The Hazaras are a Shi’a ethnic group found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. Part of their distinctive ethnicity stems from lineage to the Mongol invaders from the Asian steppes. Although they number over 4 million in Afghanistan (14 million region wide), they have been persecuted by the dominant Sunnis in Afghanistan for over a century. During their first rule, the Taliban committed multiple well-known atrocities against the Hazaras. Thousands were murdered by Taliban in the 1997-1998 period alone. From 2001 to 2021, the Hazaras embraced the new Afghan government, serving in government and comprising over 10% of the Afghan National Army. Taliban violence against the Hazaras continued during the war against the US and ANA forces but was infrequent.
Even before the fall of Kabul and completion of the embarrassing US retreat in August 2021, the Taliban began to increase the intensity and barbarity of violence against Hazaras. Reasons for the violence include traditional persecution of Hazaras by Sunni Afghans and reprisals for cooperating with the US and Afghan military and government. Reports of dismemberments, beheadings, and mass graves began to emerge from Taliban controlled areas. Human rights organizations have reported deaths of thousands of Hazaras at the hands of the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan. Terms such as genocide and ethnic cleansing are now being used.
Violence against ethnic groups that supported US forces in conflicts is not new. The US military and government betrayed the Kurdish people of Iraq 8 times in the past 100 years. Each time, the Kurds were asked to assist in our various military and political adventures and each time we abandoned them to be slaughtered by their historical enemies, the last time occurring in 2019 as the Turkish military attacked the Kurdish in norther Syria.[i] During the first Gulf War, the US encouraged the overthrow of Hussein. In retaliation, Hussen’s forces killed over 20,000 Kurds in Northern Iraq and over 50,000 Shi’a in Southern Iraq. After the fall of Vietnam in 1975, the communists captured, tortured, and even executed thousands of Montagnard people. There are many other examples throughout recent American history.
On the government side, abandonment was a bipartisan issue with both Republican and Democrat administrations making such decisions. While the ultimate authority to abandon allies to face reprisals or genocide resides in civilian decision makers, the US military must be mindful of long-term implications for allies that work with US military forces in any capacity. Accordingly, such calculus needs to be present in guidance before future wars are initiated. Local civil implications seemed to be non-existent in the decisions to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. The desire to demonstrate the might of the US military industrial complex with “shock and awe” seemed to dominate the US general’s speeches.
Afghanistan will not be America’s last war. America has not won a major war in 78 years and recent peacetime irrational decisions by US generals and admirals indicate this unholy streak will not end anytime soon. Surely allies in future US military misadventures, particularly ethnic minorities in the affected country, will be mindful of how easily the US military did a “cut and run” maneuver to escape the Afghanistan debacle. Accordingly, they may be hesitant to cooperate with US forces, and rightfully so, fearing the high probability they could be just another footnote in history of an ethnic minority who was betrayed by the US military and government.
John Hughes, MD
Veteran of Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan
Member of STARRS.US, MacArthur Society of West Point Graduates