The New Great Game 3.0 is just beginning with a hat tip to Tacitus and dancing to the Hindu Kush groove
By Pepe Escobar with permission from the author and first posted at Asia Times
One cannot but feel mildly amused at the theatrical spectacle of the US troop pullout from Afghanistan, its completion day now postponed for maximum PR impact to 9/11, 2021.
Nearly two decades and a staggering US$2 trillion after this Forever War was launched by a now immensely indebted empire, the debacle can certainly be interpreted as a warped version of Mission Accomplished.
“They make a desert and call it peace,” said Tacitus – but in all of the vastness of the Pentagon there sits not a single flack who could imagine getting away with baldfacedly spinning the Afghan wasteland as peaceful.
Even the UN bureaucratic machinery has not been able to properly account for Afghan civilian deaths; at best they settled for 100,000 in only ten years. Add to that toll countless “collateral” deaths provoked by the massive social and economic consequences of the war.
Training and weaponizing the – largely inefficient – 300,000-plus Afghan Army cost $87 billion. “Economic aid and reconstruction” cost $54 billion: literally invisible hospitals and schools dot the Afghan landscape. A local chapter of the “war on drugs” cost $10 billion – at least with (inverted) tangible results: Afghanistan now generates 80% of the world’s opium.
All these embarrassing facts disappear under the shadow play of 2,500 “official” departing troops. What really matters is who’s staying: by no means just a few out of some 17,000 “contractors,” over 6,000 of whom are American citizens.
“Contractor” is a lovely euphemism for a bunch of mercenaries who, perfectly in tune with a shadow privatization drive, will now mingle with Special Forces teams and covert intel ops to conduct a still lethal variation of hybrid war.
Of course this development won’t replicate those David Bowie-style Golden Years in the immediate post-9/11 era. Ten years ago, following the Obama-Petraeus surge, no fewer than 90,000 contractors were dancing to the Hindu Kush groove, lavishly compensated by the Pentagon and dabbling in everything from construction, transportation and maintenance to “enhanced interrogation services.”
Collectively, this shadow army, a triumph of private enterprise many times cheaper than the state-sponsored model, bagged at least $104 billion since 2002, and nearly $9 billion since 2016.
Now we’re supposed to trust CENTCOM commander General Kenneth McKenzie, who swears that “the U.S. contractors will come out as we come out.” Apparently the Pentagon press secretary was not briefed: “So on the contractors, we don’t know exactly.”
Some contractors are already in trouble, like Fluor Corporation, which is involved in maintenance and camp construction for no fewer than 70 Pentagon forward operating bases in northern Afghanistan. Incidentally, no Pentagon PR is explaining whether these FOBs will completely vanish.
Fluor was benefitting from something called LOGCAP – Logistics Civil Augmentation IV Program – a scheme set by the Pentagon at the start of Obama-Biden 1.0 to “outsource logistical military support.” Its initial five-year deal was worth a cool $7 billion. Now Fluor is being sued for fraud.
Enhancing stability forever
The current government in Kabul is led by a virtual nonentity, Ashraf Ghani. Like his sartorially glamorous predecessor Hamid Karzai, Ghani is a US creature, lording it over a rambling military force financed by Washington to the tune of $4 billion a year.
So of course Ghani is entitled to spin a rosy outlook for an Afghan peace process on the pages of Foreign Affairs.
It gets curioser and curioser when we add the incandescent issue that may have provoked the Forever War in the first place: al-Qaeda.
A “former security coordinator for Osama bin Laden” is now peddling the idea that al-Qaeda may be back in the Hindu Kush. Yet, according to Afghan diplomats, there is no evidence that the Taliban will allow old-school al-Qaeda – the Osama/al-Zawahiri incarnation – to thrive again.
That’s despite the fact that Washington, for all practical purposes, has ditched the Doha Agreement signed in February 2020, which stipulated that the troop pullout should have happened this past Saturday, May 1.
Of course, we can always count on the Pentagon to “enhance security and stability” in Afghanistan. In this Pentagon report we learn that “AQIS [al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent] routinely supports and works with low-level Taliban members in its efforts to undermine the Afghan government, and maintains an enduring interest in attacking US forces and Western targets.”
Well, what the Pentagon does not tell us is how old-school al-Qaeda, pre-AQIS, metastasized into a galaxy of “moderate rebels” now ensconced in Idlib, Syria. And how contingents of Salafi-jihadis were able to access mysterious transportation corridors to bolster the ranks of ISIS-Khorasan in Afghanistan.
The CIA heroin ratline
All you need to know, reported on the ground, about the crucial first years of the imperial adventure in Afghanistan is to be found in the Asia Times e-book Forever Wars, part 1.
Two decades later, the politico-intel combo behind Biden is now spinning that the end of this particular Forever War is an imperative, integrated to the latest US National Security Strategy.
Shadow play once again reigns. Withdrawal conditionals include the incompetence and corruption of the Afghan military and security forces; that notorious Taliban-al-Qaeda re-engagement; the fight for women’s rights; and acknowledging the supreme taboo: this ain’t no withdrawal because a substantial Special Forces contingent will stay in place.
In a nutshell: for the US deep state, leaving Afghanistan is anathema.
The real heart of the matter in Afghanistan concerns drugs and geopolitics – and their toxic intersection.
Everyone with transit in the Dubai-Kandahar axis and its ramifications knows that the global-spanned opium and heroin business is a matter very close to the CIA’s heart. Secure air transport is offered by bases in Afghanistan and neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
William Engdahl has offered a concise breakdown of how it works. In the immediate post-9/11 days, in Afghanistan, the main player in the opium trade was none other than Ahmed Wali Karzai, presidential brother and a CIA asset. I interviewed him in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital, in October 2001 (the interview can be found in Forever Wars). He obviously did not talk about opium.
Ahmed Karzai was snuffed out in a Mafia-style hit at home, in Helmand, in 2011. Helmand happens to be Afghanistan’s Opium Central. In 2017, following on previous investigations by Seymour Hersh and Alfred McCoy, among others, I detailed the workings of the CIA heroin ratline in Afghanistan.
New Great Game 3.0 is on
Whatever happens next will involve layers and layers of shadow play. CENTCOM’s McKenzie, at a closed-door hearing at the US House Armed Services Committee, basically said they are still “figuring out” what to do next.
That will certainly involve, in McKenzie’s own assessment, “counter-terrorism operations within the region”; “expeditionary basing” (linguistic diversion to imply there won’t be any permanent bases, at least in thesis); and “assistance” to Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (no details on what this “assistance” will consist of).
Now compare it with the view by major Eurasian powers: Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran, three of them members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with Iran as an observer and soon full member.
Their number one priority is to prevent any mutating Afghan jihadi virus to contaminate Central Asia. A massive 50,000 troop-strong Russia-Tajikistan military exercise in late April had exactly that in mind.
Ministers of defense of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) met in Dushanbe with the objective of further fortifying the porous Tajik-Afghan border.
And then there’s the Turkmen-Afghan border, from which the opium/heroin trail reaches the Caspian Sea and diversifies via Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Moscow, even more than the CSTO, is particularly worried by this stretch of the trail.
The Russians are very much aware that even more than different opium/heroin routes springing up, the top danger is a new influx of Salafi-jihadis into the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Even if analyzing it from completely different perspectives, Americans and Russians seem to be equally focused on what Salafi-jihadists – and their handlers – may come up with in post-9/11, 2021 Afghanistan.
So let’s go back to Doha, where something really intriguing is afoot.
On April 30, a so-called extended troika – Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan – issued a joint statement in Doha on their discussions regarding a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.
The extended troika met with the Kabul government, the Taliban and host Qatar. At least they agreed there should be “no military solution.”
It gets curioser and curioser again: Turkey, backed by Qatar and the UN, is getting ready to host a conference to further bridge the gap between the Kabul government and the Taliban. Realpolitik cynics will have a ball wondering what Erdogan is scheming at.
The extended troika, at least rhetorically, is in favor of an “independent, sovereign, unified, peaceful, democratic, neutral and self-sufficient Afghanistan.” Talk about a lofty undertaking. It remains to be seen how Afghanistan’s “neutrality” can be guaranteed in such a nest of New Great Game serpents.
Beijing and Moscow will be under no illusions that the newly privatized, Special Forces Afghan-American experiment will eschew using Salafi-jihadis, radicalized Uighurs or other instant assets to destabilize what in effect should be the incorporation of Afghanistan to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (where it’s already an observer) and the larger Eurasia integration project.
An extra-intriguing piece of the puzzle is that a very pragmatic Russia – unlike its historical ally India – is not against including the Taliban in an overall Afghan settlement. New Delhi will have to go along. As for Islamabad, the only thing that matters, as always, is to have a friendly government in Kabul. That good old “strategic depth” obsession.
What the major players – Russia and China – see in the framework of a minimally stabilized Afghanistan is yet one more step to consolidate the evolution of the New Silk Roads in parallel with the Greater Eurasia partnership. That’s exactly the message Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered during his recent visit to Pakistan.
Now compare it with the – never explicit – strategic deep state aim: to keep some sort of military-intel “forward operating base” in the absolutely crucial node between Central and South Asia and close, oh so close, to national security “threats” Russia and China.
The New Great Game 3.0 is just beginning at the graveyard of empires.
As always, Pepe brings the facts and the analytical conclusions with deft precision.
“In a nutshell: for the US deep state, leaving Afghanistan is anathema.”
“The real heart of the matter in Afghanistan concerns drugs and geopolitics – and their toxic intersection.”
“Beijing and Moscow will be under no illusions that the newly privatized, Special Forces Afghan-American experiment will eschew using Salafi-jihadis, radicalized Uighurs or other instant assets to destabilize what in effect should be the incorporation of Afghanistan to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (where it’s already an observer) and the larger Eurasia integration project.”
Just look at a map and you see Afghanistan is the perfect location geopolitically for the Forever War.
The US has mastery of all the events except “victory”, which is not the intention of their presence in Afghanistan.
Only a united war against the US will ever drive them out of Afghanistan.
Essentially, it will be a hybrid war with a heavy component of terrorist tactics and high tech weapons use. Missiles and armed drones can decimate SOF and contractor bases. See Iraq for a primer.
When the time is right, this war of ejection, driving the US out completely, will happen because all the stakeholders will agree it is the solution to the problem of the US in South Asia.
“When the time is right,…” ==> when the fiat usd$ paper money is reduced to crap. Then the domestic criminality will seek and follow another source of income. Follow the money!
The 20 Years Lie – war. Brutes with boxcutters pulverizing twin towers & wtc7 at free fall.
Afghanistan has 3 trillion dollars worth of minerals, while the CIA makes 50 billion dollars a year in heroin sales. On top of that we have Afghanistan’s geopolitical position. The US pulling out of the country ? Highly unlikely. US Government troops might be pulled out, but not mercenaries, all former soldiers who are virtually Government troops under a different name.
Indeed, 9/11 and the OBL fairy tale/operetta might even be interpreted as an excuse to gain control of Afghanistan.
It sure looked like it at the time!
The first of the 9/11 wars will be the last one to end, if it ever does. It was never about Osama bin Laden and his merry band of Arabs armed with boxcutters. That fable came into being fully-formed within hours of the attacks which was the first clue that there would be no evidence-based investigation and that the Arabs would be blamed rather than the real perps. Every US president since then has had to dance around the inconvenient truth that Israel did 9/11 and got away with it.
That’s why these wars will never end. Afghanistan was all about the opium trade, Iraq and Syria were all about Greater Israel, from the Nile to the Euphrates. The only way the festering boil that is 9/11 will ever be lanced is by an American president having the balls to come clean about those attacks. Given that the Zionist Mighty Wurlitzer (MSM) has so much invested in the “official” narrative, it’s hard to see how that could happen in our lifetimes.
No American president would dare come clean about 9/11, nor would anyone who would ever have a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected. 9/11 is now an existential foundational myth of the 21st century US, the undoing of which will necessarily be the complete collapse and dissolution of the illegitimate state that assumed power that day. Little did the rest of the world know at the time, but the war to make that happen began the day the US unilaterally declared its Global War of Terror. That war seems to be coming to a head now that the so-called “Axis of Resistance” has finally summoned the resources to unseat the former hegemon, but as you hint at here, that war might well consume the rest of our lifetimes. One thing’s for sure: after 9/11 the US regime officially embarked on the wrong side of history and its utter defeat and disarmament became imperative to the continued existence of any kind of civilized society in its wake. Any talk of the US pulling out of any ME or Asian military engagement is just that, and not to be taken seriously.
You are absolutely right. The “official” 9/11 narrative is a foundation myth that must be accepted on faith, just like the Ashkenazi claim that they are the rightful heirs to the biblical Land of Israel, despite all evidence to the contrary. All faith-based belief systems eventually come into conflict with objective reality. In the case of “Greater Israel” the Syrians, Palestinians, and Lebanese are not keen on the idea that they just happen to be living on someone else’s land.
” The “official” 9/11 narrative is a foundation myth that must be accepted on faith, ”
Kind of like the lone shooter myth of Dallas.
The phrase “foundational myth” is very useful.
Cf. “creation myth” of various peoples whose belief systems are not deemed “religions” but rather, cults.
But who determines what is “cultic”?
Is it supposed to be defined in terms of the size of the population that believes the myths of the “cult”?
We are in the grip of overlapping cultic beliefs and “foundation” and “creation myths,” many of them deployed to reinforce other aspects of the mega-cultic belief system.
It sure feels like there is no escape.
As long as we are talking about foundational myths, the way the history books were falsified regarding the causes of WW1 is the foundational myth of the 20th century. That war was planned and prepared for by the Anglo/Zionists ten years in advance which included the establishment of the Fed and the income tax to finance WW1 and the forever wars after that. They achieved their goals to destroy Germany and establish lsrael shortly after 1945.
We have to go back to the pre-WW1 era to understand the major events of the 20th C.
To understand who controlled the levers of power, and to what purposes.
I think the USA will be unravelled in less than 2 years; the evaporation of it’s reserve currency (too much printing) and the class/ethnic warfare (BLM, Anti Fa) will end the Empire’s foreign adventures.
That’s certainly the view of US Christian Zionists, Andrew. Their grand plan includes a transformative apocalyptic war that will be the end of the USA as we know it and the beginning of some kind of Zionist theocracy that will last for a thousand years. If you don’t believe me, just read any of Pastor John Hagee’s sermons.
I never understood why the CIA needed drug money in the first place. Isn’t the CIA rolling in all the taxpayer cash it needs?
No. Even with a black budget, the cost of their kind of operations requires much more money and off the books, black money from drugs means No Oversight by Congress. Thus, they are free to do with it whatever they want.
They learned from French and British that drugs were the best revenue streams.
Plus the energy derived from the (drugs), keeps the infinite competition and insanity going at break neck speed.
Only for it’s legit business. Every thing else, it takes on, as “responsibility”, comes from slush self-funded funds. ie. it has to do it on its own dime (so the govt can claim clean hands).
See it this way: signals, intelligence gathering – budget. everything else: slush funds.
Drugs are certainly used to bankroll off-the-books American terrorist operations (i.e. covert operations) by the CIA, US military special forces, or “private” mercenary organizations.
However, a lot of drug money is feed into Wall Street and financial system to keep this financial bubble system going.
For instance, hundreds of billions of dollar were funneled into this system during the 2008 Wall Street Implosion in order to keep it afloat
Drug money saved banks in global crisis, claims UN advisor
” Isn’t the CIA rolling in all the taxpayer cash it needs?”
It is best to think of the CIA as a crime syndicate. It has different branches that compete with each other. Each branch has a “territory”. The real objective of those working for the CIA is to divert some of this drug money into their own “retirement fund”.
The fact that there has been no big drug kingpin busted for many years is ample proof that they no longer have any competition – from people like Pablo Escobar or Manuel Noriega.
Anyone trying to short-circuit their distribution network is rapidly located and neutralised. They can see everything we do on the internet and listen to all our phone conversations.
The people who get arrested and imprisoned are the low-level street dealers and so on. The Western banking system is entirely dependent on the funds provided by this trade. Just like Great Britain was dependent on the Chinese opium trade to negate the trade surplus of China.
I presume having untraceable money also allows them to do things like buy ex-Soviet or Chinese weapons from disreputable characters (who may go on to use the money in some undesirable way) and supply them to some other disreputable characters (with little regard to what happens to the weapons afterward). As opposed to shiny US- made weapons suddenly showing up in some battlefield and giving the game away. Or some politicians asking inconvenient questions.
The drug business is not only about money. It’s about power. These drugs are addicting for a variety of reasons, and that implies that the drug market has a degree of control over the lives of the addicted.
For example, consider the leverage you have over the global financial markets if you control the flow of coke into NYC. Or the leverage over social unrest in the US Midwest if you control the meth and opiates markets.
People will do a lot for you to get their fix. It’s an old, deep strategy (Opium Wars, etc.), and goes beyond merely capitalism.
Make’s Derek Chauvin look like an amateur. How many George Floyd’s have we murdered in Afghanistan? Thank you for your “service”.
George Floyd was not murdered. He died of an overdose of Fentanyl. We have indeed slaughtered legions of innocents, but Floyd was not one of them.
Why didn’t the overdose kill him while he was using the fake money or while he was at the back of the police car or anywhere else other than when he was knelt on and could not breathe and repeatedly voiced that situation? Liars will always lie. Period. Now, we shall hear that gunshot wounds did not kill the victim because the victims were high on drugs or had comorbidities and that is what killed them, not the gunshots.
For goodness sake. He just had to drive Floyd to the holding cells and let them deal with the corpse. He could have tasered Floyd, or used a stun gun. Instead, when Floyd complained he couldn’t breathe, inside the patrol car, the policemen let him out, and called for emergency help. To restrain Floyd, a much bigger man, and to prevent him thrashing about and making his condition worse, Aubin knelt on his shoulder. He did not restrict his breathing in any way. I think his conduct was admirable.
Who would disagree with you that “Liars will always lie. Period”? You’re the very proof.
Someone on any opioids is in a blissful state thus reducing their capabilities of violence. Someone overdosing on an opioid does not need to be restrained as they are lethargic, weak, and cannot even stand. You obviously know next to nothing about what you are talking about yet call someone else to be a liar. If Floyd was OD’ing there would be zero need to restrain him and “prevent him thrashing about and making his condition worse”. If you’ve ever seen an opioid overdose you would know law enforcement wouldn’t even need to cuff him as he’d be barely conscious and laying unable to sit or stand. George Floyd did not die of an overdose… he was murdered.
The PSA, or the Permanent State of America, is worried about one existential, national security, problem: How to preserve the purchasing power of its Judeo-Zionist-owned currency, aka the US Dollar. The configuration they designed for the cocaine trade in order to have a stable influx of US-Dollar entries in the coffers of the USA banks, as with the Petrodollar setting, would be perpetuated with the opium trade that they control entirely. All the other geopolitical considerations are accessories for their main objective: How to live at the expense of the rest of the world……..as a drug dealer.
Pepe – you are THE BEST!!
Whenever we grow weary from the nonsense the US citizens are involved in, we ALWAYS turn to your articles.
Wit, Wisdom, and Insights makes of you one of THE top journalists in the World!
The other week, Dr. Michael Hudson, explained that when China & Russia “meet the critical mass” in their non-$$ usage, both nations shall have succeeded in finally extricating themselves from the US Dollar Hegemony.
(The best way to understand “critical mass” is to find a good definition of it in physics.)
So as the US finds more means of selling Afghanistani opium to Wall Street/Elsewhere, will that barbaric aspect fail first?
Or will Russia and China reach FIRST their desired goal in off loading the US Dollar Hegemony?
If only we could accurately predict that awesome day!
To look deeply into Afghanistan is to look deeply into Washington and its obsession with world-domination. The actual power-relations in both places are going to become ever more complicated and Byzantine.
As many have commented here we are only going to see a cosmetic withdrawal because Afghanistan is too important strategically to abandon to the Chinese/Russian sphere of influence. Washington will give up its attempt to control the entire country but use covert operations (often funded through the drug trade) to try and play one faction against the other and therefore be a part of the political process in Afghanistan. For Washington official withdrawal is a good idea for its goals and the goals of the covert op/gangster community within Washington to gain more power vis a vis the Pentagon and other surface power centers. The CIA and its criminal allies will ultimately rule foreign policy in the US without any accountability–a perfect way for the current gang of cutthroats and thieves that dominate US politics to keep power while the pro-wrestling world of politics produced by the news/entertainment media weaves absurd stories as per usual.
Iran has openly pledged standing w/Palestine, glory hallelujah an enlightenment finally, now, indeed. GWOT the barbarians once again are in checkmate, fait accompli……….. China’s nuclear missle reaches not just the Eastern USA, the whole USA, targeted. The proverbial question? How truly insane, the Agenda worshipped via Ruthless Empire Barbarians.
The barbarians storming the gates of Rome were in fact proxies come for their fee. perhaps when the US goes bankrupt, their various proxies including the mercenaries employed by Blackwater may do the same.
If the US couldn’t eradicate the opposition by “contractors”, “surges”, SOFs, “bases”, “drones” and “close air support”, then this will only weaken its position in AFPakistan. If on the over hand the goal is to make Astan a hub for hybrid jihadi export, then this decision is a cost-cutting exercise. I guess the question is, if all actors with violent power resources decide to drop the US parasites, then the US can kiss their terrorist plans good-bye. If it can, once again, drag a sufficient amount of those actors on its side, this forever war will continue. Depends if an ISIS type takfiri ideology can be fomented in Astan or international terrorist bolsheviks can have a free-for-all menu in Astan again – like in Lybia right now (with the intended corridor to CN and RU).
Nations all over the world unite! At least on this occasion, cut the damn limbs of the US Satanic Empire or it will get to yours. China, Russia and Iran are set, but Paki, Turkey and Golf sponsors have to be reminded of peace.
Do American contractors read Kipling? Maybe they should.
When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your God like a soldier.
Kipling’s succinct assessment of the British Empire’s debacle in Afghanistan comes to mind:
A scrimmage in a Border Station
A canter down some dark defile-
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten rupee jezail-
A jezail was a long, brass-bound musket with which Afghan mountain men routed hapless Anglos with the accuracy of modern snipers.
That unforgiving arc of mountain ranges from the Caucasus down to the Arabian peninsula is where empires come to die. Unfortunately for them, the usual suspects have long stopped studying history or even heeding their own seers.
1/250 0.4 percent of Trump rally entered Capital building.
1/425,000 0.00024 percent of Trump twitter followers were at the Capital
And out of that 200 people how many commited any serious crimes?
Six months previously BLM getting a free pass and defund the police with the ‘largely peaceful’ despite destruction behind the camera.
The constitution states the House (Pelosi) is responsible for security at the Capital building not the executive (President).
The very willing Collective punishment of an entire political movement because a tiniest percentage trespassed.
“….Equally focused on what Salafi-jihadists – and their handlers – may come up with in post-9/11, 2021 Afghanistan.” – Does anyone have a clue who/what this is refering to?
The US Axis of Evil and its graveyardS across the world, “come Babylon, come Rome”, come USA, fall into your own grave!!