How America lost in Afghanistan

How America lost in Afghanistan
Taliban fighters. AP video

Joe Biden’s incompetence made Afghanistan fall faster than it otherwise would have. But U.S. incompetence in Afghanistan did not start with Joe Biden, as Richard Hanania reminds us in Reason magazine. One thing the U.S. did to undermine its chance of winning was to try to destroy Afghanistan’s main industry (opium), which angered Afghans, largely failed, and to the extent it “succeeded,” just resulted in opium production shifting to other regions and countries. As he points out:

As of 2006, Afghanistan had one successful industry: growing up to 90 percent of the world’s opium. Under pressure from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and members of Congress, and over the objections of the military, the Bush administration decided to start destroying those crops. This only fueled the insurgency, even as opium production increased. When the U.S. tried paying farmers not to grow opium, more had an incentive to start planting the crop—and many of them still sold the harvest on the open market anyway after taking American money. According to one official, “urging Karzai to mount an effective counternarcotics campaign was like asking an American president to halt all U.S. economic activity west of the Mississippi.”

The Bush administration was convinced that opium was funding the insurgents. Yet even if it was, that wasn’t a good reason to destroy the most successful industry in a country where the U.S. was trying to bring economic stability and growth. Helmand province, an area that had been quiet through the first few years of the conflict, erupted in insurgency only when NATO brought the drug war to the region. Legalizing the opium trade, which the Taliban had stamped out, seems like it would have been the perfect way to win hearts and minds and build the Afghan economy. But of course such a possibility was never seriously considered in a system more concerned with rules, procedures, and vested interests than actually winning the war.

Even more absurdly, many of those profiting from the drug trade were the warlords that the U.S. was using to fight the Taliban. Fahim Khan, a Tajik commander who was appointed defense minister after the U.S. invasion, became angry when he heard American forces had destroyed a drug lab in northern Afghanistan, only to be relieved to find out that they had actually eliminated his competition. American officials had to balance their desire for ending the opium trade with their need to placate leaders who often were also drug kingpins.

Even after the fall of Afghanistan seemed likely to wise observers, Joe Biden couldn’t see it. His failure to prepare led to hundreds of Americans being trapped in Afghanistan months after the country fell to the Taliban. For example, NBC reported in October that there were still 43 Connecticut students and other residents still marooned in Afghanistan, without enough to eat: “Their school teachers are calling me asking me where are the students. The 10-year-old student from New Haven who is stuck in Kabul is sending me voicemail messages,” Chris George, executive director of IRIS said. “They’re running out of food and yes, they are running out of hope,” George said. Similarly, 38 students from Sacramento were trapped in Afghanistan. “There are dozens of Sacramento-area families still in the country, according to the San Juan Unified School District. Recently, three families — including seven students — made it back to the U.S. But about 38 students are still there.”

Under Biden, the U.S. gave the names of Afghans who worked for the U.S. to the Taliban, effectively providing them with a “kill list,” while leaving most of them behind in Afghanistan. It evicted 50-100 Afghan allies from a plane in order to make space for a useless war trophy (a non-working Toyota pickup). That left people stranded in Afghanistan, where they could be tortured and killed by the Taliban.

While leaving our allies behind, the Biden Administration brought to the U.S. 124,000 Afghans between July 14 and August 31. These were economic migrants, not refugees, for the most part. The vast majority of these Afghans never worked for the U.S. and were not in danger of being killed if they remained in Afghanistan.

Biden’s statements about Afghanistan were consistently wrong. In July, President Biden claimed that “the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” But by Sunday, the Taliban had seized control of almost all of Afghanistan, including the capital city and the presidential palace.

Biden also claimed that “there’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of the embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.” This weekend, that happened — people fled in helicopters as the Taliban closed in on our embassy. A news story reported, “U.S. Helicopters Rush In To Evacuate Americans At Embassy In Kabul: ‘This Is Joe Biden’s Saigon.’”

“Rarely has an American president’s predictions been so wrong, so fast, so convincingly as President Biden on Afghanistan,” notes Axios, a center-left publication.

A mere two days after Pentagon spokesman John Kirby claimed there was no imminent threat to Afghanistan’s capital, Taliban officials had taken the city, and were sitting at the desk of President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country.

Yet in mid-August 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was still claiming that the government’s handling of Afghanistan was “successful.”

The Taliban mocked such false claims. Emboldened by the sheer speed of its victory, a spokesman for the Taliban predicted on August 15 that “Islamic law will come not to just Afghanistan, but all over the world….Jihad will not end until the last day.”

Biden helped the Taliban take over Afghanistan faster by effectively grounding part of the Afghan Air Force. As the liberal Daily Beast notes, “As the U.S. withdrawal took hold, the Biden administration refused to allow contractors into the country to service the aircraft, effectively grounding some of the Afghan Air Force.”

Even as Secretary of State Blinken was claiming success, State Department systems had failed, leaving thousands of Afghans who assisted U.S. troops trapped in Afghanistan and unable to seek help. For example, the “email in-box for emergency visa applications for Afghans who worked with the U.S. has crashed, according to a former Air Force serviceman trying to help his local counterpart escape the advancing Taliban.” An expert on Afghanistan said Afghan allies outside of the capital, Kabul, will be left behind and face possible execution. America had “hundreds of bases…and garrisons all over the country” and the Taliban knows the identity of “many” stationed there, he said. “It will be almost impossible to get these Afghans and their families out of the country….This fact alone could result in the murder of many Afghans.”

If Afghanistan had fallen more slowly to the Taliban, these people could have escaped to the U.S. or countries like Canada, which agreed to take 20,000 Afghans. But the sheer speed of the Taliban takeover made that impossible, because the Taliban took control of Kabul before pro-American Afghans could flee the country.

Biden’s failure to protect American allies in Afghanistan will make people in foreign countries less willing to help the U.S. in future conflicts.

Afghanistan fell to the Taliban more completely and quickly than it otherwise might have, due to the Biden administration’s disorganized and sudden withdrawal and its faulty resource-allocation decisions prior to withdrawal.

The Biden administration’s incompetence hastened the Taliban victory. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) said, “This is institutional failure on a staggering scale. The sheer incompetence of everything associated with this withdrawal is absolutely unforgivable.” As Ronald Neumann, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, explained: “There’s a difference between the Biden decision to leave, and the Biden execution of the decision. The decision to leave is arguably justifiable. The execution of that decision is a lamentable disaster.”

In their abrupt and disorganized departure, U.S. troops left behind billions of dollars worth of military equipment that was seized by the Taliban. For example, Julian Röpcke reports that the Taliban “not only seized” around “a hundred U.S. humvees” and armored personnel carriers in the city of Kunduz, but also valuable drones. “Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars going to Islamist extremists, thanks to the administration’s hasty withdrawal….Now every Taliban fighter gets his own Ford, Toyota, humvee” or armored personnel carrier.

Biden “grossly miscalculated,” noted The Dispatch. Biden and U.S. General Mark Milley “had no idea what they were talking about,” it says. “There were plenty of warning signs.” Yet the Biden administration “did not see the jihadists’ offensive coming.” It also grossly overstated the strength of the Afghan government and understated the strength of the Taliban. It was “the biggest military-intelligence failure since the Tet offensive in 1968.”

Under Biden, the U.S. wasted scarce resources and airpower trying to help the Afghan government maintain control of pro-Taliban regions, rather than concentrating resources on anti-Taliban areas that might have held out longer against the Taliban if they had more support.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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