August 22, 2021

Afghanistan: What Didn’t We Know, And When Didn’t We Know It?

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

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.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the essay’s subject or are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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11 responses to “Afghanistan: What Didn’t We Know, And When Didn’t We Know It?”

  1. Perry says:

    No one can argue with the logic of leaving Afghanistan after 20 fruitless years of inept intervention.

    The linking of Biden to Trump negotiated withdrawal is ludicrous
    and disingenuous at best. The world and Taliban have such little regard for Biden and his administration .
    While our American forces are being instructed in CRT and
    the enemy is busy planning and plotting is obvious.
    To issue a statement that the Taliban would move so quickly
    once the announcement of withdrawal was final was so under-
    estimated by the CIA and the administration as to lead to total
    humiliation on the World’s stage.

    What ever happened to the old adage “Women and children first” or in this case civilians and then military in withdrawing.
    The amount of military hardware and treasure left behind without destroying is yet another blunder in a blunder filled
    There will be a hearing held on the failures in Afghanistan with
    no senior personnel paying the price for failure.
    Washington is broken and so too America continues in a
    steep decline in both prestige and accountability.

    This current administration has yet to be a success in any
    shape ,manner, or form be it Borders, Inflation, employment,
    race relations, crime, or education improvement.

  2. Bruce Olson says:

    The Biden administration was warned, in July, about the inadequacy of the Afghan army and the Taliban’s rapid advance.
    There was also an extraordinary fact that was totally ignored. Muslims do not fight or kill other Muslims.
    The Democrats have a bad record of leaving Americans behind.
    First Benghazi and now this tragedy, which has yet to play out.

    Here is one report (Forbes) of many about Biden’s warnings….

  3. Susan Duman says:

    Who would have thought your readers are becoming historians in their own right. Weekly you stimulate our opinions.
    As always, my gratitude.

  4. Marjorie Kulp says:

    Thank you for your ability to address complicated issues with such clarity. Although plans were in place to relocate our Afghan partners, it appears that the President acted without due regard to the advice of his military and State Department. This was never going to go well snd departure is welcomed by families of our service members like me. However, enacting the plans previously made for the safety of Americans and our Afghan supporters should not have been disregarded
    Marjorie Kulp

  5. No corporate CEO would default to its predecessors this way.
    The buck stops at the top. Those currently in charge make the decisions.

  6. Biden has proven his deficiencies and I doubt that Democrats can support his withdrawal from Afghanistan.
    Why did the military not destroy their weapons and equipment? That is normal procedure, so military heads must fall.

    Biden has proven that 80 million American voters did not know about his mental capacity. How will our Allies look at American now? Supposedly we have 15,000 Americans (not military) stuck in Afghanistan.. If any die, they are on Biden’s watch.

  7. Ray Galante says:

    Blame Trump/Biden forever but remember Afghans lack of leadership, zero skills in military steadfastness led to chaos. Twenty years of misled American military intelligence led to this disaster. Will we ever learn?

  8. Janice says:

    Did I miss something? What about the Americans that are now trapped there? Why didn’t the Americans that are there not leave when they knew this was coming? What ever the reason, we must get them home!

  9. Robert borns says:

    The essence of the incredible tragedy sitting in the Oval Office is this—-you wanted to get rid of the headache trump. So you brought in Biden who is terminal cancer,heart disease and diabetes. Under Obama when binladen was ready to be killed Biden said don’t. In secretary gates book he sai Biden was never right on any issue. We are stuck with an incompetent doll who couldn’t pass an Alzheimer’s test and he has surrounded himself with fools. When the military starts worrying about teaching crt and paying for male soldiers to become women and not worrying about following colonel Liddell hart and klausewitz. We are in trouble. Will China try to take Taiwan and gamble that we won’t exercise our treaty obligations to defend them. Will Biden sacrifice israel to Iran to spite trump in the Iran deal. We are in deep googo. Will our incompetent and wrongsighted population as reflected in our inept political leadership and our hating deep state wake up in time to save us from total mediocrity or worse, total national disaster. You tell me.

  10. Mike R says:

    A tough week for America

    As an FYI to you (Hal) and all of your readers who hated the orange man. We are rapidly approaching the “I told you so” phase that those of us who didn’t like Trump’s personal traits but preferred him to him to Biden, knew would be coming

    We are witnessing a colossal failure of leadership.

    We have surrendered the South Border, surrendered our energy independence, and now have embarrassed ourselves with a humiliating withdrawal.

    And the crisis of leadership will only get magnified as our adversaries know they are dealing with a feckless President, a disastrously incompetent Sec of State, and a National Security Team that is way in over their head.

  11. Norman Lewis says:

    What a miscalculation of information.
    Everything that Biden has tried to handle has been a failure.
    Not only has he taken himself down but the entire US as well
    in his disastrous decisions and poor advise from the inside.
    The strength we had in the world has greatly diminished and makes 9/11 look like child’s play..
    Now what do do for the next 3 1/2 years ?
    Look at the back-up and start praying.

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