What Went Wrong in Afghanistan

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The Taliban now occupy the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan

New York / August 23, 2021

Only 11 days after the US withdrew troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban took control of Kabul. The Taliban now occupy the presidential palace.

Keep in mind, this is the outcome of bipartisan US thinking. Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo created the framework where the US agreed to withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban respecting Ashraf Ghani's government. Joe Biden is responsible for the final decision to remove the troops. 

There were many flaws in the American strategy, but the key was misreading the capabilities of the Afghan military. Biden predicted the Afghan military would become self-reliant. The US gave significant equipment, training, and guidance to the Afghan military, but the Taliban very quickly regained control of their positions from 2001.

 

Perhaps Biden should have maintained US air support for the Afghan military. Journalists reported that Afghan soldiers were shocked by the surprise timing of the US withdrawal. The UK and NATO allies were offended they were not consulted on the specific timing of the US withdrawal. Something was off in the execution of Biden's strategic choice to withdraw.

Also, we are now in a very unfortunate situation where there are many Americans and non-American allies still in Afghanistan who want out, but the Taliban control access to the airports. The US should evacuate all Americans and non-American allies who helped us. These people are translators, government employees, and human rights activists. They will be targeted by the Taliban.

The core flaw in this sequence was Joe Biden misreading the skill and mindset of the Afghan military. In multiple encounters between the Taliban and Afghan military after the US withdrawal, the Afghan military did not put up a fight and in some instances changed sides and joined the Taliban. Biden did not have the correct reading of the ground floor dynamics.

This is not over. If a Taliban-led Afghanistan becomes a space for violent attacks against the US, the US may send troops again. Also, there are many Taliban sympathizers in Pakistan who imagine they can take over Islamabad and its nuclear weapons.