NATO can’t let Afghan children starve just because it lost

Kevin Hurley is a former senior police officer and reservist army officer. He has completed two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan working on security sector reform. He now specialises in advising on policing and security development in fractured nations.

NATO can’t let Afghan children starve just because it lost

NATO can’t let Afghan children starve just because it lost

FILE PHOTO. Kalakan, Afghanistan. © Getty Images / Paula Bronstein

One evening last April I was sitting on my sofa in my luxury self-contained apartment watching my TV. I’d just eaten a nice big dinner and was feeling full and relaxed.

Then the news announced that the US forces in Afghanistan were going to pull out no later than September that year.

Since my luxury apartment was in a United Nations fortified compound in Kabul, I immediately started to assess how safe I was; why wouldn’t I?

At the time, I was the adviser for the international donor community on what it should spend its money on in relation to security and the police. I was very well informed as to the precise situation in the ongoing war with the Taliban being fought by the then-government of Afghanistan.

I knew the Afghan government could never defeat the Taliban; it was far too corrupt for the people to believe in. Hence the Taliban had garnered solid support in the mainly rural country. Many of the people preferred their misogynistic theocracy to the kleptocracy and predation of the national police, local politicians, and judges. The government was always going to fall; it was just a question of when.

Until that announcement, I was sure the government would continue to hold the Taliban at bay for some time, with them controlling rural areas whilst the government held the cities. The Afghan Air Force, then the tenth largest in the world in terms of aircraft, was doing a solid job of striking the Taliban wherever they appeared. Moreover, their helicopters were able to quickly move the government’s commando troops to any trouble spot.

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The Air Force was capable, but it had one fatal weakness: it relied on US civilian contractors and other advisers to repair its aircraft and direct its activities to best effect. The same was true of the commandos; they needed US or NATO special forces advisers to both train them and advise on tactics – even in extremis joining in to bolster them, as the Norwegians and British had in a major attack by the Taliban on the Ministry of the Interior a few years earlier.

The police and intelligence services, too, relied on outside help. Some of their investigations, assisted by FBI or former Scotland Yard advisers resulted in many Taliban or Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) fighters and bombers being found and detained.

Moreover, they had an excellent national command centre, akin to NASA Mission Control in Houston. Again, operated by Afghans but with both operational advice and IT support provided by NATO.

I had seen all of this going on back in 2019 when I was the senior police adviser to NATO in Kabul.

Provided the US and NATO stayed, the only weakness I could see would be if the Taliban were able to cut off the food, fuel, and power supplies to the cities. I couldn’t really envisage that happening, with the large and quite well-trained Afghan forces able to use air mobility to prevent this.

But then the announcement that the US were going swept away the entire support infrastructure for the Afghan Security Forces.

Very soon there would be nobody to fix their aircraft, organise logistics, guide their commandos, or assist their police.

That announcement by President Biden changed how I viewed the political and military situation on the spot. I knew that the other NATO governments would also pack up and run away as soon as they could.

Within days, living as I did under the flight path to Kabul Airport, I could see the mass exodus of the US and NATO’s big military transport aircraft accelerating as they took their people and equipment out of the country. It was both impressive to see in its ruthless military efficiency, and sad knowing what it would mean for the people of Afghanistan

Many of the international diplomatic staff and doubtless their home capitals had no idea how fragile the situation really was. A bit like Nero fiddling whilst Rome burned.

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Being a lone contractor in a UN compound, I took immediate action. I turned off the TV, picked up my rucksack, and went to the supermarket run by local Afghans inside the protected compound. I loaded my bag full of pasta. I then went back again and loaded it up with tins and frozen food.

Very soon, my apartment was crammed full of dried foodstuffs and many large containers of water.

For me, it was clear that before long both food and water supplies would run out. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that. Just reading a little history tells you that when civil war breaks out and governments fall, those products start to run out fast.

Call me a hoarder if you like, but unless you have been in situations where people starve you have no idea how quickly things break down. I just wanted to make sure I would survive long enough to either finish my job or get out.

My job then was listening in on conferences of the international donors; they still were focussing on how to prop up the corrupt government. This was despite me in the margins saying it was pointless, that they were going to fall now.

Not once did I hear any diplomat say, “What will the people eat when this country collapses?”

Well, now we see the answer. The people, especially the children, eat nothing. They starve to death or, if they are a young girl or a pretty little boy and are lucky, their hungry parents will sell them to some old pervert to be used as they want. At least the parents know they will be fed whilst being abused, and that they can now feed their other children.

That is, until they need to sell the next one.

It is a compliment to the bravery of some Afghan parents that they are selling their organs to get money to feed their children. It does make me wonder which unscrupulous nation is behind this organ harvesting. Given that kidney transplants need a similar genetic match, we don’t need to look far to see which country it is.

The Taliban now run the country, without anyone who has the experience or training to lead a ministry or carry out any of the functions of government. Any officials who might have made a positive difference have either fled the country with their ill-gotten gains stolen from the international community’s donations, or they have gone into hiding, fearing retribution.

Worse, the international funds held by the government of Afghanistan have now been frozen, allowing no ability to buy in foodstuffs or medical supplies for the people even if the Taliban wanted to. On top of this, most other forms of international aid have stopped in terms of either monies, food, or medicine, on top of there now being depleted numbers of international workers able to assist.

The result is that this year probably millions of Afghan children will die, if not be severely affected, by malnutrition or disease.

As I said, it was all predictable.

But what does the West do? It drags its heels. Such things as the Taliban stopping and reversing the progress made by women in the cities, or human rights abuses of supporters of the old regime, are held as a reason for doing nothing and freezing assets.

That’s all very laudable, and a luxury position for us Westerners in our life of comfort, able to afford outrage against anything politically incorrect.

But for the starving, diseased children it doesn’t mean much. I doubt their mothers think too much about whether their six-year-old daughter will be educated when she can’t feed her, with the only choice being to sell her precious child for the sexual gratification of some wealthy old man.

Why is this happening?

Well, the same reason as most arguments and wars – male egos, and female outrage.

The West lost to the Taliban and was outsmarted,

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So male politicians are upset at being defeated, and female ones are additionally outraged that the rights are being taken away from women by the Taliban. Politicians of both genders are annoyed and humiliated. That is all quite understandable.

It’s why no one is willing to help the children or unfreeze Afghan government assets.

It’s a bit like the little boy in a football game who is losing. He picks up his ball and, in a temper, storms off home.

That’s what the US and NATO have done and are still doing. Now these ‘wonderful’ generous nations are going to let millions of children starve to death.

They could do something.

But instead, they hide their embarrassment over the debacle in Afghanistan and prefer to show they can still strut their stuff by sabre rattling with President Putin over his troop movements near Ukraine and NATO’s in Latvia, Poland, and Romania.

Whatever happens there, let us hope it doesn’t turn into another conflict and provide further distractions to all the wealthy nations while the death toll of starving Afghan children goes into the millions.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.


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