Category Archives: Afghanistan

Leaked Documents Designed to ‘Hurt Lt. Col. Scheller’

By Ken Silva    October 8, 2021

Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller’s defense team has criticized military officials for leaking case documents ahead of an Oct. 14 trial by special court-martial, saying that the leak is designed to harm Scheller’s reputation and distract people from his calls for accountability for senior leadership’s disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal.

Earlier today, Task and Purpose published a story based on leaked documents that purport to show Scheller’s support for the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots.

Scheller’s Jan. 6 comments do not come from his public videos or statements made on his social media, but rather an alleged conversation he had with an unnamed executive officer, according to the Task and Purpose story.

One of Scheller’s attorneys, Timothy Parlatore, told The Epoch Times that the alleged conversation was taken out of context. Scheller was only commenting on how the Jan. 6 situation could have been worse, according to Parlatore.

Parlatore said the leaked legal documents are designed to “hurt Lt. Col Scheller” ahead of his trial. The U.S. Marine faces charges of contempt toward officials, disrespect toward superior commissioned officers, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, dereliction in the performance of duties, failure to obey order or regulation, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

“It’s something I’ve seen plenty of times in other cases. When the public narrative isn’t going towards the government’s preferred narrative, they have a tendency to selectively leak documents to try to change that narrative,” Parlatore said, adding that the documents may not have come from the prosecution, but from other military officials.

Along with facing criticism for leaving behind Americans, allies, and billions of dollars of weapons, senior officials have also come under fire in recent weeks for making false and misleading statements about a botched Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul that killed innocent Afghan civilians.

For weeks after the strike, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted the bombing was a “righteous strike,” and that any civilian deaths resulted from secondary explosions.

But after a Sept. 10 New York Times investigation raised doubts about the veracity of the military’s claims, the Department of Defense later admitted that the drone strike killed 10 civilians, seven of which were children—and no terrorists.

At a Sept. 29 congressional hearing, Milley and two other top military officials further made the stunning admission that they knew “within hours” that the strike had killed civilians—suggesting that they knowingly lied about the incident for weeks.

“We knew the strike hit civilians within four to five hours after the strike occurred, and U.S. Central Command issued a press release saying that,” Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie said on Sept. 29, contradicting numerous earlier statements that officials had no indication of civilian deaths until later.

“When people in the military like Lt. Col. Scheller stand up and demand accountability, when they say you all screwed up, when they point out General Milley’s statement that Afghanistan’s not going to be defeated by the Taliban—well, he ends up in a brig, and you all end up in front of us,” Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said during the Sept. 29 hearing.

“And your [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s] former employer Raytheon ends up with a lot of money, and we have poured cash and blood and credibility into a Ghani government that was a mirage.”

Scheller’s attorney Parlatore said he wanted to remind the public that this is what his client’s case is about: an attempt to hold senior military leadership accountable.

“An entire generation of warriors went over there. We gave our youth, our health, our limbs and in some cases our lives. With the events of the past couple of months, there should be some accountability for why things went down the way they did, and to provide some accountability and peace for these warriors who have given so much,” Parlatore said.

“And of course that extends to this drone strike. Why was it presented as a “righteous strike”?

Parlatore added that his client is willing to accept accountability for his actions. He thinks senior military officials should do the same.

“He didn’t just talk the talk, he’s going to walk the walk and accept accountability—as he would hope others would do,” Parlatore said.

Ken Silva covers national security issues for The Epoch Times. His reporting background also includes cybersecurity, crime and offshore finance – including three years as a reporter in the British Virgin Islands and two years in the Cayman Islands. Contact him at


Why Afghan women are fighting back – UnHerd

UnHerd by Ayaan Hirsi Ali  9/11/2021

I was a defiant little girl. One afternoon, I came home with my nails painted — a grave sin. My mother took one look and told me to get the filth off of my nails before she chopped off each finger.

My mother could be fierce and she punished me frequently, but even then I knew that her threat was bluster. She might smack me, but she wasn’t going to take off any digits.

Empty threats are used as leverage to entice certain behaviour. But what if the threats are real? For the girls living under Taliban control in Afghanistan, threats are not theatre: they are promises. Even for transgressions as small as painting their fingernails, they face real consequences.

Saturday marks 20 years since the fall of the World Trade Center, a day that brought unimaginable devastation, heartbreak and loss to America. But if there was one glimmer of hope that came from that tragic moment, it was for the women and girls of Afghanistan. After 9/11, and the conflict that followed, a level of freedom unknown to previous generations came to their country.

I remember watching the planes crash on television. I was at work in the Netherlands at the time, and sat, horrified, with my colleagues. As we watched, we wondered how the world’s superpower would respond to such an evil attack on the American homeland. They certainly had the power, resources and reason to go and obliterate their newfound enemy. Sitting there, we could never have guessed that this tragedy would end up bringing more rights and freedoms to women in Afghanistan.

The United States could have gone into Afghanistan, taken its revenge and left. President Biden’s continual defence over the past weeks has been that he was following the original plan. “We went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals: get those who attacked us on September 11th, 2001, and make sure al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again.”

But this is not where the legacy of 9/11 ends. It was not all necessary revenge and retaliation. Instead, we offered to help rebuild and provide hope to those who had not had it before. Together with our Afghan allies, we built a more inclusive society for women and girls, in the belief that precisely this kind of modernisation would reduce the danger of a Taliban restoration.

As Adam Tooze explains in his brilliant Substack, from 2003 to 2018, the number of women enrolled in university rose from 7,200 to 49,000. Female life expectancy increased by almost 10 years from 2001-2019. “Whereas in 2000,” Tooze explains, “Afghan men lived longer than women, now Afghanistan has the normal pattern of women outliving their menfolk.” Rates of literacy among females more than doubled between 2000-2018.

A generation of girls was raised without knowing life under Taliban control. And they soared. In 2017, an all-girls robotics team was founded, known as the Afghan Dreamers, who went on to win the Entrepreneurial Challenge at the Robotex festival in Estonia. In 2008, Afghanistan saw its first female mayor, Azra Jafari, in the town of Nili. And she was just the first of many females to hold political positions, including Salima Mazari, Zarifa Ghanfari, and Fawzia Koofi. Women made up 40% of the most recent class of graduates from the American University of Afghanistan. They have their own all-female orchestra. Female entrepreneurs invested $77 million over 18 years, resulting in 77,000 jobs. Their rights were promoted by the 2004 Afghanistan Constitution in Article 44, stating that “the state shall devise and implement effective programs to create and foster balanced education for women”.

Their successes were awe-inspiring. They were also a source of pride for Americans. They were, in part, America’s girls — girls raised to know a certain level of freedom, with their rights secure and protected, thanks to the U.S.-led intervention prompted by 9/11.

In 2002, the United Nations Development Programme produced the Arab Human Development Report, aimed at providing a path for growth and opportunity in the Arab world. The report concluded that three factors contribute to the constraints of human development in the Arab world: “freedom, empowerment of women, and knowledge”. Individuals needed to be educated beyond religious ideology, their human rights respected and women’s rights expanded. And for the last 20 years, the United States has supported women and these goals through the US Agency for International Development and State Department-funded programmes, as well as encouraging women’s participation in government and the private sector.

But now women’s rights are being ripped away. Biden’s betrayal reverberates sharply across the country. He offered a false dichotomy to the American people: either pull all troops out or go back to fighting an “endless war”. Pulling out the remaining US troops initiated the swift collapse of the Afghan government, will result in Afghanistan returning to a terrorist safe haven and removed the shield protecting women’s rights in the country. Surely this is not the legacy that Americans want to leave behind on the 20th anniversary of 9/11?

The effects of Taliban control are already being felt by women. The Taliban have announced that women must cover their faces to attend university and genders must segregate, both in class and while entering and exiting the building. They are banned from sports, considered by the Taliban’s cultural commission as “neither appropriate nor necessary” for women. Women can no longer hold ministerial positions. There are no women included in the new administration. Some are being told not to go to work, allegedly a temporary change while the Taliban draw up new “women related procedures”. They face real violence if they disobey. Those speaking out against the Taliban are being deemed “agents of America” and accused of “not being true Muslims”. They are being erased from the public square. And the Taliban haven’t been in control for a full month yet.

What will happen to America’s Afghan girls? The ones born and raised since 2001. The girls inspired by the allure of freedom, liberalism, and chasing their own dreams. Those who have, until now, not known the crushing burdens and barriers of life under the Taliban. What will become of the defiant girls, who speak up for their rights? The ones who question the religious fundamentalism of the Taliban?

Many will suffer severe punishments. Violence will be unleashed against them in a magnitude that those in the West do not comprehend. Body parts will be chopped off. Sexual harassment, rapes, honour violence and murders will become the norm.

But, unlike before, this time is different. The women of Afghanistan will fight back. They’ve already begun. Protests are erupting across the country. Women of all ages are standing firm against the Taliban. In Kabul, women attempted to march to the presidential palace, “demanding the right to work and to be included in government”. They were attacked for it, with videos and photos revealing the bloody violence they faced at the hands of the Taliban. At a subsequent protest in Kabul, one woman stated: “We don’t care if they beat us or even shoot us. We want to defend our rights. We will continue our protests even if we get killed.”

At another protest in Herat, calling for girls’ education, one of the organisers, Basira Taheri, explained: “The women of this land are informed and educated. We are not afraid, we are united.” Pashtana Durrani, the Executive Director of Learn Afghanistan, a bulwark for Afghan women’s rights, said; “We are going to make sure [girls] get to go to school, they get to go to work. If not on the terms that we want in public, we’re going to make it happen anyways.”

As the saying, often attributed to Thomas Carlyle, goes: “Once the mind has been expanded by a big idea, it will never go back to its original state.” The Taliban cannot undo the last 20 years. These women and girls are refusing to submit to a new Dark Age. That glimmer of hope, sparked after 9/11, has not been extinguished. Even with the Taliban in control, America’s girls aren’t going to give up.

And now the world is watching. Before 9/11, the atrocities committed by the Taliban on the women of Afghanistan received very little coverage in the West. Now, everyone knows names like Malala and Bibi Aisha. And we will come to know more names, like Basira Taheri’s, as we cheer them on. Two decades on, these women may be the most enduring achievement of the American intervention that followed 9/11.

They are defiant. And, as a former defiant girl, I can say with conviction that they can’t beat or cut that defiance out of you.[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3&mc_cid=78f7b10c38&mc_eid=0ff3e7ea29


Stuart Scheller: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know |

Stuart Scheller: Video Criticizing Military Leaders on Afghanistan Goes Viral

This post speaks for itself. mrossol

Stuart Scheller is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps who was relieved from duty after he shared a video on Facebook criticizing military leadership for their handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

“I can’t possibly respond to the overwhelming response,” Scheller wrote on his Facebook page after his dismissal. You can watch his video later in this article. It’s gone viral, and it’s led to a flood of support on social media for him as the country reels from the deaths of 13 Marines and service members in Kabul (you can see tributes to those fallen service members here).

“Facebook has stopped allowing me to accept friend requests. But I’ll offer you one more thought… Last night when I posted the video I immediately had multiple Marines call and ask me to take down the post. ‘We all agree with you Stu, but nothing will change, and it will come at a huge personal cost to you.’”

He added: “Obviously I didn’t take it down. Now that I’ve had time to process… I’ll offer this… we can’t ALL be wrong. If you all agree… then step up. They only have the power because we allow it. What if we all demanded accountability?” He then shared this quote: “Every generation needs a revolution”✊🏻🇺🇸 Thomas Jefferson.”

In the video, Scheller chastised military leadership.

“I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever, but I am saying: Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say ‘hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, a strategic airbase, before we evacuate everyone,’” he said in the video.

“Did anyone do that? And when you didn’t think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say ‘we completely messed this up.’”

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Scheller Told Military Leaders, ‘I Demand Accountability’

Scheller started his video with the caption, “To the American leadership. Very Respectfully, US.”

He started out explaining his experience. He served in Marine infantry for 17 years. He was the battalion commander with the advanced infantry training battalion at the time of the video. Scheller recorded his video just as news broke about the explosion in Kabul.

“One of those people who was killed was someone I had a personal relationship with,” he said. He did not go into additional details about that. I’m not making this video because it’s potentially an emotional time. I’m making it because I have a growing discontent and contempt for…perceived ineptitude at the foreign policy level and I want to specifically ask some questions to some of my senior leaders.”

“I feel like I have a lot to lose,” he said, adding that he thought through “what might happen to me…if I had the courage to post it. But I think what you believe in can only be defined by what you’re willing to risk.”

“I have been fighting for 17 years,” said Scheller. “I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders: ‘I demand accountability.’”

He said he was “willing to risk my current battalion commander’s seat, my retirement, my family stability to say some of the things that I want to say.” He said that would give him “some moral high ground to demand the same honesty, integrity, accountability for my senior leaders.”

He read from a letter written by Marine commandant David Berger, who wrote, “was it all worth it?”

“I’ve killed people, and I seek counseling and that’s fine,” Scheller said. “There’s a time in place for that. But the reason people are so upset on social media right no is not because the Marines on the battlefield let someone down that service member has always rose to the occasion and done extraordinary things, people are upset because their senior leaders let them down. And none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying, ‘We messed this up.’”

He said lower level soldiers get fired.

“We have a secretary of defense [Lloyd Austin] that testified to Congress in May that the Afghan national security force could withstand the Taliban advance. We have [the] joint chiefs [of Staff], the commandant is a member of that, who’re supposed to advise on military policy. We have a Marine combatant commander. All of these people are supposed to advise.”

Scheller said he was “not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan for ever, but I am saying: ‘Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say, hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram airfield, a strategic airbase, before we evacuate everyone?’ Did anyone do that?’ And when you didn’t think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say, ‘We completely messed this up’?

“I’ve got battalion commander friends right now that are posting similar things, and they’re saying, wondering if all the lives were lost, if it was in vain, all those people that we’ve lost over the last 20 years…Potentially all those people did die in vain. If we don’t have senior leaders that own up and raise their hand and say, ‘We did not do this well in the end,’ without that we just keep repeating the same mistakes,” he said.

“This amalgamation of the economic-slash-corporate-slash-political-slash-higher military ranks are not holding up their end of the bargain.”

2. Scheller Wrote That He Was ‘Relieved for Cause Based on a Lack of Trust & Confidence’

Scheller revealed he was “relieved for cause” on August 27, 2021, the day after he posted the video.

“To all my friends across the social networks,” he wrote. “I have been relieved for cause based on a lack of trust and confidence as of 14:30 today.My chain of command is doing exactly what I would do… if I were in their shoes. I appreciate the opportunities AITB command provided. To all the news agencies asking for interviews… I will not be making any statements other than what’s on my social platforms until I exit the Marine Corps.”

He continued, “America has many issues… but it’s my home… it’s where my three sons will become men. America is still the light shining in a fog of chaos. When my Marine Corps career comes to an end, I look forward to a new beginning. y life’s purpose is to make America the most lethal and effective foreign diplomacy instrument. While my days of hand to hand violence may be ending…I see a new light on the horizon. Semper.”

3. Scheller Served in Iraq & Helped Evacuate Americans From Beirut

According to his Facebook page, Scheller “studied Military Sciences at Marine Corps University” and “studied Accounting at UC Lindner College of Business.” He went to Anderson High School and lives in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

In earlier August, he wrote on Facebook, “To every school teacher who told me violence was never the answer… I wish you were teaching in Afghanistan right now to see the depth of your misguided world view.”

According to his bio, “LtCol Stuart P. Scheller graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelors in accounting. He began Officer Candidate School in January 2005. After completing Officer Candidate School, The Basic School, and Infantry Officer Course, he checked into 1st Battalion, 8th Marines in December 2005.”

“After checking into 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, and assuming the duty of platoon commander, LtCol Scheller conducted a deployment on the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He participated in the Non-Combatant Evacuation of American citizens out of Beirut during the 2006 Israeli/Lebanese conflict. Then the following year, he was assigned the role of Alpha Company Executive Officer and deployed to Ramadi, Iraq. Of note, during that time the infantry companies moved to a four infantry platoon construct, so LtCol Scheller, in addition to his Company Executive Officer duties, was also the Fire Support leader, and also served in this capacity during a Mojave Viper and the Ramadi deployment.”

The bio adds: “In 2008 LtCol Scheller checked into the School of Infantry East, Infantry Training Battalion. He spent six months as the Weapons Instructor group OIC, and a year and a half as the Echo Company Commander.”

It continues, “In 2010 LtCol Scheller sought out an Individual Augment deployment to Afghanistan. He was the Counter-IED team leader for the organization JIEDDO. He spent a year in Paktika and Ghanzi provinces while supporting the Army’s 101st Infantry Brigade. He was the infantry subject matter expert for EOD and Route Clearance Platoon operations. From July 2011 to June 2012 LtCol Scheller attended resident Expeditionary Warfare School. Following Expeditionary Warfare School, LtCol Scheller augmented Officer Candidate School as a platoon commander for a 10 week class.”

The bio continues,

In September 2012 LtCol Scheller checked into 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines and served as the Company Commander for Headquarters and Service Company. During this Company Command tour, he completed the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployment. Following the deployment, in November 2013, LtCol Scheller assumed the duty as Weapons Company Commander. During his Weapons Company Command tour, he completed an Infantry Training Exercise and a Unit Deployment East.

In August 2015, LtCol Scheller checked into The Basic School. During his three year tour, he served in many capacities, to include Operations Officer, Company Commander, and Warfighting Director.

In July 2018, LtCol Scheller attended resident Command and Staff College where he earned a Masters in Military Science.

In July 2019, LtCol Scheller checked into Marine Special Forces Command and assumed the duties as the Executive Officer of 2nd Support Battalion. Of note, the Battalion Commander spent the majority of the tour deployed on a Special Operations Task Force, allowing LtCol Scheller the opportunity to lead the battalion stateside.

In June 2020 LtCol Scheller checked into 6th Marine Regiment and assumed the duties as Operations Officer. During this time the Regiment supported four battalions and completed a Service Level Training Exercise.

In June 2021 LtCol Scheller checked into the School of Infantry East, Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, as the commanding officer.

4. Scheller Helped Invent a Mold to Make Ribbons Attach More Easily to Uniforms

On Facebook, Scheller wrote that he was “owner and Founder at The Perfect Ribbon” as well as “Infantry Officer at U.S. Marine Corps.”

An article Scheller shared on Facebook from Military explained The Perfect Ribbon. It said that Marine Maj. Stuart Scheller came up with a product to take “the hassle out of uniform preparation.”

He helped create a mold that “would allow a service member to put attachments on ribbons easily and in regulation.” He made the mold with a military officer friend named Zach Rohlfing.

The invention “caught fire,” he said.

5. Scheller Is Receiving a Lot of Support on Social Media

Scheller’s video has received hundreds of comments and many shares as it’s started to go viral on social media. “This is what happens when you speak the truth! You knew what would happen going into this but you had the courage to do the right thing and stick to our Corps Values! Semper Fi,” wrote one person on his Facebook comment thread.

Here are some of those comments:

“Absolutely honored and proud of you for saying what needed to be said. The cost of incompetence is permanent for those young men.”

“You threw it on the line and if big government takes it away. Many service members / veterans are willing to give. We have your back financially and any other way.”

“Real leaders are hard to come by, we must stand with them.”

“Thank you sir. This is the example of a leader of character I look to.”

“Thank you for so eloquently stating what we civilians are asking ourselves. Thank you for your service. I am the wife of a retired Army officer and mother of two army officers.”

“Thank you for voicing what so many of us feel. Semper Fi! I’ve got your 6, Sir!”


Afghanistan always defeats the West – UnHerd

UnHerd, by William Dalrymple   Aug. 28,2021

Before the events of this month, the First Anglo-Afghan War was arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the West in the East. Britain’s entanglement with Afghanistan between 1839-42 was catastrophic, costly and entirely avoidable. Nothing until the fall of Singapore in 1942 was so disastrous for Britain.

The most infamous incident of the war was the retreat from Kabul, which began on the 6th January 1842. An entire army — 18,500 men — left the British cantonment, only to be annihilated by scantly-equipped tribesmen. In the myth of the war, only one British citizen, the surgeon Dr Brydon, made it through to Jalalabad six days later.

Brydon’s desperate escape on a collapsing nag became one of the era’s most famous images, in Lady Butler’s oil Remnants of an Army. Likewise, William Barnes Wollen’s celebrated painting of the Last Stand of the 44th Foot — a group of ragged but doggedly determined soldiers on the hilltop of Gandamak standing encircled behind a thin line of bayonets, as the Pashtun tribesmen close in — drummed home the terrible truth of the war. The world’s premier military nation had been brought low, it’s armies massacred or enslaved.

Defeat cast a long shadow. Perhaps it was that image of a desperate Brydon, half-alive outside the gates of Jalalabad, that deterred British policy-makers from further adventures.

Writing just before Britain blundered into the Second Anglo-Afghan War 30 years later, George Lawrence, a veteran of the first conflict wrote, “a new generation has arisen which, instead of profiting from the solemn lessons of the past, is willing and eager to embroil us in the affairs of that turbulent and unhappy country . . . Although military disasters may be avoided, an advance now, however successful in a military point of view, would not fail to turn out to be as politically useless . . . The disaster of the Retreat from Kabul should stand forever as a warning to the Statesmen of the future not to repeat the policies that bore such bitter fruit in 1839–42.”

Lawrence’s warning was still echoing when Harold Macmillan told his successor Alec Douglas-Home “as long as you don’t invade Afghanistan you’ll be absolutely fine.” Sadly, by the time John Major was handing over 10 Downing Street to Tony Blair, Afghanistan was a distant memory. In 2001, soon after the catastrophe of 9/11 Blair signed up with Bush to invade Afghanistan yet again. What followed was a textbook case of Aldous Huxley’s adage that the only thing you learn from history is that no one learns from history.

Britain’s Fourth Afghan War was to an extraordinary, near-absurd extent, a replay of the first. The parallels between the two invasions were not just anecdotal, they were substantive. The same group rivalries and the same battles were fought out in the same places 170 years later under the guise of new banners, new beliefs and new political orchestrators. The same cities were occupied by troops speaking the same languages, and they were attacked again from the same high passes. In both cases, the invaders thought they could walk in, perform regime change, and be out in a couple of years. Ultimately, in both cases they were unable to prevent themselves being pulled into a much wider, bloodier conflict.

The First Afghan War was waged on the basis of doctored intelligence about a virtually non-existent threat: information about a single Russian envoy to Kabul was exaggerated and manipulated by a group of ambitious and ideologically-driven hawks to create a scare — in this case, about a phantom Russian invasion. As John MacNeill, the Russophobe British ambassador wrote from Tehran: “we should declare that he who is not with us is against us… We must secure Afghanistan.” Thus was brought about an avoidable war with all its astonishing resonances with our situation today.

Take the puppet ruler — Shah Shuja ul-Mulk — the British tried to install in 1839. He was from the same Popalzai sub-tribe as Hamid Karzai. His bitterest opponents? The Ghilzais, who today are the mainstay of the Taliban’s forces. Taliban leader Mullah Omar was the chief of the Hotaki Ghilzai, just like Mohammad Shah Khan, the warrior who supervised the destruction of the British army in 1841. These parallels were largely invisible to Westerners, but frequently pointed out by the Taliban: “Everyone knows how Karzai was brought to Kabul and how he was seated on the defenceless throne of Shah Shuja” they announced in a press release soon after he came to power.

We in the West may have forgotten the details of this history that did so much to mould the Afghans’ hatred of foreign rule, but Afghans never did. In particular Shah Shuja remains a symbol of quisling treachery in Afghanistan: in 2001, the Taliban asked their young men, ‘Do you want to be remembered as a son of Shah Shuja or as a son of Dost Mohammad?’ As he rose to power, Mullah Omar deliberately modelled himself on the deposed Emir, Dost Mohammad, and like him removed the Holy Cloak of the Prophet Mohammad from its shrine in Kandahar and wrapped himself in it, declaring himself like his model Amir al-Muminin, the Leader of the Faithful, a deliberate and direct re-enactment of the events of First Afghan War, whose resonance was immediately understood by all Afghans.

Hamid Karzai was particularly sensitive to these parallels. When I first published my book the First Anglo-Afghan War, Return of a King, in 2012, he called me to Kabul. Karzai quizzed me on the details over several dinners at his palace about the lessons this history can teach us. His view was that the US were doing to him what the British had done to Shah Shuja 170 years ago: “The lies Lord Auckland told Dost Mohammad Khan, that we don’t want to interfere with your country, that’s exactly what they tell us today, the Americans and all the others,” he told me. “Our so-called current allies behave to us just as the British did to Shah Shuja. They have squandered the opportunity given to them by the Afghan people. They tried to do exactly as they did in the 19th century.”

Karzai made it clear that he thought Shah Shuja didn’t stress his independence enough, and said he was never going to allow himself to be remembered as anyone’s puppet. After reading Return of a King, he substantially altered his policies to make sure he never repeated his forbear Shah Shuja’s mistakes. Hilary Clinton blamed his reading of my book for a chilling of relations between Kabul and the White House during the Obama years — according to a leaked email published in the New York Times after Wikileaks.

Ashraf Ghani, Karzai’s successor, was a noted academic anthropologist and economist. He’d stood on the TED stage in Berkeley, California and co-authored a well-received book on fixing “failed states”. Sadly he learned nothing from the lessons of history. Karzai was a skilful diplomat and an operator; Ghani was rude, lofty, impatient and arrogant. He pushed away tribal leaders with his lack of charm and politeness. He would tell clan elders who had trekked across Afghanistan to see him that they had “ten minutes” and he would take off his shoes, put his feet up on a stool and point them at petitioners — an act of huge rudeness in Indian and Afghan society. As we have seen, in the end, few were willing to die to keep Ghani in power.

For the Afghans, the First Afghan War changed their state forever: on his return in 1842, Emir Dost Mohammad inherited the reforms made by the British and these helped him consolidate an Afghanistan that was much more clearly defined than it was before the war. Indeed Shuja and most of his contemporaries never used the word “Afghanistan” — for him, there was a Kingdom of Kabul which was the last surviving fragment of the Durrani Empire and which lay on the edge of a geographical space he described as Khurasan. Yet within a generation the phrase Afghanistan existed widely on maps both in and outside the country and the people within that space were beginning to describe themselves as Afghans. The return of Shah Shuja and the failed colonial expedition which was mounted to reinstate him finally destroyed the power of the Sadozai dynasty and ended the last memories of the Durrani Empire that they had founded. In this way the war did much to define the modern boundaries of the Afghan state, and consolidated once and for all the idea of a country called Afghanistan.

“The last stand of the survivors of Her Majesty’s 44th Foot at Gandamak” by William Barnes Wollen, portraying a stand made by soldiers of the 44th Foot on a hill outside Gandamak during the retreat from Kabul in 1842. As late as 2010, the bones of the dead still covered the hillside.

If the First Afghan War helped consolidate the Afghan State, the question now is whether our current failed Western intervention will contribute to its demise. Afghanistan has changed beyond all recognition in the last twenty years. The cities have grown, people travel much more widely, thousands of women have been educated. Television, the internet and an ebullient media have opened many minds. It is impossible in such circumstances to predict the fate of the divided state of Afghanistan under renewed Taliban rule, even as the resistance begins to organise itself in the Panjshir Valley under the leadership of my old friend Amrullah Saleh, formerly the head of the NSD. But what the Afghan historian Mirza ‘Ata wrote after 1842 remains equally true today: ‘It is certainly no easy thing to invade or govern the Kingdom of Khurasan.’

For the truth is that in the last millennia there had been only very brief moments of strong central control when the different Afghan tribes have acknowledged the authority of a single ruler, and still briefer moments of anything approaching a unified political system. Afghanistan has always been less a state than a kaleidoscope of competing tribal principalities governed through maliks or vakils, in each of which allegiance was entirely personal, to be negotiated and won over rather than taken for granted.

The tribes’ traditions have always been egalitarian and independent, and they have only ever submitted to authority on their own terms. Financial rewards might bring about cooperation, but rarely ensured loyalty: the individual Afghan soldier owed his allegiance first to the local chieftain who raised and paid him, not to the shahs or Kings or Presidents in faraway Kabul. Yet even the tribal leaders had frequently been unable to guarantee obedience, for tribal authority was itself so elusive and diffuse. As the saying went: Behind every hillock there sits an emperor — pusht-e har teppe, yek padishah neshast (or alternatively: Every man is a khan — har saray khan deh). In such a world, the state never had a monopoly on power, but was just one among a number of competing claimants on allegiance. “An Afghan Amir sleeps upon an ant heap,” went the proverb.

The first British historian of Afghanistan, Mountstuart Elphinstone, grasped this as he watched Shah Shuja’s rule disintegrate around him. “The internal government of the tribes answers its ends so well”, he wrote, “that the utmost disorders of the royal government never derange its operations, nor disturb the lives of its people.” No wonder that Afghans proudly thought of their mountains as Yaghistan — the Land of Rebellion.

This is now the problem facing the Taliban. As the Taliban transforms its military command into a government for Afghanistan, alliances and tribal configurations that kept two rival Taliban factions together in recent years are already being tested. Factional divisions began to emerge between the Quetta Shura and militant commanders farther east on the ground after the death of Mullah Omar in 2013. The result was a far-reaching realignment among Taliban factions — particularly between hard-line groups like the Haqqani network that wanted to escalate fighting and more moderate Taliban leaders who sought accommodation with Kabul and Islamabad.

It is too early to see if, and how, the different Taliban commanders from East and West Afghanistan, the Quetta shura and the Taliban political wing manage in Doha manage to settle their differences and succeed in control Afghanistan’s naturally centrifugal polity — certainly the recent campaign appears to have had far more disciplined and coherent coordination than any of us expected. Only time will tell if the movement remains united or splinters into regional Taliban fiefdoms.

What is the longer-term strategic picture now? Few will now trust American or NATO promises and we have handed a major propaganda victory to our enemies everywhere. India has lost a leading regional ally and Pakistan’s ISI believe they have won a major victory — Imran Khan went as far as saying that the Taliban victory meant the freeing of the Afghans from the “shackles of slavery”. Meanwhile China has announced it will do business with the Taliban regime, and reopen the Mes Aynak copper mine which lies beneath a major Buddhist Silk Road archaeological site. The direction the winds are blowing in is clear.

Britain’s Fourth Afghan War has ended, like the First, in ignominy and defeat. There is no Lady Butler or William Barnes Wollen around today to paint the explosions outside Kabul airport, or the desperate crush around American C-130 transport planes inside its perimeter. A Butler or a Wollen is not needed — images of both have already travelled halfway around the world on social media. The words of the First Afghan War’s first historian, Rev. G.R. Glieg, are as hauntingly apt in 2021 as they were in 1843: “Not one benefit, political or military, has been acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.”[0]=18743&tl_period_type=3&mc_cid=c2a4b0f03e&mc_eid=0ff3e7ea29