The international Dimensions of US Withdrawal from Afghanistan: The Cases of US Betrayals

Nadum Jawad

Considering the successive fall of the provincial capitals to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and in response to repeated questions by the media, President Biden stated that the people of Afghanistan and its army should take the lead in fighting the militant group.  Sound familiar?  This is strikingly like what President George Bush stated after deafening Iraq in 1991, by saying “the Iraqi military and Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.” Both Iraqi Shias in southern Iraq and Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq heard this and tried to do exactly that.  We know now what the outcome was as the remnant of Saddam’s army ruthlessly crushed the revolt right under the nose of the Americans who stood by watching.


This is not the first time America abandoned Afghanistan to its faith.  During the 1980 and after the Soviet invasion of the country, the Americans ceased this “opportunity” to bleed the Soviet Union to death and once that was done, the Americans abandoned the country to competing clans and the country became a breeding ground to the most ardent militants who took it on themselves to destroy the rest of the country.  That competition, as we know, ended in 1996 when the Talban entered Kabul and took over the country.


The American abandonment of their allies in Kabul sometimes took a sadingly “funny” picture.  The BBC reported on July 6 that the the US military left Bigram Airfield – its key base in Afghanistan – in the dead of night without notifying the Afghans, the base’s new commander said. General Asadullah Kohistani told the BBC that the US left Bagram at 03:00 local time on Friday, and that the Afghan military found out hours later.  Bagram also contains a prison, and there are reportedly up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners left in the facility. No doubt those prisoners will join the advancing Taliban forces later.


With abandoning the country altogether, the Americans are also abandoning those Afghans who worked with them during the past twenty years and now find themselves in a dire situation as the Taliban advances in all directions.  This in no doubt brings the memory of the chaotic American evacuation from Saigon and the thousands of South Vietnamese who stormed the embassy in a desperate attempt to flee the country with the Americans.

Evacuation of the American Embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam, April 30, 1975


The Vietnam War was a conflict in VietnamLaos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975 (Logevall, Fredrik (1993). “The Swedish-American Conflict over Vietnam”. Diplomatic History. 17 (3): 421–445. Retrieved 29 July2021)  North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet UnionChina,[16] and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United StatesSouth Korea, the PhilippinesAustraliaThailand, and other anti-communist allies (Friedman, Herbert. “Allies of the Republic of Vietnam”. Retrieved 1 May 2019.)   The war, considered a Cold War-era proxy war lasted 19 years, with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, which ended with all three countries becoming communist in 1975.


According to “US Wings” website which specializes in the Vietnam war statistics, 9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the official Vietnam era from August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975.  It also stated that 2,709,918 Americans served in uniform in Vietnam.  As for losses, 58,148 were killed in Vietnam, 75,000 severely disabled, 23,214 were 100% disabled, 5,283 lost limbs and 1,081 sustained multiple amputations.


As the war dragged on, the American strategy was to strengthen the Army of South Vietnam with massive American support to be on an equal footing with the North Vietnamese army, and hence, it could defend South Vietnam on its own again the North (similar strategy adapted later in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban.)  This was the intention of Richard Nixon when he ran for president in 1968 with his famous campaign slogan of “No more Vietnam”, which turned out to be a strategy to end the direct American involvement while the Vietnamese themselves fight it on, in what was later termed as the Vietnamization of the conflict (No More Vietnam, Richard Nixon, Simon & Schuster, 2013) (like what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) as it was called were the ground forces of the South Vietnamese military till the Fall of Saigon in April 1975.[2] It is estimated to have suffered 1,394,000 casualties (killed and wounded) during the Vietnam War.[3]  During the American intervention, the ARVN was reduced to playing a defensive role with an incomplete modernisation, [4] and transformed again following Vietnamization; it was upgraded, expanded, and reconstructed to fulfill the role of the departing American forces. By 1974, it had become much more effective with foremost counterinsurgency expert and Nixon adviser Robert Thompson noting that Regular Forces were very well-trained and second only to the American and Israeli forces with General Creighton Abrams remarking that 70% of units were on par with the US Army.[6] However, the withdrawal of American forces by Vietnamization meant the armed forces could not effectively fulfill all of the aims of the program and had become completely dependent on U.S. equipment since it was meant to fulfill the departing role of the United States (again similar to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.)[7]

Of course, President Biden promised that there will be no repeat of such scenario at the American embassy in Kabul and ordered the deployment of more than 4000 American marines for an orderly evacuation of American diplomats and their families.  But that remains to be seen.  It is important to note that those South Vietnamese, who could not flee the country with the Americans, were the subject of ruthless campaign by the communists.  Many, however, fled anyway the cold, mostly by sea in miserable conditions and were termed as the “boat people.”  According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (1995): “Refugee Mother and Child” Monument, Preston Street at Somerset.)



The model of abandonment of the government in Kabul by the Americans begs the question of whether they will do the same in abandoning their Iraqi allies in Baghdad.  Of course, Iraq is not Afghanistan and the American relationship with its government is much more complex, but the possibility still exists considering the deep problems successive Iraqi governments since the America-lead invasion find itself in coupled with the consensus among most Iraqis that the invasion was an utter failure manifested by the lack of jobs, electricity, security, etc.


As it stands, Iraq has a strategic Framework Agreement with the United States, aimed at ensuring international cooperation including minority ethnicity, gender, and belief interests and other constitutional rights; threat deterrence; exchange students; education; and cooperation in the areas of energy development, environmental hygiene, health care, information technology, communications, and law enforcement. 


There are currently 2,500 US troops in Iraq helping local forces counter what remains of the Islamic State group.  President Joe Biden said that the US forces will end their combat mission in Iraq by the end of this year but will continue to train and advise the Iraqi military.  The announcement came after Biden held talks recently with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House (Statement by White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki on the Visit of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi of Iraq, July 16, 2021.)


Numbers of US troops are likely to stay the same, but the move is being seen as an attempt to help the Iraqi PM who is highly unpopular and viewed by many Iraqis as an American stooge.  It is also an attempt to bolster his image in the upcoming elections scheduled for later this year.


The US presence in Iraq has become a major issue since top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the leader of an Iran-backed Shia Muslim militia were killed in a US drone strike in the capital Baghdad last year.  It is important to note that in the aftermath of this incident, the Iraqi parliament passed a law demanding all American troops to leave Iraq.


Political parties aligned to Iran have demanded the withdrawal of all forces from the US-led global coalition against IS, despite the continuing threat posed by the Sunni jihadist group.


There is a huge controversy with regards to possible scenarios in Iraqi-USA relations.  We argue in this article that taking into considerations former US practices of abandoning its proxies from states and groups we believe the USA may abandoned Iraq into a more defensible boarders in the autonomous Kurdish region to the north or leave the country altogether.   To demonstrate this view, we look at several case studies such as the Hmong in Laos and the Kurds in the Middle East, among others.

The Hmong in Laos

The Hmong people are an ethnic group living mainly in southern China, LaosThailand, and Myanmar. They are estimated to be about 600000 in Laos.

Hmong tribesmen

During the Vietnam War, about 35,000 Hmong were recruited for the war effort. About 30,000 of them were key in thwarting attempts by the Vietnamese army to make major inroads into northern Laos and slowing the movement of supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  As many as 20,000 Hmong soldiers died during the Vietnam War.

In the late 1960s, when the Vietnam War spread into Laos, the United States recruited the Hmong to fight against communism. Wanting to hold on to their land and the independence they had maintained for thousands of years, the Hmong saw communism as a threat to their autonomy (Mark Moyar, Wall Street Journal, Jan 20, 2017)

Hmong were called “damned good fighters” by the CIA. They fought bravely against some of the toughest North Vietnamese and Lao troops for 13 years and suffered from casualty rate five times higher than the rate experienced by U.S. soldiers.

Hmong recruited by the CIA to fight on behalf of a pro-American government during the Vietnam War were all but abandoned in Laos after their communist enemies won a long civil war and began single-party rule in Laos.


In his book “A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA” Joshua Kurlantzick, illustrates the tragic end of the Hmong fighting along the Americans and how they were abandoned to their faith.


One hundred and fifty thousand Hmong have fled Laos since their country fell to communist forces in 1975. Displaced from their villages, which were either bombed out or burned by the North Vietnamese and the new Lao communist regime, many Hmong became refugees in their own country (Several sources, example “Hmong Timeline, Minnesota Historical Society”)

The Kurds

The Kurds are an ethnic group of about 40 million people centered at the intersection of Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Many naturally want their own state. The four countries in which they live naturally do not want that to happen.

Historian who are specialized in this part of the world, estimate that the U.S. has now betrayed the Kurds a minimum of eight times over the past 100 years.

With regards to Iraq, our focus in this case study, the Kurds had their fair share of abandonment by the Americans, most famous of which was in 1975.

This is an original press photo. Kurdish refugees line street in northern Iraqi town of Halabcha after surrendering to Iraqi forces taking over the last rebel enclaves adjoining Iran. Iraq. Photo is dated 04-03-1975

Backgrounds:  by the 1970s, the Iraqi government had drifted into the orbit of the Soviet Union. The Nixon administration, led by Henry Kissinger, hatched a plan with Iran (then our ally, ruled by the Shah) to arm Iraqi Kurds.

The plan wasn’t for the Kurds in Iraq to win, since that might encourage the Kurds in Iran to rise up them. It was just to bleed the Iraqi government. But as a congressional report later put it, “This policy was not imparted to our clients, who were encouraged to continue fighting. Even in the context of covert action ours was a cynical enterprise.” (See KISSINGER LEFT KURDS IN LURCH, PIKE REPORT SAYS … › news › fl-xpm-1991-04 …Apr. 14, 1991)

The Shah of Iran with the US secretary of States Henry Kissinger


Then the U.S. signed off on agreements between the Shah and Saddam that included severing aid to the Kurds. The Iraqi military moved north and slaughtered thousands, as the U.S. ignored heart-rending pleas from “our erstwhile Kurdish allies. When questioned, a blasé Kissinger explained that “covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”(See. Eight Times the U.S. Has Betrayed the Kurds – The Intercept › 2019/10/07 › kurds-syria-tur…Oct. 7, 2019)

As a result, the Iraqi government extended its control over the Iraqi Kurdistan after fifteen years and in order to secure its influence, started an Arabization program by moving Arabs to the vicinity of oil fields in northern Iraq, particularly the ones around Kirkuk.[9] The repressive measures carried out by the government against the Kurds after the Algiers agreement led to renewed clashes between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish guerrillas in 1977. In 1978 and 1979, 600 Kurdish villages were burned down and around 200,000 Kurds were deported to other parts of the country (Farouk-Sluglett, M.; Sluglett, P.; Stork, J. (July–September 1984). “Not Quite Armageddon: Impact of the War on Iraq”. MERIP Reports: 24.)


During the Anfal Campaign in1980s, the Iraqi government moved on to actual genocide against the Kurds, including the use of chemical weapons. The Reagan administration was well aware of Saddam’s use of nerve gas, but because they liked the damage Saddam was doing to Iran, it opposed congressional efforts to impose sanctions on Iraq. The U.S. media also faithfully played its role. When a Washington Post reporter tried to get the paper to publish a photograph of a Kurd killed by chemical weapons, his editor responded, “Who will care?” (No More War: How the West Violates International Law by”. HTTPs:// › books .Dan Kovalik · 2020.)

Kurdish refugees struggle to survive in camp sites along the Turkey-Iraq border, 1991

The Kurdish revolt of 1991


As the conflict in Afghanistan unfolds and the Taliban’s victory is all but completed, we strived to draw some possible future scenarios which can take place in Iraq in case the situation becomes more dire.  We have seen repeatedly the miscalculations the Americans have committed.  These events take surprisingly an identical pattern, step in via an invasion, arm groups or states to teeth at an enormous cost, and flee4 the country when things get out of control, and in due process, leave the thousands of “friends and allies” to their faith.

In Iraq, should such a scenario take place and the Americans, say, take more defensible borders in the Kurdish Region in the North, two outcomes will happen.  First, all those Iraqis who welcomed and worked with the American forces will be facing their faith alone (as we saw above in the examples we listed), and the seconds, the Kurds (who undoubtedly welcome the American move to their region) will be having, yet again, a false sense of security, and undoubtedly, yet again, will set themselves for another betrayal.  This is a fact since (whether the Kurds or others understand it or not) America has it is own interests and that is the only driving force which leads its foreign policy.  Accordingly, this writer believes that Arabs and Kurds in Iraq should harmonize their efforts for a stable and prosperous country and not be used by the Americans (or anyone else for that matter) to achieve their goals and leave them for their faith when it suites them.  As I conclude this article, the news coming from Kabul this minute is that the Afghan President Ghani (who was up yesterday assure his people on national TV that the situation is under control) has fled the country, the American Embassy has been moved to the airport, American citizens in Afghanistan are encouraged to remain in hiding, and the thousands of Afghans who worked for the American are fleeing and hiding anyway they can.  So much for the 300,000 strong Afghan Army the Americans spend 20 years and countless billions building.  It simply evaporated


Madam Wad