15 August 2021   1 comment

The Taliban have taken control of Kabul and Afghan President Ghani has reportedly fled the country. Thus ends the US invasion of Afghanistan which started in October 2001 during the Presidency of George W. Bush in response to the terror attack on the US on 11 September 2001.

The collapse of the Afghan government was precipitous and, one suspects, unforeseen by the Biden Administration which had relied on military reports that the Afghan military was strong enough to delay the collapse for a period of time. President Biden was asked about the troop withdrawal and whether the Afghan government could resist the Taliban in his press conference on 8 July:

Q    Is a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, it is not.

Q    Why?

THE PRESIDENT:  Because you — the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban.  It is not inevitable.

Q    Do you trust the Taliban, Mr. President?  Do you trust the Taliban, sir?

THE PRESIDENT:  You — is that a serious question?

Q    It is absolutely a serious question.  Do you trust the Taliban? 

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I do not.

Q    Do you trust handing over the country to the Taliban?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I do not trust the Taliban. 

Q    So why are you handing the country over?

Q    Mr. President, is the U.S. responsible for the deaths of Afghans after you leave the country?

Q    Mr. President, will you amplify that question, please?  Will you amplify your answer, please — why you don’t trust the Taliban?

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s a — it’s a silly question.  Do I trust the Taliban?  No.  But I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more re- — more competent in terms of conducting war. 

But the Afghan army has completely dissolved without putting up any fight at all given the small number of casualties so far.

To be fair to President Biden, he was simply parroting what his advisers had told him, and he was likely assured that the eventual takeover by the Taliban could be delayed for what Henry Kissinger had hoped for when he signed the peace agreement with North Vietnam in 1973: a “decent interval” between the American withdrawal and the collapse of the South Vietnamese government. Moreover, Biden was constrained by the agreement between the US and the Taliban brokered by the Trump Administration that US troops would leave Afghanistan by 1 May 2021. Dexter Filkins, writing for the New Yorker, describes the attitude of the Trump Administration toward Afghanistan:

“But, as Americans have lost patience with the war, the U.S. has reduced its presence in Afghanistan, from about a hundred thousand troops to some twenty-five hundred. Seven months before Koofi went to Doha, officials in the Trump Administration concluded their own talks with the Taliban, in which they agreed to withdraw the remaining forces by May 1, 2021. The prevailing ethos, a senior American official told me, was “Just get out…..”

“Trump was clearly desperate to make a deal that would allow him to say that he had ended the war. When the Taliban refused to include the Afghan government in the talks, the U.S. did not insist. The senior American official told me, ‘The Trump people were saying, ‘Fuck this—the Afghans are never going to make peace anyway. Besides, who cares whether they agree or not?’’ As the talks progressed, Trump repeatedly announced troop withdrawals, depriving his negotiators of leverage. ‘He was steadily undermining us,’ a second senior American official told me. ‘The trouble with the Taliban was, they were getting it for free.’ In the end, the two sides agreed not to attack each other, and the Americans agreed to withdraw.

“The Taliban had to meet a list of conditions, including preventing terrorists from operating out of Afghanistan and refraining from major attacks on the country’s government and military. But the prospect of insuring a total pullout was appealing enough that the Taliban began rooting for Trump to win reëlection. In one of the odder moments of the U.S. campaign season, they issued an endorsement of his candidacy. ‘When we heard about Trump being covid-19-positive, we got worried,’ a senior Taliban leader told CBS News. (The group subsequently claimed that it had been misquoted.)”

The Taliban have apparently kept their end of the deal–they seem to be willing to allow the US to evacuate American citizens from the country. Whether they will allow Afghans who worked with the Americans to leave the country remains to be seen. More than likely, the Taliban regard these individuals as traitors and might wish to make an example of them in order to coerce compliance as they seize control. That outcome would amplify the tragedy of the war but it is impossible for me to see how it can be avoided. It is difficult to predict the future for Afghanistan, but the Taliban have already announced the creation of the an Islamic Emirate which suggests that its earlier pattern of a strict, conservative Islamic regime is likely. Richard Haas provides his scenario of the future:

“Biden was working from a script inherited from the administration of Donald Trump, which in February 2020 signed an accord with the Taliban (cutting out the government of Afghanistan in the process) that set a May 2021 deadline for the withdrawal of US combat troops. The agreement did not oblige the Taliban to disarm or commit to a cease-fire, but only to agree not to host terrorist groups on Afghan territory. It was not a peace agreement but a pact that provided a fig leaf, and a thin one at that, for American withdrawal.

“The Biden administration has honored this deeply flawed agreement in every way but one: the deadline for full US military withdrawal was extended by just over three months. Biden rejected any policy that would have tied US troop withdrawal to conditions on the ground or additional Taliban actions. Instead, fearing a scenario in which security conditions deteriorated and created pressure to take the politically unpopular step of redeploying troops, Biden simply removed all US forces.

“As was widely predicted, momentum dramatically shifted to the Taliban and away from the dispirited government after the announced (and now actual) US military departure. With the Taliban taking control of all of Afghanistan, widespread reprisals, harsh repression of women and girls, and massive refugee flows are a near certainty. Preventing terrorist groups from returning to the country will prove far more difficult without an in-country presence.”

The chorus of policy wonks has already decided that Biden should bear the burden of being the President who “lost Afghanistan”. Biden certainly shares some blame, but the more accurate conclusion should be that the US invasion was doomed to fail when the objective shifted from destroying al Qaeda in Afghanistan to trying to build a liberal, Western-style government as an alternative to the Taliban. Such an objective was not only illegitimate, it was also a fool’s errand, a lesson that should have been learned in Vietnam. The American people decided not to question the US role in Afghanistan since relatively few American soldiers died in the conflict and no one had to pay higher taxes to pay for it.

The Taliban will have a difficult time governing Afghanistan. It will have two neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, who have genuine fears about Taliban rule and India under the rule of the BJP will have strong reservations about an Islamic state. The Taliban will have some support from China and Russia, but they, too, have reasons to fear Taliban rule, particularly the Chinese who will watch carefully if the Taliban choose to support the Uighurs in their quest for greater autonomy from Beijing. Most European countries will find it difficult to work with the Taliban if human rights, particularly the rights of women, are ignored.

The only good possible outcome of this tragedy will be an American assessment of its role in world politics. If the Americans divest themselves of the belief that only liberal states are legitimate and that military power can compensate for political weakness. Those lessons were not learned in the Vietnam War; I can only hope that the American people are educable.

Posted August 15, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

One response to “15 August 2021

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  1. Not to mention that the United States dud nothing to prevent the chaos taking place at Kabul airport. The people who assisted the US in the past 20 years have been left to fend for themselves. The visuals are the same as the msyham that took place when Saigon was evacated. I hate to say it, but the current administration is also to blame.

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