Adrian Arnold
3 min readAug 28, 2021


Afghanistan — when will they ever learn?

Photo by Dorian Cochrane on Unsplash

The political leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries seem to have studied history only briefly. Had they done so more thoroughly, they might have learnt that no empire, nation or caliphate has ruled the country for any significant length of time.

This mountainous country placed between powerful neighbours proved to be a valuable training ground for mujahedin of an Islamic persuasion. These are self-appointed warriors for the Islamic faith and referred to as jihadists.

Previous invaders of the country have included the great generals of the ancient world — Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.

Persian, Mughal, Sikh and British empires followed them over the centuries. The latter tried three times between 1838 and 1919. These empires having failed, the Russians had a go in 1979, before a humiliating retreat in 1987. Now we have the chaotic evacuation of the NATO forces, largely American, which had been trying to do what Alexander, Genghis and the British Empire, at its height, have all failed to achieve.

This latest debacle was in response to the terrorist attacks on New York on 9th September 2001. Since when hundreds of billions — yes, billions — of dollars have been spent to apparently little avail.

Even more tragically, over 3,500 NATO troops have died, of whom over 2,300 have been American soldiers and 454 have been British personnel.

What was it for? President Bush wanted vengeance for 9/11 and decided that, by wiping out the jihadist training camps and madrasas, the Islamic schools, he could prevent further atrocities. He did not seem to appreciate that war in Afghanistan is unlike the two World Wars of the 20th century, when military hardware won the battle.

The British capitulated in Kabul at the end of the First Afghan War in 1842 and 20,000 troops left the city for the safety of Pakistan. As they struggled through the mountain passes, guerilla snipers killed every one of them — except one. He was William Brydon, an assistant surgeon in the British East India Company Army whose brother-in-law, Donald Macintyre won the Victoria Cross in India 30 years later. Quite a formidable famliy.

Those guerrillas were the progenitors of the modern warfare as practised by the jihadists of today. These are people of fanatical religious belief to whom death is a glorious trophy — alongside the promise of the attention of 70 virgins — if you believe the Western Press.
Emperor Hirohito, their king and god, similarly empowered the Japanese kamikaze pilots in the Second World War,but were far less effective.

It must have been obvious that the jihadists would move to different training grounds in Africa and the Middle East — as ISIS or Boko Haram. Fanatical groups encouraged by the “success” of terrorist attacks exist in the heart of democracy itself — The United States. Do you remember Jim Jones encouraging 909 people to die in Jonestown? Or Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma?

There will always be fanatics.

The Roman Catholic Church committed atrocities during the Spanish Inquisition and the English Puritans burnt and drowned women believed to be witches on the word of a vengeful neighbour. At last, we are beginning to recognise the iniquity of slavery throughout the world which continues in different forms today.

Nations have committed genocides in disparate areas of the word — Myanmar, China, and Biafra.
Among the many definitions of the word ‘fanatic’ is one that suggests “a person who has very extreme beliefs that may lead them to behavein in unreasonable or violent ways”, which also applies to sports fans. Arsenal? Yankees? Bears or Pirates?

Human beings, who make up nations, promote doctrines and make war, are both ambitious and fearful

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord — but whose Lord? Allah? The Trinity? Vishnu?

It is the winners that write history, I wonder who will write the history of Afghanistan where nobody wins.



Adrian Arnold

Retired veterinary surgeon now a collector of trivia. Married to a wonderful wife, four children and four grandchildren. Author of A Veterinary Life on Amazon.