Why is Afghanistan called the 'Graveyard of Empires'?

What is it about Afghanistan that is known all over the world as the 'Graveyard of Empires'? After all, why all the big powers of the world including America to Britain, Soviet Union failed in trying to win it.

This is a question whose answer is found in the history and geography of Afghanistan.

In the 19th century, the British Empire, then the most powerful in the world, tried to conquer it with all its might. But in 1919 Britain finally had to leave Afghanistan and give them independence.

After this the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The intention was to save the communist government that had been set up by a coup in 1978 from falling. But it took them ten years to understand that they would not be able to win this war.

There is one thing between the British Empire and the Soviet Union that applies to both. When both empires attacked Afghanistan, they were at the peak of their power. But with this attack, gradually both the empires started disintegrating.

Millions of people have died in the US-led attack in 2001 and the war that followed for many years. Twenty years after this attack, US President Joe Biden has decided to withdraw his army from Afghanistan.

This was a controversial decision which was severely criticized all over the world. Because of this one decision, the Taliban has captured the Afghan capital Kabul so fast.

Biden defended his decision, saying that American citizens "should not die in a war that the Afghans themselves are not willing to fight".

Recalling Afghanistan's reputation as the 'graveyard of empires', Biden said, "It is not possible to achieve a stable, united and secure Afghanistan, no matter how much military force is employed."

Afghanistan has proved to be a graveyard for the world's most powerful armies that have tried to control Afghanistan in recent centuries.

In the beginning, these armies may have got some success, but in the end they have to leave Afghanistan and flee.

Defense and foreign policy analyst David Isby, who wrote the book 'Afghanistan: The Graveyard of Empires' on the history of Afghanistan, tells, "It is not that the Afghans are powerful enough. But what has happened in Afghanistan is because of the invading forces." It's because of mistakes."

 Why were the great powers defeated?

Isby believes that Afghanistan is a difficult place to be viewed objectively. It is a complex country with very poor infrastructure, very limited development and surrounded by land on all sides.

"But Soviet Union, Britain or America, no empire has shown flexibility with Afghanistan. They wanted to go their own way and had to walk, but they never understood the complexity of Afghanistan," says Isby.

It is often said that conquering Afghanistan is impossible. This is a false statement: the Iranians, the Mongols and Alexander have conquered Afghanistan.

But it is certain that this is such an audacity that has to pay a price. And the last three kingdoms that attacked Kabul before that have failed miserably in their attempt.

British Empire and the Three Invasions

For much of the 19th century, Afghanistan was a major stage in the tug-of-war between the British and Russian empires to control Central Asia.

The diplomatic and political conflict between Russia and Britain continued for several decades, in which Britain ultimately won. But Britain had to pay a heavy price for this.

Britain attacked Afghanistan three times between 1839 and 1919 and it can be said that Britain failed all three times.

In the First Anglo-Afghan War, Britain captured Kabul in 1839. Because Britain felt that if it did not take this step, then before that Russia would capture Kabul.

Due to this, Britain had to face a historic defeat. Some tribes destroyed the army of the world's most powerful country with very simple weapons.

Big Defeat

After three years of invasion, Afghanistan finally forced the invading army to flee.

On January 6, 1842, only one British civilian returned alive among the 16000 soldiers who had left for Jalalabad from the British camp.

Isby explains that the "war undermined British expansion into the subcontinent and influenced the notion that the British were invincible."

After four decades, Britain tried once again. This time it got some success.

In the Second Anglo-Afghan War between 1878 and 1880, Afghanistan became a British protectorate. But Britain had to abandon its policy of having a resident minister in Kabul.

Instead, the British Empire withdrew its armies from the country by electing a new Afghan Emir.

But in the year 1919, when this new empire declared himself independent from Britain, then the Third Anglo-Afghan War began.

This was the time when the Bolshevik Revolution, on the one hand, reduced the Russian threat, and the First World War greatly increased British military spending. In such a situation, interest in Afghanistan in the British Empire decreased.

For this reason, after four months of war, Britain finally declared Afghanistan independent.

However, Britain was not officially present in Afghanistan. But it is believed that he maintained his influence there for many years.

War of the Soviet Union

During the year 1920, Amir Amanullah Khan tried to reform the country. These included ending the practice of women wearing the burqa. These reformist efforts angered some tribes and religious leaders, leading to a civil war.

Because of this conflict, the situation in Afghanistan remained tense for several decades. And in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to keep a badly disorganized communist government in power.

Many Mujahideen organizations opposed the Soviet Union and waged war against them. In this war, the Mujahideen took money and weapons from America, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Russians carried out land and air strikes to destroy villages and crops in areas they believed to be the cause of the problem. Because of this the local population was forced to leave their homes or die.

There was a lot of bloodshed in this attack. About 1.5 million people died in this war and five million people became refugees.

At one time, the Soviet Union's army was successful in controlling large cities and towns. But the Mujahideen roamed relatively freely in the countryside.

The Soviet Union's military tried to end extremism in many ways, but guerrilla soldiers often escaped such attacks.

The whole country was destroyed in this war.

At the same time, the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev realized that the Russians could not continue the war while trying to transform the economy and decided to withdraw their troops in 1988.

But the image of the Soviet Union never recovered from this withdrawal. Afghanistan became the 'Vietnam War' for the Soviet Union. It was a very costly and shameful war in which the Soviet Union, despite all its might, was defeated by local guerrilla fighters.

Isby states that "the Soviet Union claimed legitimate power in Afghanistan, at a time when there were serious and fundamental conflicts in the Soviet system, between its government and its military."

"It was one of the biggest mistakes of the Soviet Union."

After this the Soviet Union disintegrated.

American campaign and disastrous return

Following unsuccessful attempts by Britain and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the US invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks to support democracy and end al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Like the two empires before it, the US was able to quickly conquer Kabul and force the Taliban to surrender.

The Afghan government came into existence three years later, but Taliban attacks continued. Former President Barack Obama increased the number of troops in 2009, pushing the Taliban back. But this did not happen for long.

The year 2014 saw the most bloodshed since the start of the war in 2001. NATO forces completed their mission and handed over the responsibility to the Afghan army.

Because of this, the Taliban captured more areas. The following year, successive suicide bombings were recorded. These include explosions near Kabul's parliament and airport.

According to Isby, many things were done incorrectly in the American attack.

He says, "Despite military and diplomatic efforts, one of the many problems was that the US and the international community could not stop Pakistan from waging a proxy war that has proven its success.

"It has proved to be more successful than other weapons."

High cost war

Although the war in the Soviet Union resulted in more bloodshed, the American offensive proved more expensive.

While the Soviet Union spent about US$2 billion per year in Afghanistan, between 2010 and 2012, the cost of the war for the US was approximately US$100 billion per year.

But the fall of Kabul has also been compared to the events in South Vietnam.

Republican Congressman Stefnick tweeted, "This is Joe Biden's Saigon."

"A catastrophic failure on the international scene that will never be forgotten."

Taliban occupation after the withdrawal of US troops has led to a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

"In the medium term, it will be necessary to see whether the Taliban regime will be approved by the international community, I have a lot of doubts on this matter," Isby says.

And if it becomes impossible for the world fraternity to deal with the Taliban, it will be important to see if any other power takes the risk of invading Afghanistan, the world's graveyard of empires.