President Joe Biden made a decision to withdraw all US forces in Afghanistan by the end of August 2021 and announced this intention. Little did he know that the Taliban would take full advantage of this announcement. The Taliban commenced their attack three weeks ago. They made a swift advance across Afghanistan and captured one provincial capital after another while the US stood by and watched hoping that the 300 000 strong Afghan army that they had spent years training would offer resistance. But the US had everything wrong. The Afghan army only existed on paper. They offered no resistance whatsoever. As the Taliban advanced, the Afghan army, which was highly demoralised by the US and NATO withdrawal plans, began switching sides or simply retreated allowing the Taliban easy victories over the provincial capitals. Meanwhile, this was happening as the Taliban, the US and the Afghan government were sitting in settlement negotiations in Doha. Within 10 days of the beginning of the offensive, the Taliban was at the gates of Kabul, the Afghan capital. The Afghani President, Ashraf Ghani, fled the capital to an unknown destination. On the 11th day, Kabul surrendered. It was chaotic scenes as foreign nationals and Afghans alike scrambled to reach the airport to be evacuated. Ambassadors were instructed to just simply abandon their embassies and run for safety. Although the Taliban had given an undertaking not to destroy the capital, no one could trust them given their history twenty years earlier.
Despite billions of dollars spent on intelligence gathering, US and NATO top officials appear not to have been aware of the Taliban’s plans until the very last moment. US President Joe Biden still maintained that he had made the right decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by August 31, 2021 although he admitted that they did not expect the Afghan government to fall so swiftly. He refused to return the US army to defend the Afghan people. Many amongst the Afghans who had worked with the US forces in the last twenty years as interpreters, military and police personnel, female school teachers, government officials, judges etc now feared reprisals as the Taliban re-entered Kabul after twenty years of absence. International human rights organisations feared for women and girls as the Taliban would reintroduce its strict version of sharia law.
At the international airport in Kabul, it was chaotic scenes as the US sent in C17 military planes to evacuate its citizens and those Afghans who qualify for evacuation into the the USA. But no one wanted to be left behind. It was scenes reminiscent of the 1975 Saigon withdrawal as people climbed on roof tops and hanged on departing aircraft. Many fell to their death while trying to escape.
And yet, Joe Biden insisted that he had done the right thing and that the US could no longer justify its continued involvement in a civil war in a foreign country. Nor could it justify the almost one trillion dollars spent on the war in Afghanistan. He maintained that the US went to Afghanistan twenty years ago in order to find those who had attacked them and to ensure that Afghanistan could no longer be used as a base from which to launch terrorist attacks against the US. He said that those objectives have been achieved and the US was justified in its decision to finally withdraw from Afghanistan.
Many were critical of Biden’s timing of the withdrawal and that not enough safeguards were put in place to protect the US-Afghan allies against the Taliban. Even Biden’s media allies turned against him on the chaotic withdrawal. Many argued that the sudden and chaotic withdrawal was an insult to those soldiers who have sacrificed so much in the twenty years in Afghanistan. They argued further that the President’s argument about the 1 trillion dollar costs of the occupation of Afghanistan does not hold water as that is money that has already been spent and will not be recovered by a sudden and hasty departure from the country.
No doubt this will go down in history as one of the US’ most humiliating moments. Few allies around the world will have confidence that the US will not abandon them in their moment of need. The US failed to act as a super power in its Afghan withdrawal. The families of US, British and European allies who died in Afghanistan question whether their sons and daughters and husbands and fathers died in vain. President Joe Biden refuses to accept any responsibility for the chaotic retreat.