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Attempting to understand Afghanistan, a unconquerable country

Written By | Aug 30, 2021
Afghanistan, Tribes, Nation Building,

By Central Intelligence Agency – This map is available from the United States Library of Congress Public Domain,

  1. FLORIDA: There is a very good reason that Afghanistan has never been conquered by any nation in history. That is because Afghanistan only exists in the minds of mapmakers. This simple truth explains why every nation that tries to remake it into its own image fails. Including the U.S.  To understand what is happening now inside Kabul, we first must understand the minds of the Afghan people.

    To put it into an American perspective, simply recall the history of our Native American population, from our founding up to the Twentieth-century. The American Indian was not a homogeneous unit of Americans when the first white settlers arrived, nor were they one people. They spoke different languages and had different customs.

They are, in fact, tribes of different peoples, often at war with each other.

In fact, those tribes that first helped the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock did so to form an alliance against the more warlike tribes that were attacking them.

Throughout our history, we were both allies with certain tribes, as well as at war with others. Even at the Battle of the Little Big Horn our allies, the Crow Nation died alongside General Custer and the members of the 7th Cavalry. The Crow Tribe now lives on sovereign land that that battle was fought on. (Crow Nation is a place where one could vanish – and many have)

In Afghanistan, American soldiers would often show up at villages in rural areas to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the locals

Only to learn that they not only don’t understand what America is but aren’t even aware that they’re living in a country called Afghanistan. They live in tribes, in villages that identify as members of that tribe living in a certain area.

Their elders and warlords controlled the actions of the entire tribe. And they allied themselves with other tribes only for short periods of time to accomplish a short-term mission. This is why our Special Forces had such outstanding results early in the war, as they were able to convince a number of tribes to join them in removing the Taliban, who were stealing their crops and usurping their authority.

The strategy paid off because we provided air and military support to a viable tribal opposition.

That effective victory was then ruined by trying to “modernize” and “democratize” Afghanistan. Just as the concept of a nation is not a part of their makeup, neither is the idea of democracy or independence. They live to support their tribes. Just as American Indian tribes today continue to work on behalf of the whole tribe, rather than themselves.  

In fact, the entire area of the Middle East is just like Afghanistan. Look at Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, they all bow to their tribes over the nation.

American fighting forces understood this in our long war in Iraq. And once they did, they were able to use Suni Muslim militias once allied with Saddam Hussein to break the back of the Shia Muslim tribal coalition warring against America.

When we made our withdrawal from that land it was with a coalition government controlling their tribes. A coalition that continues today.

But somehow in Afghanistan, we forgot that lesson under generals appointed by Obama.

Once we secured our objective of removing Al-Queda, instead of withdrawing the neo-cons in charge decided to remake that nation in our image. And to secure that objective we built an army to fight the remnants of the Taliban. 

We trained them to look and act like our democratic armies behave. The only thing is that Afghans do not fight as we and our western allies do. The only kind of viable military force in a tribal society consists of people who trust each other. All fighting together, using traditional raiding tactics. Our tactics are not anything like theirs, and the Afghani people do not trust us.

We completely ignored their traditional and religious beliefs.

We tried to make them woke.  To accept females into leadership positions and accept gays. While both are accepted in western culture, both are abhorrent to their customs and religion. What we did was to make many of the tribes reassess who they would rather fight alongside. The Taliban not only accepted their religion and beliefs but enforced them via religious law. Or Americans who wanted to change everything about them.

All that led to was Afghans feeling insulted and trying to kill Americans. And when the Taliban came charging at them they simply dropped their uniforms, keeping their weapons. Fleeing back to their tribal areas, they were welcomed with open arms.

None were willing to fight for a nation they do not accept, most only joined because of the income they earned doing what they have been trained to do all of their lives.

Afghanistan was a strange dream that Americans had, and Afghans never shared

The moment we announced that we were leaving, the soldiers we had dressed up to look just like us, went home. They knew that no more paychecks were coming. The British and French who had lived through this same phenomenon, going back to the 18th Century, could have told us what to expect, but Biden would not have listened.

We had to learn for ourselves. Just as we try to warn our children, if they live, they learn from their own mistakes.

Everyone except us understood that this was going to happen. Now we have learned.

We have also learned that we must pick our leaders wisely.

The humiliation we received because of the totally botched withdrawal and extraction of Americans and our Afghan allies did not have to happen. It only happened because the commander-in-chief of our armed forces, Joe Biden, refused to listen to his generals.

This humiliation is not the end of the story.

Tribal opposition to the Taliban will more than likely emerge, in fact, it already has. And at some point, it is very likely that we will fund them. Unless world events continue to move where we must look past Afghanistan, and swallow our humiliation.

Like China invading Taiwan or Russia invading Ukraine or the Balkans.

The next time we must have a leader who understands their own limitations and heed the advice of those more knowledgeable than them.

Afghanistan was never really an endless war of nations.  Afghans do not see themselves united as a nation. Rather it is an endless war of tribes who live in the area some mapmaker named Afghanistan. America did not start the endless war. We just joined the warring for the last two decades. It has been going on since recorded history first noticed the area, and will continue until there is no more ink to record events.

It was always the fool’s errand that we thought that we could end it. It seems to prove the old adage, “those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.”

And therein lies the lesson of Afghanistan.



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About the author:

Political Staff Writer Joseph Ragonese is a veteran of the United States Air Force, a retired police officer,  has a degree in Criminal Justice, a businessman, journalist, editor, publisher, and fiction author. His last book, “The Sword of Mohammad,” can be purchased at in paperback or kindle edition.

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Joseph Ragonese

Joseph Ragonese is a veteran of the United States Air Force, a retired police officer, has a degree in Criminal Justice, a businessman, journalist, editor, publisher, and fiction author. His last book, “The Sword of Mohammad,” can be purchased at in paperback or kindle edition.