The Taliban blitzkrieg that has already reconquered northern and western Afghanistan is now moving on Kabul, the capital city whose population of six million grows daily with refugees seeking protection from the Taliban.
On Sunday, Taliban fighters entered Kabul seeking the surrender of the U.S.-backed government of Ashraf Ghani. That surrender came quickly when Ghani reportedly fled the country that same day.
There is plenty of blame to go around for our defeat in Afghanistan; among those blamable are former Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump, and now President Biden, along with the many generals and admirals who failed to tell them that the nation-building strategy was bound to fail, but continued to march in lockstep while it did.
The responsibility for the current debacle and the inevitable consequences of his precipitate withdrawal is Biden’s and his alone.
It is Biden who has failed to think about or plan for the clearly foreseeable consequences of the withdrawal of American and coalition troops: the downfall of the Kabul government, the Taliban’s rapid reconquest of Afghanistan, the continuation of its alliances with terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, and the Taliban’s re-creation of safe havens from which terrorists can mount new attacks against us and our allies.
Biden neither thought nor cared about those consequences, nor did any of his principal advisers. Biden was more concerned with getting out of Afghanistan at any price than in whatever happens as a result. In April, without consulting with our allies, Biden announced that all U.S. combat troops would be withdrawn by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our homeland. In May, the Taliban began its reconquest of Afghanistan.
As I have written many times (see, e.g., here), the war in Afghanistan will not be over after our withdrawal. Instead of withdrawing all our forces, Biden should have left sufficient air power, special operations troops, and intelligence assets to operate independent of any Kabul government to prevent Afghanistan from becoming what it was before September 11, 2001: a safe haven for terrorists. He chose not to.
On July 8, Biden made a major speech on Afghanistan, reaffirming our withdrawal. In that speech, he said two other things we have to remember.
First, Biden said that the United States “did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States. We achieved those objectives.”
That was a bolder “mission accomplished” claim than President Bush ever made and it was utterly false. It’s laughable to say that we’ve prevented Afghanistan from becoming the safe haven for terrorists it was before 9/11. The safe havens for terrorists are being reopened by the Taliban as this is being written.
The second thing he said was that it was “highly unlikely” that the Taliban would overrun Afghanistan. The Taliban’s blitzkrieg that overran Afghanistan happened in only a few weeks. It’s over.
Presidential speeches go through several drafts and are circulated among concerned agencies. Anyone — civilian or military, Pentagon, CIA, or State Department — who agreed with or consented to those “mission accomplished” and “highly unlikely” statements is incompetent. So is the president who made them.
As the Taliban encircle Kabul, our allies are making statements as ridiculous as Biden’s. The European Union’s “high representative” for foreign policy, Josep Borrell, echoed King Canute. Borrell said, “If power is taken by force and an Islamic Emirate re-established, the Taliban would face non-recognition, isolation, lack of international support and the prospect of continued conflict and protracted instability in Afghanistan.” The Taliban must have had a good laugh at that.
Around the time of Biden’s big speech, our intelligence community concluded that the U.S.-supported Kabul government could fall within six months of our withdrawal. About two weeks ago they concluded it could fall within 90 days. Now the surrender of the Kabul government has happened, albeit implicitly, with Ghani having fled the country.
We have spent more than 2,300 American lives in Afghanistan. Almost 20 years of training the Afghan National Security Force cost about $90 billion. Last week, the Biden White House insisted that the Afghan forces had all it needed to battle the Taliban. Everything except the will to fight. The Afghan forces folded like the late-season Chicago Cubs. Its soldiers have abandoned thousands of tons of U.S. equipment — vehicles, weapons, and whatever else its soldiers had been provided — to the Taliban.
The final act depriving Afghan forces of the will to fight came on Saturday when President Ashraf Ghani said he was trying to negotiate with the Taliban to end the fighting.
Before Ghani’s statement, Biden ordered about 5,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan — Marine and Army brigades — to help evacuate U.S. citizens. Most are already there, helping evacuate U.S. civilians and embassy staff. The embassy staff is reportedly destroying classified files before a planned retreat to Kabul’s airport.
Biden asked the Taliban to not attack our massive embassy in Kabul. They apparently didn’t reply.
Because Biden doesn’t want a “last helicopter out of Saigon” picture, the skeleton crew of diplomats and a the few hundred troops left to protect them will be able to leave on some of the last aircraft that leave from the Kabul airport.
Biden insists that there are no parallels between our defeat in Afghanistan and our defeat in Vietnam. He is wrong. In both wars, we were defeated by forces supported by Russia (and, in the case of Afghanistan, by China, Pakistan, and Iran as well). In both wars, we supported corrupt regimes that couldn’t or wouldn’t defeat their enemies. In both wars, we won every battle in which we engaged but couldn’t implant democracy. Most importantly, we never defeated the enemy’s ideology in either war.
Contrary to the admonitions — they weren’t requirements — of President Trump’s January 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban, they have neither broken their alliance with al-Qaeda nor engaged in serious negotiations to share governance of Afghanistan. Now, with Biden’s blinkered orders for complete withdrawal, we will see a resurgent al-Qaeda.
Biden tried to blame the Taliban’s rapid reconquest of Afghanistan on Trump. It won’t wash. It was Biden, not Trump, who failed to establish permanent forces in Afghanistan to prevent the terrorist safe havens from being recreated.
Jihadis by the thousands will again flock to Afghanistan. That jihadist migration has probably already begun from Pakistan and other Islamist nations.
History teaches us that the consequences of many wars are unforeseeable, but the aftermath of the Afghanistan war was not. Biden’s failure to plan for them will, sooner rather than later, result in more devastating terrorist attacks against us and our allies.