Afghanistan: Don’t look now, but we just lost another war on Biden’s watch

Twenty years, four Presidents, thousands of lives, tens of thousands of injuries, and trillions of dollars later, the vaunted Afghan Army refuses to take the field and the entire country falls in barely a month. There’s no shortage of blame to go around when our entire strategy was based on a steady stream of lies…

Earlier this year, I wished President Biden good luck and Godspeed getting us out of Afghanistan.  I agreed with both him and his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, that an orderly exit from America’s longest war was well overdue.  Nor did I have any illusions about what was likely to happen after we left; if we couldn’t defeat the Taliban over the past twenty years, thousands of lives, tens of thousands of injuries, and trillions of dollars, they would surely retake the country at some point.  I did believe, however, that we were capable of making an orderly, dignified exit and I never imagined we would depart in complete and utter, humiliating and embarrassing defeat.

Unfortunately, I was completely and catastrophically wrong, as the Taliban is in the midst of storming through the country faster than anything we’ve seen since the Nazi blitzkrieg in World War II.  I’m not exaggerating, either. According to Axios, “The Taliban has stunned even some seasoned military and national security officials in the U.S. government with the speed of its conquests over the past week.  The pace is so fast and the drive so relentless it’s hard to keep up to date on the specifics as capitals and entire territories fall all over the country, up to and including the capital at Kabul.  In barely seven days, they’ve taken control of 17 of these provincial capitals, the crown jewel of which is Kandahar, the second largest city in the country, swiftly after the fall of the third largest, Herat.

To put this in perspective:  The Taliban controlled 73 of the 400 districts in Afghanistan as of May 1.  As of last weekend, they control 223, about two thirds of Afghanistan and some 34 provincial capitals.  This includes most of the north, south, and west of the country, including all the border crossings.  On Friday, the US military claimed it would take 30 days to advance on the capital at Kabul, where we are evacuating the embassy.  The advance actually began Saturday night and by Sunday they took over the presidential palace.  The nominal President of Afghanistan along with most of the rest of the government has already fled the city and they have declared the country an Islamic Emirate.

All told, the US military concedes they will ultimately control the entire country within a few months and there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explains, “Unless something dramatically changes, and I don’t see how that’s possible, these provinces (that have fallen) will remain under Taliban control.”  Adding to the humiliation, they’re conquering this territory and moving this fast using equipment, humvees, M16’s, and more, that were purchased for the Afghan Army to prevent exactly this sort of resurgence.  It’s difficult to even determine if the supposedly 300,000 member strong Afghan Army is even taking the field to defend the country.  In Kandahar, for instance, Al Jazeera reported that the army simply withdrew.  In their wake, Taliban forces are parading around cities, emptying jails of hardened terrorists, and punishing dissenters.

Perhaps needless to say, the human toll is devastating.  There are an estimated 400,000 refugees streaming across the country, fleeing for their lives, most with nowhere to go, about 80% are women and children.  Some are hoping Kabul can ultimately hold, as unlikely as that seems, all are worried for their immediate safety and the future.  “We are worried. There is fighting everywhere in Afghanistan. The provinces are falling day by day,” said Ahmad Sakhi, a resident of Kabul. “The government should do something. The people are facing lots of problems.”  Women, in particular, are terrified.  The Taliban was infamous as an oppressive regime where women had no rights, and their return threatens any progress that has occurred.

“If the Taliban take over Kabul, they will not allow us to live the independent lives we live today,” a divorced woman told The Guardian using a fake name, just last week before they stormed right in with little resistance.  “We will not even be able to leave our homes because we don’t have mahrams [male guardians].”  This is already happening in other parts of the country, women’s schools are being shut down, women are no longer allowed to leave their homes without a chaperone, and even then only fully covered in a burqa.  Forced marriages are likely to return as well.  “We are very worried about the forced marriages by the Taliban. If they come for us like this, then we will end our lives. It will be the only option for us,” explained Tahira, another woman using a fake name.  Another said, “We have nowhere to go, no money to spend, we cannot even afford to pay another month’s rent. Every night, the fear of the Taliban entering our house keeps us awake.”

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Kabul is the most expensive of its kind, a $2.17 billion building on a 34 acre complex.  The US government and military, however, have no plans at all to defend it.  In fact, our flag no longer flies over the building and they expect the Taliban to burn it to the ground to honor the 20th anniversary of September 11.  As we speak, the State Department is in the middle of destroying everything of value while the military surges some 3,000 troops (now up to 5,000), not to stem the tide, but simply to aid in the evacuation.  A memo obtained by NPR details the specifics of the emergency preparations, with State Department employees instructed to shred papers, wipe computers, and remove sensitive documents before their emergency departure.  The focus is on capacity to transport our people out, “Capacity is not going to be a problem. We will be able to move thousands per day,” explained Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, without saying how many people actually need to be flown out.  No one knows what will happen to the native Afghani’s employed at the facility, but few think their fate will be a good one despite the Taliban promising “amnesty.”

Pathetically, diplomats are literally begging the Taliban not to attack before we depart, forever.  Nor are these the only incompetent, misguided, and weak statements from both Biden himself and others in his administration.  As recently as last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki continued to insist against all evidence and reason that “The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community,” just like the Nazi’s when they took Paris, I guess.  “It doesn’t have to be that way,” Mr. Kirby added. “It really depends on the kind of political and military leadership that the Afghans can muster to turn this around.”  Biden himself said “I do not regret my decision; Afghan leaders have to come together… They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”

President Biden’s cluelessness and disregard for reality throughout the summer has been equally stunning, like nothing we’ve ever seen.  It was barely a month ago, on July 8, when he was praising the power of the Afghan military.  When asked if a Taliban take over of the country was inevitable, he said “No, it is not.  Because you have the Afghanistan troops — 300,000 well-equipped (troops), as well equipped as any army in the world, and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable.”  He added, “The jury is still out. But the likelihood there’s going to be a Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”  Asked if we would see a repeat of something like our humiliating departure from Vietnam, when our last personnel were evacuated by helicopter as Saigon fell around them, he said flat out that there was “no circumstance in which you are going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.”  For the record, the choppers are flying people out amid smoke filled skies and burning buildings right now; everyone is supposed to evacuated within 48 hours of this post.

Feebly, President Biden has tried to turn the attention to former President Trump, despite the withdrawal proceeding on his schedule with this full support.  “When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on US forces. Shortly before he left office, he also drew US forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500,” Biden claimed, adding that Trump’s policies gave him no choice except to send more troops “to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict” or depart the country.  Trump, of course, is having none of it.  “This is complete failure through weakness, incompetence, and total strategic incoherence,” he said. “What a disgrace it will be when the Taliban raises their flag over America’s Embassy in Kabul.”

Biden’s spin is so ridiculous even the normally compliant media doesn’t seem to be buying it.  Generally supportive outlets like CNN are, at least as of now, claiming this is the current President’s failure.  Stephen Collinson, for example, writes, “The debacle of the US defeat and chaotic retreat in Afghanistan is a political disaster for Joe Biden, whose failure to orchestrate an urgent and orderly exit will further rock a presidency plagued by crises and stain his legacy.”  Others are comparing it to similar military disasters like Rwanda.  Susan Glasser, writing for The New Yorker, explains, “When I spoke on Thursday with experts who have decades of Afghan experience between them about the week’s events, they were contemplating even more apocalyptic scenarios for what may come. ‘Is this going to be Biden’s Rwanda?’ asked one longtime acquaintance, whom I met in Kabul in the spring of 2002, full of determination to build a modern, functioning state out of the post-Taliban, post-9/11 rubble. Or, perhaps, ‘Al Qaeda/isis 3.0’? The possibilities, from large-scale human-rights atrocities to a new center for international jihadist terrorism, are bloodcurdling.”

President Biden has not made a public comment on the issue in days.  After issuing an anodyne statement on Saturday, he made no appearances Sunday, prompting some critics to claim that they’ve heard more from the Taliban than our own President.

Ultimately, two questions present themselves:  How much responsibility does President Biden actually bear and how could this happen in the first place?  First, we should be clear that the war in Afghanistan has now gone through four different Presidents, two from each party.  No one has been able to defeat the Taliban and “win,” despite serious attempts under both President Bush and Obama, who surged over 100,000 troops hoping to emulate the success of similar strategies in Iraq.  As I noted earlier, the end result, a Taliban controlled Afghanistan, has been inevitable for years, it was only a question of how and when it was going to occur.  In regards to our utter humiliation, I think Biden deserves a lot of blame.  Clearly, a more hands and forceful President should have been able to hold the country until after we withdrew.  Otherwise, this is a failure of the American military and political class in general.

This segues nicely to the second question:  How could this happen at all after 20 years and well over $2 trillion spent precisely to avoid this outcome?  The only answer is not a good one:  We’ve been lied to, repeatedly, about what was really happening in Afghanistan, almost the entire time.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with The Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers published in late 2019.  Simply put, there is not now nor was there ever “300,000 well-equipped (troops), as well equipped as any army in the world, and an air force.”  These things existed only on paper and in some bureaucrats’ fantasy.  It’s virtually impossible for a force of some 75,000 Taliban, with no equipment, money, logistical support, communications, and just about everything else that makes up a modern military, to defeat 300,000 modern troops if those troops actually took the field.  This outcome is only possible once you realize the army itself was a fiction of cooked books and wishful thinking.

Daniel L. Lewis, a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lieutenant Colonel revealed a bit of this truth in an article for The Guardian.  As he describes it, “For the better part of at least the past 15 years, senior US civilian and uniformed leaders have been publicly telling the American people that the war in Afghanistan was necessary for US security, making progress, and supporting an Afghan security force that was performing well. All of it, from the beginning, was a lie.”  In 2012, Mr. Lewis wrote a report for the Pentagon telling the higher ups that we were losing the war.  In response, Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of US troops in Afghanistan  at the time, dismissed the report as “one person’s opinion.  “These [Afghan] soldiers will fight,” he said with confidence. “There is no question about that. They are going to be good enough as we build them to secure their country and to counter the insurgency.”

Of course, the general and others failed to mention what was really happening:  The US military actively conspired to keep the facts hidden, even going so far as to classify reports on the progress we were making, hear no evil, see no evil.  Special Investigator General for Afghan Reconstruction, John Sopko testified earlier this year.  “Every time we went in, the US military changed the goal posts, and made it easier to show success. And then finally, when they couldn’t even do that, they classified the assessment tool…So, they knew how bad the Afghan military was. And if you had a clearance, you could find out, but the average American, the average taxpayer, the average congressman, the average person working in the embassy wouldn’t know how bad it was.”

Unfortunately for us all, the entire world knows exactly how bad it is right now.  This is a catastrophic failure on a scale we haven’t seen in modern history, if ever.  There have been wars we perhaps shouldn’t have fought in the past, or perhaps stayed too long, or made some strategic blunder, even lied about the extent of our involvement, or left in defeat.  There has never been a war where we’ve been lied to and misled about the facts on the ground for more than a decade, one where the US military and the State Department literally invented a 300,000 strong army that doesn’t exist.

I’d say we should demand answers, but who am I kidding?  We will never get the truth.  This is the way the establishment works in the year 2021:  Catastrophic failure and endless lies and excuses on just about every issue, though Afghanistan maybe one of the worst examples so far.


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