There is much to unpack regarding the fiasco in Afghanistan.
Neither the Trump camp nor the Biden camp should point with ridicule at the other. Both camps are partners in the tragic spectacle playing out in Afghanistan. The tragedy isn’t that we are leaving with such dispatch. Both Trump and Biden were correct in pursuing our departure. The time had long since passed when we should have been exiting the country. It was time.
There was little American support for the never-ending American presence there. That we are leaving isn’t really the issue. How we are leaving, however, is. Any aspirations we may have had that we would democratize Afghanistan, modernize Afghanistan, or turn Afghanistan into a reliable ally were never realistic.
We went into Afghanistan following 9-11 to rout the Taliban, which had provided a safe haven to al Qaeda. We accomplished that mission in short order. We stayed for a while to keep the Taliban and the terrorists they had hosted from returning. Mission creep kept us there for the next twenty years. During the two decades we have remained, an estimated 300,000 Afghans joined Team-USA, providing various direct or indirect services to the United States. Only a few percent have been relocated to safety. They and their families remain at great risk now that the Taliban has solidified its control of the nation.
For years, we should have had a well-conceived plan to move to the United States and/or to other safe-haven countries those Afghans who were at great risk once we knew the countdown to departure had begun. Plans for protecting those who had worked with and protected us should have been the first order of business when we decided to ink a deal with the Taliban. We should have begun this process years ago, but as of July 31st, we had admitted only 494 Afghan refugees for this fiscal year which ends September 30th. Last fiscal year, we admitted 604 Afghan refugees. There is an enormous discontinuity between the predictable need to resettle Afghans who have helped us and the actual resettlement of these people. Other nations have also resettled Afghans, but the numbers have been pitifully small.
That our departure has turned into such a human tragedy raises serious questions regarding the reliability of our intelligence establishment, especially our military intelligence. What did we not know about the Taliban’s intentions, and, more importantly, when did we not know it.
Remember, it was February of last year that the Trump Administration reached a deal with the Taliban in Doha. That deal required the United States to be out of Afghanistan sometime in April of 2021. Under Trump, Afghanistan was to be free of all American military presence by May 1st this year. Biden added another three-and-a-half months to that departure schedule. It seems either Administration gave little thought to the well-being of the Afghans on whom we relied.
Some of the criticism being leveled at President Biden is just political jockeying and par for the course in this ugly partisan environment we find ourselves. Some opposed to the American withdrawal point to South Korea, where we have had troops for nearly 70 years. But South Korea is a strategic ally, a modern democracy, a robust trading partner, and an industrial powerhouse.
Others have suggested that we should have removed the huge arsenal of weapons we have maintained in Afghanistan lest they fall into Taliban hands, which they, indeed, now have. That would have, essentially, meant disarming the country we have been there to protect. Taking responsibility for securing those munitions would have required an indefinite American troop presence.
Much of the criticism of President Biden is, however, fully justified. We had an obligation to assure that those who worked for us or openly opposed the Taliban and supported the United States would not be left high and dry once we decided we had had enough.
President Biden has protested that the deal President Trump negotiated with the Taliban left him with few alternatives and little flexibility. Really? Since when did a Trump policy constrain President Biden when it was a policy he opposed. President Biden’s unbridled rush to get out of Afghanistan has left him with few alternatives and little flexibility.
One would think President Biden conferred with his national Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, or other security officials, or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs before he assured the nation that it was highly unlikely that the Taliban would quickly overrun the country once we left. Instead, the Taliban quickly overran the country while we were still there.
Judgment would be an issue if President Biden made that statement despite warnings he may have received from his security advisors that a swift Taliban takeover was highly likely. Worse yet, judgment is still an issue if the advice he received was that an immediate Taliban takeover was highly unlikely.
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