he Taliban’s swift reconquest of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, after a two-decade-long, exorbitantly expensive, violent struggle to construct a secular government with functioning security forces is, above all, unfathomably terrible.
Tragically, the American ambition of being the “indispensable nation” in constructing a world based on civil rights, women’s empowerment, and religious tolerance has proven to be just that: a dream.
Operation Enduring Freedom and afterwards Operation Freedom’s Sentinel were the code names for the United States’ longest war. However, it is difficult to understand what has been accomplished in Afghanistan despite spending $83 billion and losing at least 2,448 American service members.
It is even the more heartbreaking because many Afghans who collaborated with American forces and believed in the dream — particularly the girls and women who had accepted a measure of equality — have been abandoned to the mercies of a cruel foe.
The decision by the Biden administration to end the war was correct. But it did not have to end in such disarray, with so little thought for all those who had given so much in the hope of a better Afghanistan.
Thousands of Afghans who had worked for years alongside American troops, civil society organizations, aid organizations, and journalists, including many who had worked for The New York Times, were suddenly put in mortal danger on Sunday as the Taliban swept into Kabul as Afghan government leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, headed for the airport.
It was also all too tragic because, in today’s America, efforts to draw important lessons from this disastrous defeat have already devolved into furious recriminations over who lost Afghanistan, nasty schadenfreude, and lies. The knives were already out within hours of Kabul’s fall.
While the rapidity with which the Afghan government fell apart was stunning, the outcome should not have been unexpected. This disaster cannot be blamed solely on President Biden, but it is the current administration’s responsibility to correct what went wrong with the pullout preparations. If nothing else, the United States military is a logistical powerhouse, and it should move heaven and earth and everything in between to save those who have risked all for a better future. Allies and salvation should not be separated by red tape.
The war in Afghanistan began as a response by the US and its NATO partners to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as an attempt to deny Al Qaeda safe haven in a Taliban-run country. Its evolution into a two-decade nation-building operation with up to 140,000 troops under American command at any given time is a tale of mission expansion and hubris, but also of America’s lasting faith in the values of freedom and democracy.
The Afghanistan papers, which were published in The Washington Post, and included “Lessons Learned”, that is, a confidential effort by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an agency created by Congress, painted a devastating picture of corruption, incompetence, lack of motivation, and other flaws among the Afghan forces that the US and its allies were trying to mop up.
Afghans regard their police as “the most reviled organization in Afghanistan,” according to one Navy official. Other officials spoke of widespread looting by soldiers and officers, as well as massive Afghan casualties — 60,000 people killed since 2001, according to one estimate — which the government kept hidden. Many Afghans began to wonder whether the Taliban or their government was the greater evil.
The Pentagon and the United States Congress share some of the guilt for the disaster, and especially for the glowing progress reports that arose so frequently. But whether the US or its allies could or should have done things differently, and whether the old adage that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires has been vindicated once more, is a discussion that will occupy politicians, pundits, and historians for years to come.
Both parties share equal responsibilities. President George W. Bush initiated the war only to turn the attention to Iraq before any sort of stability was attained. Instead of withdrawing American soldiers, President Barack Obama increased their number. In 2020, President Donald Trump signed a peace agreement with the Taliban, committing to a complete pullout by May of the following year.
Some Defence Department and other officials wanted Mr. Biden to remain a small counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan for several more years when he took office. Mr. Biden, though, a Vietnam veteran and a veteran of international policy from his time in the Senate, grew convinced that a few thousand troops continuing in Afghanistan for a few more years would not prevent a Taliban victory. He instructed his staff on April 6 that he wanted all troops out by September 11. He subsequently stated, “I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan – two Republicans, two Democrats.” He continued, “I would not, and would not, turn this battle over to a fifth generation.”
It needed bravery and foresight to make this choice. The President understood exactly what his detractors would say about it — and what they are saying about it now. There will always be the possibility that things would have turned out differently if American forces had stayed longer. Mr. Biden has been a little deceptive in blaming Mr. Trump for the Taliban pact, which the President claimed “put the Taliban in the best military posture since 2001.”
It has long been obvious that an American withdrawal, whatever of how or when it is carried out, would leave the Taliban in a position to retake control of Afghanistan. It was imperative that the war should be brought to a close. However, the Biden administration could and should have done more to protect individuals who sacrificed everything in the hopes of a better future, no matter how unrealistic those hopes turned out to be.