Scenes akin to Saigon in the 70’s have brought bad memories to those of us who remember Vietnam and the disaster that followed the US exit from the region. We left pain, suffering, and years of devastation as the US decided it had had enough. Images of people hanging on to helicopter skids in a last-minute futile attempt into freedom, still haunt us. That was 1975 and this is now. The images out of Afghanistan are no better and equally disturbing. After 20 years of sweat, treasure, and often blood, we are “getting out” in a similar way. Lacking planning and leadership, a populace is again abandoned and left to fend for itself. We came, we fought, we died, we pseudo trained, and we left.
The original withdrawal plan from the prior administration was to open dialogue with the Taliban and ease into a withdrawal by May 31 of this year. The Taliban sat for a few discussions but talks stalled. They didn’t agree to some terms, which included their demand for the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters in Afghan jails which was refused: well go figure. In the meantime, the Taliban reorganized and came back stronger than ever. They had 20 patient years to train and recruit. Resuming withdrawal and draw down plans should have remained shelved until a livable agreement was drawn that included safe passage of Afghans who supported US & coalition troops, and secure civil rights for women and girls. This was not given the time and diplomacy that might have saved Afghans’ return to pre-9/11 conditions.
The US Military and its allies, “trained” the Afghan Forces under conventional methods and ideology assuming all Afghans were of one intent. Afghanistan is historically tribal and factions dominate various areas and provinces combining fundamentalism, feudalism, and a flavor of the month ideology that keeps the local population inadvertently loyal and in some cases purposely medieval. From Alexander the Great to the USSR, rough terrain and fragmentation of authority has made the country impossible to control and worse to rule. Furthermore, the “new” Afghan government was fraught with corruption and weak in attaining its own populace trust. What is worse is the total misdirection of the US military in a concrete objective for the country. As one good friend, officer, and US Army veteran told me: “poor leadership with little thought to what we were supposed to be doing there.” The Taliban waited in the wings patiently. In the meantime, they quietly and strategically crept toward their previous strong holds and willing sympathizers.
The military is not a nation building tool. Soldiers are trained for war not social community service. They can train within their scope of training other soldiers with the same ideology and mindset, two attributes that the Afghans do not have and will never have. It’s a cultural and ideological difference of significance. The USSR learned their mistake after wasting 10 years in a hostile tribal terrain that left them defeated and determined to take the failure in their stride. Historically, Afghanistan is not conducive to be conquered. Many tried, and almost always failed. However, Afghans’ lives did improve, especially for women. Girls went back to school, teens played music, and women went back to universities and into politics. The invasion of Afghanistan was initially called Operation Enduring Freedom. Great words that unfortunately did not endure.
China is salivating as it sees itself a step closer to Europe. Rumor has it that they are already in contact with the Taliban. In the meantime, women are back in Burqas, girls out of school, and female Afghan politicians targeted for retaliation. The biggest fear is among interpreters and informants who risked their lives and helped US and NATO troops maintain a viable presence and minimized causalities . They and their families have a target on their backs. Basically, we are back to square one.
A combination of poor decision making, and politics has brought us back to pre-9/11. A July 2, 2021, Stars and Stripes article (“US Leaves Bagram Airfield as America winds down its longest war”) described the insidious way the “winding down” was accomplished. US troops left Bagram Airfield, once home to 10,000 troops, at night, leaving the front gates open to looters who ransacked the place while Afghan Special Forces were waiting for the official transfer of power which they later received in a Twitter message! The airfield was a “fortress” with a state-of-the art runway that cost $68 million to renovate in 2006. The Afghan general and troops waiting to take over the airfield arrived finding the place deserted and trashed. Courtesy was obviously not part of the Washington plan either.
This is a question of incompetence surrounded by incompetence. Asinine and child-like hatred of anything Trump, compelled this administration to go at it “their way”. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal (August 15) called President Biden’s August 14 statement on the withdrawal from Afghanistan as “one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief”. The editorial was referring to Mr. Biden confirming without apologies the abandonment of Afghanistan by the US while absolving himself from any responsibility and blaming of course his predecessor. A common theme among incompetent individuals who are arrogantly clueless and ethically deficient. Washington is culpable of both.
The rhetoric that the Afghans were not prepared to fight is not only disingenuous but disrespectful to the many who tried to fill in the gap that the US military left as they bugged out of the country. As the Taliban approached Kabul, the Afghan President Ghani fled as well. No surprise there, it’s not like him and thugs like him were ever held responsible. The same Taliban that was chased 20 years ago in the hunt for Osama Bin-laden, will fly its flag on the US Embassy compound. The same embassy, where evacuations are going in earnest, and where plans by the same president that capitulated on the 14th, are in earnest to send in troops to evacuate those left behind. Where they will be operating from is still a mystery. Every military installation has been abandoned.
A “Keystone Cops” moment by a President who has been in public office for 50 years. He was Vice President when ISIS ran amok in the region. Obviously, he has either forgotten what it was like when his boss abandoned the region as ISIS decapitated people, or he is truly incompetent and not fit for the office he has been elected to serve. This is his shift and his shit. His responsibility. His shame. Infantile deflection of blame is futile. Your watch and your buck.
Mr. Biden’s reasoning is unbecoming the title of Commander in Chief. Saying that it would not have made a difference if the US left now or five years from now is demeaning to the many Afghans who risked their lives for a better Afghanistan. Ignoring advice from military leadership and senators, as early as April, President Biden continued the road to a withdrawal without a plan. The Taliban advance took the queue from a White House that bumbles its way through decision making with little resistance from a Congress that is just as out of tune as Mr. Biden himself. The Taliban divided and conquered as it took over major cities on its objective to take Kabul and overthrow the government. Their objective is to reinstate Shariah law and go back to the fundamentalist ideology that threw acid on little girls’ faces as they walked to school, and stoned women in public for adultery. After 20 years of war, rebuilding, hope, and treasure, incompetence and arrogance threw a country back to where it was in 2001 under worse conditions. But hey, it was Trump’s fault. Frankly it was everybody’s fault from B to B: Bush to Biden. All presidents in between were clueless leading with partisan ideology instead of military strategy. Add partisan general officers who threw their two cents in with however was in the White House for a career move and a retirement as military ‘experts” on major cable news networks.
What could have happened? The White House needs to open some history books and read about the Marshall Plan after WWII. A plan that gave assistance to the local population to rebuild their country while keeping a presence as a deterrent. There were barely 3,000 troops left in Afghanistan, but enough to keep the Taliban out of major provinces and give moral support to local armies. The Taliban would have been pseudo contained and possibly compelled to come back to the discussion table. The complete withdrawal just signaled utter indifference to the country that we invaded and had promised to assist. We basically gave them the birdie.
“Experts” in Washington still hold on to the inane self-centered opinion that there was no solution for Afghanistan. Really? The Taliban found one. They also managed to replenish their ranks with 5,000 released prisoners. Negotiations didn’t succeed because there was no superpower across the table that determined an outcome less than favorable to the Taliban if not in agreement. The Taliban could smell weakness in the water, and it bit where it hurt the most. Kandahar and Kabul have fallen, and so has the US reputation.
The same incompetent geniuses that advised against staying are now scrambling to send a few thousand US troops in to “evacuate” Americans and hopefully rescue Afghans who are in danger of retaliation and death. To the rest: tough shit. The building is burning, and we locked the front door. And if the same incompetent fools think that this is the end of a war, then they must have forgotten what caused 9/11.
The strengthening of terrorist groups is in the weakness of western governments eager to appease until terrorism hits their shores. New York, London, and Paris are as close to Afghanistan as we allow them to be. We have emboldened the terrorists who had 20 years to recruit and strengthen. Stupid in our government has reached epidemic levels. Idiots like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who gave a warning to the Taliban on the abuse of women. I’m sure they are sweating under their turbans. In her Washington glass house, she has the audacity to even utter a word to those women. An offense to Afghan female courage that is now a death sentence. Incompetence wrapped in arrogance and tied in stupid.
Afghanistan will go down in history as another Vietnam. A betrayal to a people who have had little choice in their lives by either the Taliban, the Afghan government, or the foreign occupation. Now, those who arrived 20 years ago bringing some semblance of hope, especially to women and young girls, are scurrying away like rats in the night. The only superpower on earth built on integrity and the promise of freedom sends a Tweet that its leaving, and the Commander in Chief gives them the proverbial finger.
Shame on a self-righteous global community obsessed with human rights until they become inconvenient. Shame on every politician, general, and advisor in Washington who bought into the “withdrawal” cabal without accountability. And shame on you Mr. President, for blaming your incompetence on someone else. The buck stops at your desk. You own this as you will own every persecution of every female, informant, and family that was willing to fight and resist alongside our troops. On the doorstep to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, incompetence has never been so apparent and obvious in the White House.
Thank you for your analysis