Joe Biden's Afghan fiasco

Secretary of state Antony Blinken has insisted that the Afghan situation is "manifestly not Saigon."  This has been suggested because helicopters are being used to evacuate embassy personnel.  Perhaps it is more like Benghazi.  In both cases, the commander-in-chief left the scene: Obama to bed and Biden to Camp David.  Americans have been advised to "shelter in place" and fill out a Repatriation Assistance Request.  Civilians are advised not to come to the embassy or airport.  There has been no mention of the archaic notion of "women and children first."

The president was confident that Afghanistan would not fall to the Taliban.  He claimed this because the Afghan government has "300,000 well equipped" troops.  He said they were "as well equipped as any army in the world."  The United States spared no expense in equipping the Afghan army: airplanes, helicopters, drones, armored vehicles, night vision goggles, a flight simulator, and even the latest Black Hawk attack helicopters.   The president claimed, "I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more — more competent in terms of conducting war."  With the rapid surrender of government forces, it now seems that the Taliban is "as well equipped as any army in the world."

The first explanation for this fiasco is that it was a total surprise.  The AP reported Biden was "stunned."  This Week co-anchor and chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz said Sunday that the U.S. was "caught unaware and completely off guard" by the Taliban's rapid advance in Afghanistan.  She said there was a "massive intelligence failure."  An earlier U.S. intelligence assessment said Kabul could be encircled in 30 days and could fall to the Taliban within 90 days, but the insurgents captured most of Afghanistan's major cities in less than a week and entered the capital on Sunday.  NBC News's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, disagreed.  Engel was asked whether it is surprising "not that it is happening, as much as how fast it is happening,"  "No.  Everyone keeps saying that.  I've been listening all day: 'Oh, my God, we're shocked at how fast' — I'm not shocked at all!  I thought Kabul was going to fall about now.  And lots of people I spoke to believed that. ... It was well known that the security forces were collapsing, a month, two months, three months ago."

The administration is attempting to spin that as a victory.  The president stated, "We went to war with clear goals.  We achieved those objectives.  [Osama b]in Laden is dead, and al-Qaeda is degraded in Iraq — in Afghanistan.  And it's time to end the forever war."  Secretary of state Blinken claimed that the United States' original mission in Afghanistan, launched to oust al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, had been fulfilled.  Washington had prevented further attacks by militants harbored by the Taliban.  Richard Engel viewed the situation differently.  Engel reported that "many will see this as a humiliating exit" for the United States.  My only quibble would be to ask, "'Many'?  Who doesn't see this as a humiliating exit?"

What has been the cost of this fiasco?  Six thousand two hundred ninety-four U.S. military and civilian contractor deaths.  Our NATO allies sustained 1,144 deaths.  The United States spent $2.26 trillion on the war in Afghanistan.  The Defense Department funded such things as a $43-million compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan.  Still after 20 years of investments, the Afghan state could not defend itself.  Much of this disaster could have been foreseen.  The Afghans were never enthusiastic about America's mission in their country.  Pentagon press secretary John Kirby described Afghan leaders: "What has been disconcerting to see is that there hasn't been that will, that political leadership, that military leadership and the ability to push back."  In 2020, the Afghan army had to replace 25 percent of its force each year — largely because of desertions.  Since 2007, insider attacks have resulted in the death of at least 157 NATO personnel and 557 members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.  Most Afghans do not look favorably on the U.S. embassy flying the rainbow flag and its attempts to promote women's liberation.

Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann said the current crisis was avoidable.  It is almost as if the U.S. intentionally subverted the Afghan government.  Neumann asserts, "We built an air force that depended on contractors for maintenance and then pulled the contractors."  The salaries of the Afghan army had been paid for by the Pentagon.  But from the moment the American army announced its planned withdrawal in April, responsibility for those payments fell on the Kabul government.  Many Afghan soldiers have complained that they not only have not been paid in months, in many instances their units were no longer receiving food or supplies — not even ammunition.

This all reflects badly on our military, our Intelligence Community, and the administration.  Perhaps Secretary Blinken is getting his advice from Grover on Sesame Street.  If he is not, perhaps he should.

John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (Algora Publishing).  He has a Master of Arts degree in international relations from St. Mary's University.  He is retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.  He is featured on the BBC's program "Things We Forgot to Remember:" Morgenthau Plan and Post-War Germany.

Image: Screen shot from Al Jazeera video via shareable YouTube.

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