Let's Fix This Country

Afghanistan Agonistes: Biden’s Self-Inflicted Debacle

Left-wing cable news and punditry cannot bring itself to admit the colossal failing of President Biden's evacuation of Afghanistan, but its damage will endure throughout his term in the White House. He
postured to show resoluteness, setting deadlines where there should have been none, and turned to his priority, the two gigantic bills in Congress. He seemed oblivious to what was coming at him, as we wrote in June in a piece concerned for getting out of the country those who had helped the U.S. military, contractors, and diplomatic corps:

In his headlong rush to pull out the troops, pressing for mid-July rather than his original September 11 deadline, President Biden seems only at this last minute to have discovered that we are entirely unprepared to rescue the interpreters, drivers, cultural advisers, security guards, many of whom have been embedded with our troops, living with them at remote firebases, risking their lives on combat patrols, and now face inhuman retribution by the Taliban for their having rendered essential service to the U.S.

and we went on to say that Biden "perhaps should worry that he faces his own Saigon moment". We now know that his inattention extended to Americans in country as well, with no advance planning in evidence for getting out an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 countrymen and women.

Even had the Taliban made nowhere near the gains of the last few weeks in which they were rolling up one after another provincial city, some without a shot fired, with Afghanistan security forces changing into civilian dress to melt into the marketplaces — even had the Taliban moved slowly, it was manifest that extraction needed to begin months ago. Had the administration forgotten Saigon?

Fingers pointed in every direction. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley pointed his at the intelligence agencies, saying, "There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in eleven days", as if to exonerate the military and himself for taking no preparatory action in the months before those eleven days. There had been a July 13 State Department cable in the dissent channel (where opinions can be freely expressed supposedly without retribution) signed by 23 officials and sent to Secretary Antony Blinken that warned of the collapse of Afghan security forces and recommended ways to speed up evacuation, including beginning flights out no later than August 1. President Biden, at that same time in July, was saying collapse of the Afghan government and a Taliban takeover were "high unlikely", citing the Afghan National Security Force, its training and American-supplied equipment.

Departure from Afghanistan was announced 18 months ago, yet everything was left to the last minute. When he said to George Stephanopoulos, "The idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens", Biden was revealed as scattered, as someone who had not thought through the immensity of the job, on a par with Donald Trump's famous lack of organization. Stephanopoulos pressed, asking, "So for you that was always priced into the decision?" "Yes!", answered Biden emphatically, which had to be a lie. No one plans for chaos.

Faced with extracting troops, equipment, contractors, diplomatic corps, NGOs (non-government organizations), and the thousands who had assisted the U.S. as interpreters, etc., who would not have known to set in motion a quiet drawdown across months comprising removal from all quarters of the country of personnel and issuance of advisories to all Americans to follow suit. And in so doing, why announce the withdrawal at all? Instead of the before-the-fact political "buck stops with me" grandstanding, just get it done and only then tell America it's over.

Would the Taliban have noticed a gradual evacuation? Of course. We had already announced our intention to withdraw over a year earlier. But Biden had months to accomplish much to most of it before the Taliban made its surge. He sleepwalked.

The year-earlier announcement brings Donald Trump into the picture. He had planned an even more precipitous withdrawal. The U.S. signed a peace agreement with the Taliban February 29th, 2020, in Doha, Qatar, which provided for the removal of all U.S. and other NATO troops in exchange for a pledge that the Taliban would keep al-Qaeda out of areas under Taliban control. There is a fundamental absurdity to a negotiated settlement that requires trusting the Taliban, trust being the absurdity. The Trump administration agreed to an initial drawdown from 13,000 to 8,600 troops by July 2020, followed by a full withdrawal by the 1st of this past May. This was in exchange for nothing whatsoever demonstrable, and all the while the barbarians went about their butchery.

Like Biden, Trump was equally inattentive, obsessed with trying to reverse the election and stay in power. His attitude was, "You're not going to need an exit strategy. I don't need exit strategies", which he said about conflict with Iran. Can anyone remember any concern in his final days for the Afghanistan exit he had agreed would be completed by May 1?

Actually, yes. There was one gift he left for Biden. His administration having refused to coordinate with the Biden administration's transition team, Trump left Joe only a token force by ordering last November a drawdown from 4,500 to 2,500 troops to be effected by January 15, just five days before Biden took office. Why was that not the signal to the Taliban that they could start their sweep with impunity?

Yet there was Trump, in Ohio at the end of June at his first rally since leaving office, trying to take credit for leaving Afghanistan:

"By the way, I started the process. All the troops are coming back now. They couldn't stop the process. Twenty-one years is enough, don't we think? Twenty-one years. They couldn't stop the process. They wanted to, but it was very tough to stop the process".

To start the process, Trump had concocted just before Labor Day, 2019, a secret plan to bring the Taliban to Camp David for peace talks. He was determined even over the horrified objections of his national security team. Even Vice President Pence went against him. But then a Taliban attack killed some 11 people, including one US soldier which might have made Camp David even unacceptable to his base. Trump had shown no knowledge of the nature of the primitive fundamentalists. He had said, "I'll be meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not too distant future." He was all set to confer American recognition to those almost as savage as ISIS.

Not so? Trump negotiators had acceded to the release of 5,000 Taliban from prison in Pakistan, part of a "confidence building measure" in the February 2020 peace deal. One of them was Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund who just re-entered Afghanistan after 20-year absence and appears to be the movement's prime leader. Also at the negotiating table in Doha were members of the Taliban Five, released by President Obama from Guantanamo in exchange for freeing deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2014.

Biden scrubbed the May 1 deadline. He set the deadline at September 11, which will be the be 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. What did he have in mind choosing one of our country's darkest days? Was this — the death of 3,000 that caused us to send troops to Afghanistan and our defeat two decades later — something to be commemorated, or even celebrated? He then backed that up to August 31st.

But the question is, why was there any deadline? The U.S. had no obligation to the Taliban, who had continued killing their own people while negotiations were going on. The criterion should always have been, we're gone when we've finished getting everyone out, and a consideration at the outset of how many of the military we might need beyond just 2,500 to effect a retreat in force. Mr. Biden seemed only to have discovered the unsuitability of a deadline, that a deadline would leave Americans behind, when backed into a corner by Stephanopoulos:

Biden: The commitment holds to get everyone out that in fact we can get out and everyone who should come out, and that's the objective. That's what we're doing now. That's the path we're on, and I think we'll get there.

Stephanopoulos: So Americans should understand that troops might have to be there beyond August 31st.

Biden: No, Americans [should] understand that we're going to try to get it done before August 31st.

Stephanopoulos: But if we don't…

Biden: If we don't, we'll determine at the time who's left.

Stephanopoulos: And?

Biden: And if there are American forces, if there's American citizens left, we're going to stay until we get them all out.

How, could have been the next question.

where was our military

What brainstorm caused the military to suddenly abandon Bagram Airfield in advance of whatever unknowns the evacuation might bring? They did so on the night of July 1 “without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, who discovered the Americans’ departure more than two hours after they left,” the Associated Press reported. Gen. Milley's reasoning was that, “If we were to keep both Bagram and the embassy going,” that would require “a significant number of military forces,” so “you had to collapse one or the other.” Thus we had Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin saying, "I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently [from the airport] into Kabul.”

Was there any pushback from the military about Biden's acceptance of Trump's 2,500 troop level as being wholly inadequate to safeguard the evacuation? Surpise! Zero foresight has led to a build back to 6,200 at this writing.

“No one in their right mind would have closed Bagram Air Base while leaving behind thousands of civilians,” Arkansas GOP senator and Afghanistan war veteran Tom Cotton wrote on Twitter. In fact, Bagram would be a poor choice, situated 30 kilometers north of Kabul a run of gauntlet easily controlled by Taliban fighters, whereas Hamid Karzai Airport is only one kilometer from central city.

The importance is elsewhere. The inexplicably bad judgment of abandoning Bagram is that we forsook the biggest airfield in Central Asia perfectly centered strategically between Iran, China, the "stans" to the north and Pakistan to the south. The Taliban have no air force, the Chinese have already made gestures toward recognizing them as Afghanistan's de facto government, and we shouldn't be surprised to see China take over Bagram as part of an assistance deal in the not distant future as part of their setting up bases ever westward.

help yourselves

The collapse of Afghan Security Forces means vast stores of U.S. military equipment left behind for them are now in the hands of the Taliban.

The collapse of the Afghan military has meant that Taliban forces has taken over a war chest of military equipment that we left for the Afghan National Army. Reuters reports that 2,000 armored vehicles such as Humvees have fallen into their hands and as many as 40 aircraft, among them UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, found by the Afghans to be as their most potent weapon. Videos show Taliban fighters inspecting lines of vehicles and opening crates of arms, communications gear, military drones, and night goggles.

That the Taliban lack the knowledge to operate much of this equipment — helos especially, which are complicated to fly and need frequent maintenance and replacement parts — it, too, might wind up with the Russians or Chinese. So the U.S. now needs to consider missions to destroy the more consequential equipment by air strikes, but from carriers in the Arabian Sea, a 300 mile sortie instead of short hops from Bagram which we gave up in an act of inconceivable stupidity.

Mr. Biden went home to Delaware on this weekend, perhaps to where he can get a good night's sleep away from it all. He has to worry what will happen to his presidency should we come to learn that thousands of Americans are trapped, used as hostages, raped, killed.

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