Afghanistan. It had hoped that with western funding and military equipment, alongside sanctions imposed, the Russian economy would collapse and the threat to Europe could be history. Thus, they discouraged Zelensky from negotiating with Mocow under Turkey’s mediation. At the end of the day, the Ukrainian economy has contracted almost 40%, despite western aid, while the Russians only 2.5-3%, against all global forecasts. The war continues with neither side achieving its envisaged goals.

          The US invaded Afghanistan post 9/11 attacks on its soil. It invoked Article 5 of NATO, thereby drawing in other members of the organization into the war. It had stated that its intent was to destroy Al Qaeda, post the Taliban refusing to hand over Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the terrorist strike. At the height of the conflict there were over 125,000 NATO troops in the country. It even attempted to impose its version of democracy in Afghanistan, but failed. Twenty years later the US withdrew in haste and the same Taliban they had overthrown are now back in power.

          In Mar 2003, the US invaded Iraq with the stated intent of destroying ‘WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction)’ suspected to being in possession of Iraq dictator, Saddam Hussein, as also his ouster. Saddam was captured, tried and hanged. However, no WMDs were discovered. Evidently, WMDs were not the goal but to gain control of Iraq’s oil reserves.

The US enforced elections in Iraq, attempting to bring about democracy which largely failed. The rise of ISIS and pro-Iran terrorist groups has ensured Iraq remains fragile and unstable. Over a million people have died due to the war and terrorist strikes since the US invaded the country, exact figures would remain a mystery. Instability has made the region ripe for expansion by terrorist groups.

The NATO invasion into Libya, an oil rich country, in 2011, was intended to protect civilians, after Gaddafi displayed determination in crushing the Arab Spring revolt which could overthrow him. Gaddafi was ousted, captured and killed. Libya descended into chaos.

Libya has been in a state of civil war since 2014, with rival factions supported by powerful states. There are millions of refugees and acute shortages of basic necessities in a country which had once boasted of the highest standards of living in Africa. Libya has become the entry point for illegal migration to Europe. The US has admitted that its actions in Libya were an error but the damage has been done.  

Israel entered into a war with Hamas in Gaza out of sentimentality, post the attacks of 07 Oct, with an unattainable aim of wiping out Hamas. The region has been devastated and population faces unending hardships. The region was largely ignored by the world as also closely monitored by Tel Aviv.  

There is no doubt that Gazans were aware of Hamas preparing for an Israeli strike as the tunnels, where its fighters lived and stored weapons, were built with public knowledge and resources. They maintained silence either due to fear or complicity. Destruction due to the war has been severe and loss of lives unprecedented. At the end of the day, Israel will win the battle, eliminate key Hamas functionaries, arrest thousands more but will end up giving the ideology of Hamas a boost. The next generation of Hamas leaders would emerge.

As the US was compelled to do in Afghanistan and Iraq, Israel will have to continue to maintain its forces to administer Gaza. It will remain responsible for catering to the needs of the population as also reconstruction of the region. How much global aid would flow for reconstruction is currently unknown. As an occupier Israel will face the wrath of Gazans. When and under which conditions will Israel finally feel secure remains a million-dollar question. Israel’s intent, actions, logic for commencing the conflict and planned end state would be debated with time.

Over the years, powerful nations with strong militaries have entered into conflict with weaker nations, without having logical and attainable end states. This is because they have believed in the dominance of military power as the solution to problems. In Afghanistan, the US felt it had achieved its aim and diverted attention to Iraq, reducing its strength to around 15,000 troops. This opened doors for the resurgence of the Taliban, post which it never looked back.

The damage caused to stable nations, Iraq and Libya, by ill-planned western intervention, has been immense. The region remains amongst the world’s most volatile. The US, which led operations into these countries, attempted to enforce its concept of democracy in regions unprepared for it. When it failed, it either pulled out, as in most cases, or continued to maintain a military presence, as in Iraq, leaving the region largely instable.

In Ukraine, all involved in the conflict, Russia, Ukraine and the west led by the US had different end states in mind, none of which were attainable. The war is shortly entering its third year with no end in sight. Strategic planners in involved nations never considered all options and likely long-term scenarios prior to launching operations. At the end of the day innocents would suffer while those behind the war would be safe and immune.

Nations, which intervened in countries distant always have the option of withdrawing from the conflict, with no serious impact. Nations engaging in war in their neighbourhood do not possess such options. Thus, while the US could pull back from Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, Russia and Israel will be compelled to remain in situ, despite their objectives being partially met. These wars would be more difficult to conclude.