August 13, 2021

Taliban Advances

The Taliban claimed control over two of Afghanistan's biggest cities on Thursday, according to media reports, as the United States and Britain said they would send thousands of troops to help evacuate their embassy staff.” Reuters

See past issues

From the Left

The left is generally critical of the withdrawal, arguing that the US should continue to provide some support to the Afghan government.

“Was the complete American withdrawal necessary? Of course not. In Iraq, around 2,500 US troops remain in the country -- the same number that were in Afghanistan at the beginning of this year. In July, Biden announced an agreement with the Iraqi government that effectively relabeled the American troops in Iraq as ‘non-combat’ service personnel, while still leaving them in place. Biden could have taken a similar approach in Afghanistan. He didn't…

“Why Biden chose one path in Iraq and another in Afghanistan isn't clear. But what is clear is that a predictable debacle is now unfolding under Biden's watch in Afghanistan.”
Peter Bergen, CNN

“Mr. Biden called it quits, he says, because after 20 years of trying to get Kabul to govern effectively and fight harder against the Taliban, there was still no outright victory or prospect of one. But the United States was stalemated, not defeated. There’s a difference — and how big a difference may soon become tragically apparent. In addition to preventing terrorists from using Afghanistan as a base for another 9/11, the United States achieved — or at least oversaw — real progress for the people of Afghanistan…

“When the Taliban ruled between 1996 and 2001, it forbade schooling for girls; by 2015, the last year for which World Bank data exist, more than 50 percent of girls attended first grade… Afghanistan’s media have grown into some of the country’s most trusted institutions. Most Afghans live in unfathomable poverty, but today’s per capita income of around $550 per year represents a 66 percent improvement in real terms since 2002… Afghan lives ruined or lost will belong to Mr. Biden’s legacy just as surely as any U.S. dollars and lives his decision may save.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“The problem is not the Afghan soldiers, many of whom are fighting valiantly. The problem is that the complete U.S. withdrawal has made it impossible for them to fight coherently. It has meant not just the disappearance of American troops, who, in any case, hadn’t engaged in direct combat for quite a while. (No U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since early February 2020.)…

“More crucially, it has meant the disappearance of close air support, logistics, intelligence and surveillance, repair and maintenance of weapons and vehicles, medevac units for the wounded, and rapid helicopter transport from one part of the country to another. Several senior U.S. military officers (active duty and retired) have told me that American ground troops couldn’t fight effectively without these enablers. It is no wonder that Afghan ground troops can’t either…

“It would have been more honest for Biden to say that Afghanistan’s fate is no longer a vital interest, so we’re leaving. It damages our interests to say, as he did in April, that we will still secure the government, protect women’s rights, hold the Taliban accountable, and all the rest—knowing that, after the withdrawal, we would have no ability to do so. And if Biden didn’t know that, he should fire whoever assured him that we could.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

Some argue that “The growing disaster seems to support Biden's implicit argument that the US has failed to produce anything lasting in Afghanistan, despite the deaths and injuries of thousands of Americans, allies and local civilians, and the expenditure of more than a trillion dollars…

“Asked Tuesday if he would change his exit plan to head off a foreign policy humiliation for the United States, the President said no. ‘They've got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation ... they've got to want to fight,’ he said -- a callous statement for the millions of Afghans now facing life under the Taliban's draconian rule. But this is Biden's cold-eyed judgment of his own country's interests…

“History doesn't always repeat itself. Those who warn a Taliban return will eventually threaten the US could be drawing the wrong lessons. Terror groups that seek to attack the US could base themselves in any number of failed states. And can the President justify committing more lives to a failure that seeds blame through four presidential administrations?”
Stephen Collinson, CNN

From the Right

The right is generally critical of the withdrawal, arguing that it has been badly mismanaged.

The right is generally critical of the withdrawal, arguing that it has been badly mismanaged.

“Mr. Biden believes that further expending U.S. resources in Afghanistan is ‘a recipe for being there indefinitely.’ He rightly notes that President Trump had left him few good options by making a terrible deal with the Taliban. That’s a fine argument, but it explains neither the hastiness nor the consequences we are now observing: the Taliban overrunning swathes of the country, closing in on Kabul, pushing the Afghan security forces and government to the brink of collapse and prompting the Pentagon to prepare for a possible evacuation of the U.S. embassy…

“As U.S. military planners well know, the Afghan war has a seasonal pattern. The Taliban leadership retreats to bases, largely in Pakistan, every winter and then launches the group’s fighting season campaign in the spring, moving into high gear in the summer after the poppy harvest. At the very least, the United States should have continued to support the Afghans through this period to help them blunt the Taliban’s latest offensive and buy time to plan for a future devoid of American military assistance…

A responsible withdrawal needed more time and better preparation. History will record Mr. Biden, a supposed master of foreign policy for decades, as having failed in this most critical assignment.”
Frederick W. Kagan, New York Times

“Last month, the United States evacuated Bagram Airfield in the middle of the night and cut off electricity to the massive base without notifying the new Afghan commander. By morning, looters had already arrived in search of weapons, ammunitions, armored vehicles and various other pieces of military equipment, managing to raid barracks and storage tents before being stopped by security forces…

“Given the prime role that Bagram held in offensives against insurgents, the responsible move would have been to ensure the smooth transfer of control from US troops to Afghan troops… As Gen. David Petraeus recently reiterated, we are not ending a war — we are simply leaving one.”
Erielle Davidson, New York Post

“Team Biden's plan A was to abandon the Afghan national army and hope that they held the line. That failed. Plan B was to ask the Taliban to stop winning. That also failed. So now we're on to Plan C: Claim that the Taliban crave moral recognition. Responding to a question on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that ‘the Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community.’…

“It's hard to see where such delusional rhetoric finds its source. Say whatever you want about the Taliban, but it's not as if they're quiet about their value set. Speaking to Axios, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid observed that ‘we have never yielded to any foreign pressure tactics before, and we do not plan to capitulate any time soon either.’”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“Did the U.S. generals, statesmen, politicians and journalists who went to Afghanistan during these last two decades, and came back to testify to our steady progress, delude themselves? Or did they deceive us? How many U.S. generals knew what was going on but declined to risk their careers by telling Congress or the country that the Afghan army and regime we had stood up would likely collapse like a house of cards once the Americans departed and they had to face the Taliban alone?”
Patrick Buchanan, Creators Syndicate

At the same time, “what a commander may have said in this or that interview should not obscure the most fundamental point in America’s 20-year saga: Even the most powerful nation in the world can only do so much in a country whose politicians are uninterested in reform and whose state structure rests on a heap of corruption, parochialism, ethnic competition, political infighting, and side-switching…

The U.S. was always fighting a losing battle, too often pulled further into the muck by the sunk-cost fallacy. Washington could never build a functioning, unitary democracy in Afghanistan. Regrettably, it expended far too much time, blood, and treasure before the U.S. foreign policy establishment finally reached the point of accepting this tough but straightforward conclusion.”
Daniel DePetris, Washington Examiner

A military perspective

A retired US Army colonel writes, “From the very beginning, nearly two decades ago, the American military’s effort to advise and mentor Iraqi and Afghan forces was treated like a pickup game—informal, ad hoc, and absent of strategy. We patched together small teams of soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen, taught them some basic survival skills, and gave them an hour-long lesson in the local language before placing them with foreign units. We described them variously as MiTTs, BiTTs, SPTTs, AfPak Hands, OMLT, PRTs, VSO, AAB, SFAB, IAG, MNSTC-I, SFAATs—each new term a chapter in a book without a plot…

We did not successfully build the Iraqi and Afghan forces as institutions. We failed to establish the necessary infrastructure that dealt effectively with military education, training, pay systems, career progression, personnel, accountability—all the things that make a professional security force. Rotating teams through tours of six months to a year, we could not resolve the vexing problems facing Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s armies and police: endemic corruption, plummeting morale, rampant drug use, abysmal maintenance, and inept logistics. We got really good at preparing platoons and companies to conduct raids and operate checkpoints, but little worked behind them.”
Mike Jason, The Atlantic

Get troll-free political news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.