Biden Blamed for Afghan Fiasco

The collapse is not his doing. But he's accountable for the poor planning.

A U.S. Marine opens the door as President Joe Biden prepares to disembark Marine One, Saturday, July 3, 2021, at Antrim County Airport in Bellaire, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

The incredibly rapid collapse of the government and security forces in Afghanistan has taken even the most skeptical of us by surprise. Most thought they would hold out at least a few weeks, not a few days. Now, even friendly voices are pointing the finger of blame at President Biden.

David Sanger, NYT (“For Biden, Images of Defeat He Wanted to Avoid“):

Rarely in modern presidential history have words come back to bite an American commander in chief as swiftly as these from President Biden a little more than five weeks ago: “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States in Afghanistan.”

Then, digging the hole deeper, he added, “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

On Sunday, the scramble to evacuate American civilians and embassy employees from Kabul — the very image that Mr. Biden and his aides agreed they had to avoid during recent meetings in the Oval Office — unfolded live on television, not from the U.S. Embassy roof but from the landing pad next to the building. And now that the Afghan government has collapsed with astonishing speed, the Taliban seem certain to be back in full control of the country when the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is commemorated less than a month from today — exactly as they were 20 summers ago.

Mr. Biden will go down in history, fairly or unfairly, as the president who presided over a long-brewing, humiliating final act in the American experiment in Afghanistan. After seven months in which his administration seemed to exude much-needed competence — getting more than 70 percent of the country’s adults vaccinated, engineering surging job growth and making progress toward a bipartisan infrastructure bill — everything about America’s last days in Afghanistan shattered the imagery.

Even many of Mr. Biden’s allies who believe he made the right decision to finally exit a war that the United States could not win and that was no longer in its national interest concede he made a series of major mistakes in executing the withdrawal. The only question is how politically damaging those will prove to be, or whether Americans who cheered at 2020 campaign rallies when both President Donald J. Trump and Mr. Biden promised to get out of Afghanistan will shrug their shoulders and say that it had to end, even if it ended badly.

Mr. Biden knew the risks. He has often noted that he came to office with more foreign policy experience than any president in recent memory, arguably since Dwight D. Eisenhower. In meetings this spring about the coming U.S. withdrawal, Mr. Biden told aides that it was crucial they avoid the kind of scene that yielded the iconic photographs of Americans and Vietnamese scrambling up a ladder to a helicopter on a rooftop near the U.S. Embassy in Saigon when it was frantically evacuated in 1975, as the Vietcong swept into the city.

Yet having decided in April to set the Sept. 11 anniversary as the date for the final American withdrawal, he and his aides failed to get the interpreters and others who helped American forces out of the country fast enough, and they were mired in immigration paperwork. There was no reliable mechanism in place for contractors to keep the Afghan Air Force flying as Americans packed up. The plan Mr. Biden talked about in late June to create what he called an “over-the-horizon capability” to bolster the Afghan forces in case Kabul was threatened was only half-baked before those Afghan forces collapsed.

By their own account, Mr. Biden’s aides thought they had the luxury of time, maybe 18 months or so, because of intelligence assessments that wildly overestimated the capabilities of an Afghan Army that disintegrated, often before shots were even fired. On July 8, the same day he said there was no need to worry about an imminent Taliban takeover, Mr. Biden said that “relative to the training and capacity” of the Afghan security forces, the Taliban are “not even close in terms of their capacity.” He now knows that what they lacked in capacity, they made up for in strategy, determination and drive.

George Packer, The Atlantic (“Biden’s Betrayal of Afghans Will Live in Infamy“):

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the 20-year debacle in Afghanistan—enough to fill a library of books. Perhaps the effort to rebuild the country was doomed from the start. But our abandonment of the Afghans who helped us, counted on us, staked their lives on us, is a final, gratuitous shame that we could have avoided. The Biden administration failed to heed the warnings on Afghanistan, failed to act with urgency—and its failure has left tens of thousands of Afghans to a terrible fate. This betrayal will live in infamy. The burden of shame falls on President Joe Biden.

[…]

All of this was foreseeable—all of it was foreseen. For months, members of Congress and advocates in refugee, veteran, and human-rights organizations have been urging the Biden administration to evacuate America’s Afghan allies on an emergency basis. For months, dire warnings have appeared in the press. The administration’s answers were never adequate: We’re waiting for Congress to streamline the application process. Half the interpreters we’ve given visas don’t want to leave. We don’t want to panic the Afghan people and cause the government in Kabul to collapse. Evacuation to a U.S. territory like Guam could lead to legal problems, so we’re looking for third-country hosts in the region. Most of the interpreters are in Kabul, and Kabul won’t fall for at least six months.

Some of these answers might have been sincere. All of them were irrelevant, self-deceiving, or flat-out false. While some officials in the State Department, the Pentagon, and the White House itself pushed quietly for more urgent measures that might have averted catastrophe, Biden resisted—as if he wouldn’t allow Afghanistan to interfere with his priorities, as if he were done with Afghanistan the minute he announced the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. forces. This hardness is perplexing in a president who spent years in the Senate working on behalf of genocide victims and war refugees; who once promised an Afghan schoolgirl that he would make sure the U.S. didn’t abandon her; who cares intensely about the welfare of American troops.

Veterans, with their code of leaving no one behind on the battlefield, have been among the most passionate advocates for Afghan interpreters. A retired officer involved in discussions with high-ranking administration officials told me that the Veterans Administration plans to offer counseling to Afghanistan vets who will experience the trauma of losing their Afghan comrades to beheading by the Taliban. The retired officer struggled to understand Biden’s resistance. “If his son Beau were still alive today, he would be able to communicate to his father in a way that he’d be receptive,” the veteran told me. “I don’t know who else would be able to do that. I’ve literally thought, How do I try to get a message to the first lady? She and Michelle were both very engaged with military families and veteran issues. I thought she could convey the message in a way the president might be receptive.”

Isaac Chotiner and Steve Coll, The New Yorker (“How America Failed in Afghanistan“):

[ Chotiner] You could argue that this shows the Biden Administration’s policy was a mistake, but you could also argue that, if this was going to happen so quickly after two decades of American troops in Afghanistan, there was no way to make this work without pledging to stay forever. How do you think about those two ways of looking at the situation, or do you think that dichotomy isn’t helpful?

[ Coll] I think that dichotomy describes two poles that represent the range of choices that the Biden Administration faced, and in between those poles had been, more or less, the policy going back to the second term of the Barack Obama Administration—which was a smaller, sustained deployment. There were twenty-five hundred troops there when the Biden Administration came to office. The rate of casualties incurred by nato forces was almost at the level of traffic accidents for much of the past couple of years. So a sustained, smaller deployment—not free, but nothing like the expenditures of the past—linked to a search for some more sustainable political outcome had been visible. The Trump Administration followed that path, too, picking it up from the Obama Administration, and the Trump White House had become quite ambitious about it. It had negotiated with the Taliban an agreement that had a timetable, including regarding American withdrawal. But, until the Trump Administration got to that point, it had been following the same pathway as its predecessor.

I think in between was this question of whether the benefits of a messy degree of stability justified having the small-to-medium deployment that America has in other parts of the world. That is what you are going to hear in Washington. The counter-argument to the Biden Administration’s policy is not going to be forever war and the defeat of the Taliban; it is going to be a critique of the haste with which it pulled the plug on what was not a large deployment, and one that was not incurring a lot of casualties.

[…]

[ Chotiner] President Biden’s attitude toward Afghanistan of late has seemed to be one of annoyance, while he’s also putting a strong emphasis on the need for Afghans to stand up and fight for their country. How do you feel about an American President putting that forward after the U.S. has been intimately involved in that country for decades?

[ Coll] I try to tamp down my emotions about it, because I think it is an outrageous critique. I can understand the frustration that American decision-makers have had with their partners in the Kabul government for the past twenty years. It has been a very rocky road, and it isn’t all the fault of U.S. Presidents and Vice-Presidents and national-security advisers. But to suggest that the Afghan people haven’t done their bit is a kind of blame-shifting that I think is not only unjustifiable but outrageous. The Afghans now have suffered generation after generation of not just continuous warfare but humanitarian crises, one after the other, and Americans have to remember that this wasn’t a civil war that the Afghans started among themselves that the rest of the world got sucked into. This situation was triggered by an outside invasion, initially by the Soviet Union, during the Cold War, and since then the country has been a battleground for regional and global powers seeking their own security by trying to militarily intervene in Afghanistan, whether it be the United States after 2001, the C.I.A. in the nineteen-eighties, Pakistan through its support first for the mujahideen and later the Taliban, or Iran and its clients. To blame Afghans for not getting their act together in light of that history is just wrong.

Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA), a Marine infantry veteran of the war and a member of the Armed Services Committee, put out a long statement as well.

To say that today is anything short of a disaster would be dishonest. Worse, it was avoidable. The time to debate whether we stay in Afghanistan has passed, but there is still time to debate how we manage our retreat. For months, I have been calling on the Administration to evacuate our allies immediately—not to wait for paperwork, for shaky agreements with third countries, or for time to make it look more “orderly.”

While I am proud that a strong, bipartisan majority in Congress voted to expand the Special Immigrant Visa program in support of our Afghan friends, my worst fear has become realized: That ultimately this effort would distract from what is truly needed, an immediate evacuation. The fact that, at this hour, we have not even secured the civilian half of Kabul Airport is testament to our moral and operational failure. We need to rectify this immediately. America and our allies must drop the onerous visa requirements where a typo can condemn an ally to torture and death, and the military must continue the evacuation for as long as it takes. 

We should also not forget that the tragedy that unfolds before us today was set in motion by Secretary Pompeo and President Trump, who negotiated in secret with the Taliban terrorists last year in order to meet a campaign promise.

Today’s tragedy must also serve as a wakeup call to Congress, who holds ultimate, Constitutional responsibility for sending our best and brightest to war on the nation’s behalf. Successive leaders of both parties have failed to hold the votes for re-authorizing this conflict for the last two decades since we invaded to find Osama bin Laden. For that, all of us in Congress should be ashamed.

As I’ve noted previously, there’s plenty of blame to go around for the debacle that is Afghanistan and Biden likely deserves the smallest share among the US Presidents who oversaw our involvement. But he absolutely deserves the blame for not adequately preparing for the evacuation of Americans and the Afghans whose lives are most in danger for having cast their die with us. Many of us—including some with much bigger megaphones than me—were pleading with him to do this back in April (see here and here) and there has been focus on this issue since the earliest days of Biden’s Vice Presidency.

I am frankly baffled that this was not better planned. Unlike Trump, Biden has decades of experience and a world-class team of competent advisors with whom he has a personal relationship. He knows how to use the resources of the vast intelligence, diplomatic, and military bureaucracies with the necessary expertise to have foreseen this debacle. And he’s a fundamentally decent human being who personally feels the tragedy of the death and destruction that’s unfolding right now. Yet, the rush to the exits was seemingly handled with Trumpian incompetence and indifference.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Afghanistan War, Joe Biden, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    I am still processing yesterday so here are some random thoughts:

    The collapse of the Afghan security forces without resistance reinforces the decision to leave.

    The rapidity of the Taliban takeover was not a random, spontaneous drive but a planned, almost inside job.

    Each Afghan woman has a father, husband, or son. Apparently, not one of them is willing to defend her. Apparently, they don’t have the concern the West does over the status of women. Maybe we should just allow asylum for Afghan women.

    I will dread the next few weeks and the recriminations and pontifications from the shameless, the amnesiacs, the excusers, the exploiters, the sociopaths fill our airwaves. Maybe turn off the TV. I did find it useful to watch BBC rather than American news.

    The United States, in the end, will learn the wrong lesson.

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  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Fundamentally, I see this as a combination of abysmally bad intelligence regarding the operational ability and level of commitment of the native Afghan forces, and what has to amount to either an inability or a refusal on the part of the administration to recognize just how horrifically wrong that intelligence was. Historically our Achilles heel in this theater, indeed in Asia, has always been thus. We don’t understand the region, and we don’t learn from failure. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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  3. In Biden’s defense it’s not inadequate planning that led up to this but that no imaginable policy other than the announced intention (with follow-through) to remain in Afghanistan forever would not have brought us to this day. Four consecutive presidents demurred from making that the policy.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    He’ll take the blame because it happened on his watch, but the real blame lies at the feet of Bush and Obama

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @HarvardLaw92: @David Schuler: @Sleeping Dog: As noted in the OP and the earlier post linked therein, I don’t think Biden deserves much blame at all for the collapse of the Afghan government. The question is whether the exit should have been planned such that we got out our people well before it happened.

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  6. JohnSF says:

    Zarifa Ghafari;

    “I’m sitting here waiting for them to come. There is no one to help me or my family. I’m just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can’t leave my family. And anyway, where would I go?”

    Ms Ghafari, 27, rose to prominence in 2018 by becoming the youngest, and first female, mayor in Afghanistan in Maidan Wardak province. The Taliban has frequently vowed to kill the articulate, politically influential female critic. Her father General Abdul Wasi Ghafari was gunned down on 15 November last year, just 20 days after the third attempt on her life failed.

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  7. JohnSF says:

    Sara Wahedi:

    I’m running on 1 hour of sleep in a day and a half. Checking security alerts with my team, inputting reports of Kabul residents, doing our part.
    But my brain, heart and soul died today. I will get up and keep working, I know that. But we will never be the same, never.

    You’re killing us.
    We aren’t a citation in your poli-sci books.

    Muska Dastageer:

    The fear just sits inside your chest like a black bird. It opens its wings and you can’t breathe.

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  8. Kathy says:

    Afghanistan per se will be forgotten soon (really). But the next terrorist attack anywhere will be blamed on Biden’s withdrawal.

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  9. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    The government, such as it even was one, was always going to collapse. That was an inevitability. None of us, I think, blame this admin for that inevitability proceeded as expected post US withdrawal.

    Where they do need to accept blame, and do some effective post-mortem, is in producing and swallowing whole intelligence estimating that this collapse would proceed slowly over some 18 months, giving everyone involved time to leisurely get the affected out of the country. We could argue about many things, but I’d proffer that it was pretty obvious to anyone with a brain that such an estimate was the worst sort of absolute best case rose-colored glasses fantasy. The admin appears to have swallowed it as absolute truth, again either because it desperately wanted to believe it despite having reservations, or simply because those involved were so incompetent as to be unable to recognize it for the fantasy it was. Either way, that’s their failure to own and learn from.

    Short version – the admin is not responsible for the collapse. It is, however, responsible for badly dropping the ball on its handling of the end game.

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  10. Lounsbury says:

    @Scott:

    Each Afghan woman has a father, husband, or son. Apparently, not one of them is willing to defend her. Apparently, they don’t have the concern the West does over the status of women. Maybe we should just allow asylum for Afghan women.

    This is delusional white knighting bollocks.

    Allow asylum for Afghan women presumes
    (1) Afghan women outisde of the elite that the Journos transmit to you lot as the Voice of Afghan women are some body-culture-politic that is different than the men
    (2) Afghan women do not themselves in large percentages in sympathy with the broad cultural foundations that the Taleban represent.

    These delusions are part of why the foreign intervention failed. Fuzzy minded delusional thinking that “Afghan women” have some solidarity with a foreign secular cultural project over their Afghan identities, cultural preferences, etc. (Afghan identities in the plural).

    And of course further cemented by the delusion that Protecting Women from an Afghan PoV (or let us say more practically from the non-Pashtun and non-elite PoV) would be best done by fighitng for an American puppet government which

    This is nothing more than the old 19th century Civilising Mission dressed up in new ‘progressive’ cultural clothes. It is an aspect of self-delusion that contributes to what Harvard (@HarvardLaw92: ) has noted, bloody poor intelligence which is really self-delusional blindness.

    The collapse really seems – it rather appears the Ghani government forgot the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus’ advice to pay the soldiers and f-k the rest. With the wide reports of the security forces not being paid in nine months plus, it’s rather obvious that the American client elite had no plan other than to continue to leech off of the Americans forever. Else they would have been paying the security forces.

    The collapse has merely shown that the entire client state was an enormous Potemkin village with zero real Afghan rooted reality. Another three, six, nine months (whatever number of Friedman Units one so desires) would never change that.

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  11. Scott says:

    Next brain hurting reasoning:

    We can’t always live in constant fear of a virus.

    We now have to live in constant fear of terrorism.

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  12. JohnSF says:

    Shiv Arror:

    Unbelievable scenes on Kabul’s runway. A pair of US Army AH-64 Apache helicopters clearing Afghan panicked, desperate crowds from the tarmac so that giant C-17 can take off.

    BNO News:

    At least 2 people fall to their death after holding on to a plane as it takes off from Kabul Airport

    So not like Saigon at all.
    At least in Saigon the US was evacuating people with helicopters, rather than using them to chase people out of the way.

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  13. de stijl says:

    This is Bush’s fault. Actually Cheney and Rumsfeld and their assorted lackeys and minions, but Bush held the big chair then. Elected by the people kinda sorta.

    Those people set the table for this. Folly and nonsense. This fallout is on them. Those that chose this foolish path way back when.

    I am sick to death of cleaning up Republican shit and left-over detritus. Taking the blame for pulling the plug on bullshit legacy policy decisions.

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  14. @James Joyner:

    The question is whether the exit should have been planned such that we got out our people well before it happened.

    It intuitively seems to be the case that surely there was a planning error here. But I would like to know if any analysis has been done to identify what they might actually mean.

    The mind-bogglingly rapid nature of this collapse makes we wonder if was, in fact, possible to better plan for it.

    One thing I do blame the administration for without any reservation: there needed to be a better plan and process to give interpreters, et al., a way out.

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  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am frankly baffled that this was not better planned.

    I suspect it is at least partly due to having unrealistic expectations. There has been a 20 year campaign of denial of the realities in Afghanistan. Too many careers depended on not acknowledging the truths. That fact did not change with elections.

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  16. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The mind-bogglingly rapid nature of this collapse makes we wonder if was, in fact, possible to better plan for it.

    I’d say yes, absolutely. For the simple reason that we knew, or should have known, that the collapse was a certainty post withdrawal. There is no universe in which what Lounsbury has accurately termed a Potemkin Village of a government would have survived, so planning for getting the affected out of the country should have been priority one from the day that the Trump admin signed its agreement with the Taliban in February of 2020. That’s an 18 month spread of time in which a lot of those who will now almost certainly be executed could have been saved.

    Even if we (probably fairly) say that the former admin sat on its hands and did nothing, the current one still had months in which to extract as many as it could, but didn’t. There are two possibilities that I see there: either the admin legitimately believed it would have ample time post collapse to extract these poor souls (which makes it incompetent) or it knew that they were going to be decimated and stuck to its “by 9/11” timeline anyway for political reasons (which makes it malevolent). Either way, it is ample cause for calling their judgment into question.

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  17. Lounsbury says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Indeed. How does one plan an orderly exit from a Client State when the clientelle elite is embezzling the funds you pay them for their own proper security forces and is permanently invested in your propping up their Potemkin village façade?

    Is there any planning for that which is intellectually processeable and digestible to a modern bureaucratic state?

    It would appear not.

    The events have merely ripped the façade away from reality.

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  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Note that none of that takes into account what appears at least to be operational (we should pray that they were rendered inert / destroyed) state of the art military materiel (drones, among others) left sitting on the ground in our haste to beat feet. I wonder who might be interested in paying our new Afghan overlords to obtain those prizes for deconstruction and reverse engineering?

    No. They got caught with their pants down around their ankles here, IMO. There is really no other way to view it.

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  19. Lounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Plannable yes in theory but really is it genuinely digestible for the modern bureaucratic state apparatus? I have doubts. Too many levels of admission of profound failure, and admission that 20 years and early 150 billion USD merely bought a Potemkin village façade of a government that had no foundations….

    I am reminded of my investment mission when the USG wanted my people then to invest in some expansion take over of some Afghan agribiz assets. The American gov cubicle drones besides promising significant subsidy also were talking about actionning on a repossession clause that come from a prior direct funding. Fine little contract.

    The facility when I visited it was like a fortress, guarded by a militia with heavy weapons.

    But the contract… the rights. All fine things draw up by nice American lawyers.

    It’s not so much that they bothered, I would too, but the conversation was so delusional, in their nice aircon cubicles, actually thought such things had some real meaning on the ground. Incapable of even in non-recorded convos admitting the reality.

    Frankly I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough.

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  20. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Lounsbury:

    I won’t disagree, except to say that I was speaking solely to the issue of expatriating Afghan citizens who were inevitably going to be put at risk of execution for being seen as collaborators. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the current situation on the ground is a failure of (or more aptly put, predictable result of) bureaucracy, but the salient point I keep coming back to is that the means exists (executive order) by which all of that bureaucratic inertia could have been circumvented, but wasn’t. We’ve had all manner of folk shouting from the rooftops for forever now that the visa / expatriation process was hopelessly mired in muck and was not working. That wasn’t esoteric knowledge – there have been any number of op-eds about it. The failure to 1) acknowledge that fact and 2) act to rectify it to the extent possible does have to be laid at the doorstep of the current admin, I think. The government was always going to fall, absolutely. Without question an undeniable fact, but I think that there is and will continue to be a lot of unnecessary blood on our hands with respect to those that easily could have been saved, but weren’t.

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  21. KM says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    That’s an 18 month spread of time in which a lot of those who will now almost certainly be executed could have been saved.

    We were always going to be leaving someone to die. In fact, we were always going to leave the vast majority to die and possibly save only a handful of “useful” people. There were always going to be desperate people realizing they’re not “useful” and aren’t being saved trying to get in on the last few rides. That’s what we as a nation need to stop pretending and pointing fingers on. A collapsing nation is never pretty and there will always be a lot of people let behind.

    Even if we spent every hour since Day One of the Biden Admin, we wouldn’t have gotten them all because you can’t evac an entire nation. Even if we saved every since one of our allies, we were abandoning innocent men, women and children to the Taliban. *Everyone* is going to be affected by this and thus we cannot logically get the affected out – we would have been picking and choosing who lived and died and if you don’t think the GQP would interfered or bitched, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to send you. Save only the contractors or political allies? OMG you left children to die you bastard! Save the women and children to leave the men to fight it out? OMG you abadandned our war fighters while also bringing in illegal immigrants for anchor children to replace us!!! Do you really think that if Biden had ordered a mass evac and influx of Afghani souls into US-held areas there wouldn’t have been screams about importing terrorism and efforts to prevent it from grandstanding idiots who remember how well the word “terrorist” works on their voters? The effort it would have taken to do the right thing would have been killed in its cradle.

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  22. Jen says:

    Sad, heartbreaking, and utterly goddamn predictable.

    I really don’t know what else to say. We could have been there for another 20 years and I doubt a withdrawal then would have looked any different.

    We should have gotten those who helped us out. An American commitment isn’t worth anything is the message, loud and clear. It will be a bloodbath and there’s nothing we’ll be able to do because no one is going to help us.

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  23. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @KM:

    It isn’t a sin to try and fail. It is a sin to fail to try.

    We wouldn’t have gotten everybody, but we’d have gotten quite a bit more than we did.

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  24. JohnSF says:

    Systemic collapse was a accelerating failure cascade since the Doha agreement Feb. 2020.
    US accepts a “role” for the Taliban.
    Trump says “The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah”
    Afghan soldiers, civil servants and local leaders could see the writing on the wall.

    Fiscal collapse of the state as everyone pockets what they can to safeguard themselves.
    Troops and bureaucrats go unpaid, due to fiscal collapse, so themselves resort to looting, or desert, or both.
    Local leaders begin looking for deals with the Taliban. Aware of this, desertion keep rising.

    The process might have been halted if Biden had been willing to risk a return to fighting the Taliban. As he was not, the rot just gets worse.

    The Afghan forces were not designed, or structured, or trained, or equipped, as an independently operating army.
    They were configured to act mainly as an auxiliary force to the US for holding/policing/garrison roles; and dependant on the firepower, logistics, surveillance/intelligence etc of the US for any heavy fighting.
    And on the maintenance support services of the contactors.
    And deployed in positions untenable without that support.

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  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    My father was a US Army ‘lifer,’ 20 years in service. There are men in the ‘Afghan army’ who’ve served as long. Men who grew up in that army, and then walked away without firing a shot.

    This is FUBAR, as they used to say. The Biden administration did not impress. But the speed of this collapse goes primarily to the abject failure of the US military and US intelligence services.

    We are the last people on earth who should be training 3rd world troops. The Turks, maybe the Egyptians. I mean, obviously poor-ass little Afghanistan was never, ever going to be able to have a trillion dollar’s worth of Air Force overhead at all times. And our various intelligence agencies, likewise, had 20 years in-country. 20 years – entire careers – and they knew absolutely nothing.

    Biden will get beat up and he’ll deserve a portion of it. Obama and Trump both have bigger portions. But the table was laid by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Never have three men had a a more unwarranted high opinion of themselves.

    But what bothers me more is the abject failure of the Pentagon. We lavish praise (not to mention money) on the military but it’s perfectly clear that they had no idea what the hell they were doing with the ‘Afghan army.’ It’s time for a thorough, top to bottom look into just what the US military can do. Can the US fight China if we have to? Can we defend Europe if need be? Hell, if Mexico gets feisty can we handle them?

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  26. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Media: When are we going to get out of this “forever war”! How many more troops have to die!!!!!

    Biden: We’re getting out–bye

    Also Media: OH THE FRIGGIN HORROR! WHAT OF THE AFGHAN WOMEN AND CHILDREN!!!!

    As a semi-invested person in this and having been a proud military profession–I do blame Biden for embarassing up professionally by given the entire world a 2 week infomercial on how incompetent the US Military is.

    I know EXACTLY what the recommendations made to him were which I will not state here–but I will say–the recommendations made to him were designed to get out and prevent this EXACT situation and starve the Taliban of recruiting and fundraising videos. BIDEN CHOSE ANOTHER OPTION and took the risk that the assessors were wrong about the low end for how many days Kabul could fall in. He was wrong–the professionals were (mostly) correct.

    I said on the other thread that my colleagues and I were texting each other months ago about how this would end up with images similar to Americans getting out of Saigon.

    Republicans ignore the CDC– Democrats ignore the Military…

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  27. Scott says:

    People cheered the end of the “Vietnam Syndrome” in the 80s. Long live the “Afghanistan Syndrome”.

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  28. Stormy Dragon says:

    Alternate headline: Foreign policy and defense policy establishment whose sole function is to provide advice and planning to the President wants you to know that this catastrophic 20 year failure of advice and planning is totally not their fault

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  29. SteveCanyon says:

    While I never rule out hubris or incompetence, the lack of preparation makes me wonder whether senior military officials who were against leaving, deliberately slow walked our departure in order to force Biden to change his mind on leaving. If so they miscalculated.

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  30. Lounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Right, however given the risk factors, I am afraid I don’t see anything else happening no matter what. It is the nature of a Western democratic state – a Sov style dictatorship could pull of perhaps but really wouldn’t bother mostly.

    @Jen: @Michael Reynolds: Oh bollocks on “Americna commitment ” and handling. Your military is perfectly capable of defnding Europe or any place of real value. Bloody hell, no one rational who is not anti-American sees this as anything other than stepping away from the inevitable. If one has a proper state and proper capacity American commitment is bankable, but one needs to have own-capacity – and that’s right and proper. It is not different than in investment – if your partner has no real skin in the game, you are right buggered. A Ukraine has nothing to worry about as there’s something organic there – as in not a Potemkin village.

    The Afghan soldiers walked away very rationally as that client regime was nothing more than a Potemkin Village façade – why bother dying for it rather than a return to local powers. Since the client-regime demonstrated they were themselves unwilling to pay in for defence, the answer is quite clear, you go to the local warlord whose itnerests are at least directly aligned to paying you.

    It was a hopeless cause and the impact will be less even than Viet Nam (another case of a client regime with no real foundation to ever build up on), and the billions wasted on Afghanistan can be more profitably directed to actual allies or clients with some plausible roots. Or spent on client warlords and drones in the not-unlikely case the Taleban forget their 2001 lesson and host al-Qaeda again.

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  31. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Dr Taylor, I assure you–there was planning. There was also DOWNWARD DIRECTION FROM POTUS on the timelines and priorities he wanted addressed in this. When the Boss says I want virtually everything out by 1st week of July—the only planning factor left is humanitarian evacuations–which you are seeing executed now.

    Biden wanted OUT–fast… All of the “what about’s” were essentially met with so what’s. I have no idea where the f*%* he got intel reports that told him he had 6 months for Kabul to last. They didn’t come from anyone in Afg. No one I know that has any experience with the Afghan Army training in the past or recently thought Kabul could go longer than 6 weeks.

    Oh and the cluster with the visas—typical of State. Nothing is an emergency or can get sped up with them. If you need it in 30 days and its a 28 day process–you get it in 28 days. If you need it in 7 days you get it in 28 days.

    The commenters here sure have unfiltered criticisms of our bumbling military–but never a word about the track record of State. Aren’t they the government-building experts? What wins did they have to show over 20 years for their part of this adventure?

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  32. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    The question is whether the exit should have been planned such that we got out our people well before it happened.

    Yes, things would certainly gone better if the withdraw had been planned so that all of our people left well before they left so that they could cold defend themselves until well after they left.

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  33. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    The commenters here sure have unfiltered criticisms of our bumbling military

    I don’t think people are criticizing the military as bumbling, but rather the defense department.

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  34. Jen says:

    @Lounsbury: You missed the point of my post.

    Intelligence agencies like to blather on about the latest tech, and it is important. But we need relationships and people willing to work with us in field to truly understand what is happening, and to do that there needs to be TRUST.

    Trust that when you say, “help us and we’ll get you out,” that we both mean it and can do it.

    That’s gone. Granted, it was hanging by the thinnest of threads, but it’s now officially gone.

    A number of posts above blame bad intel. Guess what? This is what a lack of trust gets you: crap intel.

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  35. Lounsbury says:

    @Jen: No, I didn’t miss the point, I reject it.

    It is no more gone than it was after Saigon.

    Rational actors understand ending a losing game.

    Irrational actors don’t need this to make their conclusions they merely ornament.

    If the US were to run away from Ukraine, now that would be damaging.

    Afghanistan is a black eye but like all black eyes, it will fade away with no worse damage than to ego.

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  36. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    The commenters here sure have unfiltered criticisms of our bumbling military–but never a word about the track record of State.

    I can’t speak for the others, but absolutely not from me anyway. From my chair, the military has performed admirably in just about every operational sense. This was, and history will record it as being, entirely a failure of policy (and of policy makers). DOD can only execute the mission it is given, which it did in its usual professional manner. The blame for this fiasco isn’t situated on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

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  37. Lounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Charming as American ‘military is great’ rhetoric is, it is rather evident that while they’re really very good at their own fighting capacity and execution, they are complete and utter rubbish at engagement in developing auxilary allied forces outside of highly developed world models. That does not make your military bad overall, but it’s really part of your ongoing cultural self-blinding to engage in such empty praise.

    Maybe the conclusion is that the US military is simply intellectually and culturally not capable overall in this area – not an insult mind you, no one entity can be great at all things…. and turn to others for developing country training (or develop some specialised practice although one rather suspects it could never survive long bureaucratically).

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  38. Scott says:

    The next theme that is rising up is that a Taliban-run Afghanistan is a national security threat.

    No, it is not.

    They may have harbored al-Qaeda one time and may harbor them again or someone like them. But that doesn’t make them a national security threat. I would push back on the notion that terrorism in general is a real national security threat. A deadly annoyance, yes but not something existential.

    9/11 was motivated by us being in Saudi Arabia. It was carried out by Saudis. We are targets in the Middle East because we are there. Mostly without permission. Don’t want to be a terrorist target, then don’t be where you don’t belong and are not wanted.

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  39. JDM says:

    Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “ You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time”. I would make note that this is also true with allies, intelligence, and all the assets a modern government and military depend on.

    I plainly remember the Fall of Saigon in 1975. President Ford had only been in office for 9 months. On 9/11, G.W. Bush had only been in office for 8 months and now Biden has been in office for 7 Months. All these administrations used the intelligence resources that previous administrations had installed. And Biden was the most unfortunate because Trump preceded him. I’m sure the loyal but dysfunctional rot that Trump had installed in all levels of the military and intelligence services ran deep. It’s well known that Republicans, especially Trumpkins, dismiss facts and reality when delusional thinking fits the narrative better. I don’t think 7 months is long enough to clean out the rot and get the facts straight.

    An interesting thing I’ve noticed is that many of the new photographs of the Taliban leaders show them carrying American M-16 rifles. I looked this up and found articles going back several years on how the Taliban has “captured” these and many other weapons. Instead, I think the Afghan Army has been allied with the Taliban for a long time and members of the Afghan Army supplied these to the Taliban.

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  40. JohnSF says:

    @Scott:
    But what if you are wanted by some, but not by others, and those others who do not want your presence are willing to carry out terroristic acts against you.
    Ask for a show of hands?

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  41. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Lounsbury:

    I think there is a tad of British arrogance in that statement (as in Britain isn’t in a position to lecture anyone about the right way to build empires), but I’ll entertain it.

    Afghanistan isn’t a country. It’s lines on a map that might just as easily have been labeled “the shitty part nobody else around it wanted”. No fewer than 14 major and some 133 minor tribal identities, with different languages / dialects / ingrained cultural practices, whose sole unifying feature seems to be that they all want to kill each other. 5 miles outside of Kabul – welcome to the Middle Ages. Villagers who might go their entire lives without encountering someone from another village down the road unless they were at war with one another. Jesus, Buddha, and Mohamed working together couldn’t forge that morass into a coherent national identity. Toss in an intrinsically corrupt government and, well, this is what you get.

    The only way that this would have been successful would have been Roman style tactics – military obliteration, followed by cultural (and probably a healthy dose of literal) genocide, followed by generational level programs of reeducation for those remaining to stamp out the tribal practices and identifications underlying this pool of quicksand. Short of a regime like perhaps China or the USSR under Stalin, that was never going to happen.

    Short version – it wasn’t a failure to carry out the mission on the part of the military. It was the assignment of an impossible mission by policy makers. As I said, the blame for this one, like so many before it, doesn’t lie on the Virginia side of the Potomac (unless we’re looking squarely at Langley …)

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  42. JohnSF says:

    @JDM:

    Afghan Army has been allied with the Taliban…

    And the 70,000 Afghan soldiers who died in combat?
    Allies?
    Accidents?
    Just pretending?

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  43. JohnSF says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Lounsbury isn’t a Brit, unless I’m very much mistaken.

    I, on the other hand, am most definitely your huckleberry.

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  44. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JohnSF:

    He plays one on TV *shrug*

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  45. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @JohnSF:

    I have no idea if he is or isn’t, but his dialect affectations certainly indicate he’s at least Brit-adjacent. (Do Australians, South Africans, etc., use “bollocks” frequently? Thought it was mostly a British thing.)

    ETA: Then again if I saw someone use “I’m your huckleberry” I would assume they were American.

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  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92: The congestion and inefficiency of the process is baked into the fact that the process is only to create the appearance that we will stand behind our “allies” on the ground. The US has never had the backs of the indigenous people we use for intelligence and support during my lifetime. I don’t see any reason for that to change any time in the future. The in-country support are simply a tool in much the same way as armaments. Anything not worth packing/to heavy to carry is left behind. Several thousand Afghanis, much like the several thousand Vietnamese before them, are certainly too heavy and not worth packing in the eyes of the government.

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  47. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @KM: “… you can’t evac an entire nation.”

    This too! Good point!

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  48. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Dude. It’s always been this way. The goal is selling newspapers/ads/whatever, not commenting on policy for the purpose of creating an “informed public.” NOBODY wants an informed public–said public least of all.

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  49. JDM says:

    @JohnSF: I stand corrected. Allied was too strong of a word. Maybe sympathetic to the Taliban cause would have been better. There is no doubt that tens of thousands of very dedicated Afghan Army soldiers fought hard and died in actions against the Taliban. It’s that with so much American military equipment in the hands of the Taliban, I think there have been, let’s say profiteers in the Afghan Army selling American military equipment to the Taliban. And with the 2 trillion dollars that have been spent, there has been a multitude of profiteers on all sides of the war. Probably just the nature of war.

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  50. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jim Brown 32: “I know EXACTLY what the recommendations made to him were which I will not state here–but I will say–the recommendations made to him were designed to get out and prevent this EXACT situation and starve the Taliban of recruiting and fundraising videos.”

    Maybe you should be blowing whistles. I dunno. Your call.

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  51. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: @HarvardLaw92:

    Thanks… This has been a hard week for me and Im only SEMI invested–I know what my collegues who spent significant time on that problem set are going through…and the people that had buddies killed and maimed are really in a bad place right now.

    I don’t care if its a game of marbles—we don’t play to lose. I am incredibly embarrassed and angry we allowed these shit heads the opportunity to celebrate on the field with time still left on the clock.

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  52. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    We can defend ourselves and Europe too. Not even a stretch.

    Pound for pound. Easy. If we can overwhelm the airspace it is a done deal. We win.

    But a battle is not a war. We win battles as a matter of certainty with tech and professionalism.

    We “lose” wars routinely. Basically every war since Korea we lost. (I am excepting Grenada and Panama bullshit because that was just stupid jingoist bullshit.)

    Military force alone cannot win a war.

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  53. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JDM:

    I suspect that if anyone ever did a serious deep dive into that situation, you’d find it might have gone something more like:

    “Hello Pashtun/ Tajik/ Hazara/ Uzbek/ Aimaq/ Turkmen/ Baloch/ Pashai/ Nuristani/ Gujjar / et al ad infinitum”

    *tribal decoder ring handshake*

    “Hello fellow Pashtun/ Tajik/ Hazara/ Uzbek/ Aimaq/ Turkmen/ Baloch/ Pashai/ Nuristani/ Gujjar / et al ad infinitum! Allah be praised”

    “I see you have American rifle weapons. Can you help your fellow Pashtun/ Tajik/ Hazara/ Uzbek/ Aimaq/ Turkmen/ Baloch/ Pashai/ Nuristani/ Gujjar / et al ad infinitum get these weapons too? ”

    “But of course … “

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  54. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Lounsbury: Not true at all. There has to be investment by the partner and Trust. As mentioned numerous times–the Afghans civilian leaders couldn’t even be trusted to pay their own soldiers regularly.

    The power of our military is in all the enablers we have that support the shooters. A gun fight is a gun fight. If you’re in a shooting war with Americans, there are a 10 people for every shooter giving them all the information they need to kill you–destroy your supply chain, and kill your successor.

    We ultimately could not trust the Afghan government with those types of capabilities–what do you think the dominant tribe running the Afghan NSA or FBI would have done to rival tribes? Only a fool would have given them that type of power

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  55. Kingdaddy says:

    The sudden collapse, according to some reporting today, was the result of deals cut between the Taliban and lower-level civilian and military leaders weeks or months ago. This feels like there was a massive US intelligence blind spot at play, missing that these deals were already in place. The Taliban blitz took mere days, which I am sure the Biden Administration did not expect. In coming weeks, expect to hear (1) no US official had any idea about these deals, or (2) someone did, but they were a voice in the wilderness, their warnings lost in the noise of competing and often conflicting messages. The second alternative is a common scenario that leads to calamities like this.

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  56. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury: @Jim Brown 32:

    Has the Pentagon spent the last 20 years dutifully reporting up the chain of command that they had no fucking idea what they were doing with the Afghan military?

    Yes, idiot politicians, yes State Department too, and frankly at this point why not just shutter the CIA? How many huge realities are they allowed to miss? The USSR is TEN FEET TALL. . . oh, wait, never mind, USSR went bye-bye when we weren’t looking.

    But none of that explains why an army we’ve been training for 20 years simply surrendered. Did the Pentagon know our Afghan army was a joke? Did they honestly tell POTUS and Congress that we were training a Potemkin army, throwing money down a bottomless well? Were there four stars with their hair on fire warning the pols that it was all bullshit? Do they, even now, acknowledge the depth of their failure?

    I am not anti-military, I come from a military family, grew up on bases, but I don’t share your confidence in the military at this point, Lounsbury, because I don’t see why I should trust anything coming out of an organization that managed to spend 88 billion dollars on an army to protect a nation whose pre-invasion GDP was on a par with Chad, FFS, and yet failed catastrophically.

    There is no avoiding the fact that 20 years of US military training and equipping meant absolutely nothing in the end. Nothing. What we got for indulging the military for 20 years is Saigon the Sequel.

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  57. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: This–there was also the Warlord to rule them all strategy but we see how that worked out in Iraq with Saddam. You eventually get blamed for enabling human rights abuses–despite the fact that overall–these despots create a sense of order where Western-style governing practices cannot.

    We are still in Korea, Japan, Europe and other places 70 years later. No one laments how much money that’s costing us and we aren’t even needed in those places. 5000 people in 2 or 3 places in country to guarantee quality of life to Afghans who want to live in the 21st century was not an unrighteous cause. Children born during our time there aren’t even old enough to run the country and reject the old ways…they needed to be late 30s for that at least.

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  58. Scott says:

    @Kingdaddy: This sort of sounds like an interview I heard on BBC that was discussing the role of tribal elders outside of Kabul and how they both facilitated the Taliban and also are moderating their behavior.

    The Washington Post may call them low ranking government officials but that is Westernizing Afghan society. It just goes to display our blind spots to places like Afghanistan and an ability to view their society as they see it and operate in it.

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  59. George says:

    The invasion was unnecessary, and the long term outcome (ie the Taliban resuming power once American soldiers left) was obvious from day one. Nothing Biden (or Trump or Obama or even Bush after he started the invasion) could have reasonably done was going to change that. The best (and most common) response I’ve heard to Biden’s pull-out is: “It’s about time.”

    Getting out sooner and quicker was always the best option (well, not going in to begin with was the best option). Biden did what had to be done. The key lesson: don’t invade countries whose national sport is fighting off invaders for as long as it takes.

    Doubling down on stupid (ie sticking around hoping that somehow things are going to change in Afghanistan) had been tried for a couple of decades. Cutting losses and leaving was the way to go. Looking after the Afghanistan citizens who helped your forces (ie allowing them to immigrate to America) should be a given.

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  60. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: No whistle to blow–no law was broken. These are decisions that are the Presidents prerogative absent direction from Congress. It isn’t Biden’s problem if military professionals are butt hurt or Afghans left behind are massacred.

    He decided the mission wasn’t his priority–which Commander in Chiefs get to decide. But they also have to own the 2nd, 3rd, 4th order effects which no one really knows until the dust settles.

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  61. Michael Reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    No, it is not that simple. History is replete with examples of strategies and tactics and weapons that made sense on paper but failed in reality. How vulnerable is our technology to electronic countermeasures? Do you know? No, you don’t, because 100% of what we think we know comes from the Pentagon and the intelligence establishment. And why would you trust them?

    Seriously, could we stop China from invading Taiwan, for example? Can our ships cruise the Taiwan strait without being taken out by land-based missiles? You don’t know, I don’t know, and no one will know for sure unless it’s put to the test.

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  62. Jen says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    This feels like there was a massive US intelligence blind spot at play, missing that these deals were already in place.

    As I was saying, the quality of intelligence is based on trust. Relationships.

    We have neither. Our intel will suffer.

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  63. keef says:

    @David Schuler:

    As noted at your place, and Mr Joyner’s subsequent comment, the ineptitude of execution both operationally and politically is breathtaking. However, an honest person has to admit that this was in the works for years. The choices were bad, worse or godawful. Biden is not responsible for the unappetizing opportunity set, just for ensuring that godawful was the actual result.

    You’re doing a heckava job, Joey.

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  64. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Oh I fully agree. Americans like humanitarian missions (and I’d wager a healthy dose of empire building), but only the Saturday morning cartoon variety of it. The myth that you can swoop in, sprinkle some democracy dust, and *pouf* is one that American spectators love to believe in. The reality that the proposed cultural change almost essentially has to be enforced at the barrel of someone’s gun (be it ours or those of an affiliated local feudal type), usually against the will of those whose culture is being changed doesn’t play well in Suburbia.

    I always tried to look at Afghanistan from a strategic standpoint. Sure, it’s a pile of useless rocks from a resource standpoint, but it’s also a pretty centrally located platform from which to exert US authority / moment of pause over India, Pakistan, Iran, to a lesser degree China, and all of the BabyCrazy-stans (which by association means Russia). Andersen in the mountains, if you will. The logical path from a strategic standpoint wasn’t to park 5,000 troops there – it was to permanently stage 50,000 troops (or more, if necessary) there. We get the centrally located unsinkable aircraft carrier and staging base, and we’re sufficiently staffed to enforce cultural change in the bargain. Unfortunately, American viewers like quick, easy wars with a minimum of casualties that look great on TV. It was never going to happen, but I wish it had.

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  65. JDM says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Good summation. Well said.

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  66. James Joyner says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Short version – the admin is not responsible for the collapse. It is, however, responsible for badly dropping the ball on its handling of the end game.

    Yes. That’s exactly where I am on this.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    One thing I do blame the administration for without any reservation: there needed to be a better plan and process to give interpreters, et al., a way out.

    I think this is what the good-faith critics are emphasizing. There are Trumpers and neocons who are, wrongly, blaming him for “losing Afghanistan.” As I’ve been arguing since at least 2009, it was lost when Obama took the reins. But this particular failing is on Biden.

    @KM:

    We were always going to be leaving someone to die. In fact, we were always going to leave the vast majority to die and possibly save only a handful of “useful” people.

    I don’t think anyone sensible is arguing that we should have evacuated every single Afghan who might become a Taliban casualty. Rather, we’re arguing that we had a duty to the interpreters and others most directly tied to the American mission.
    @Stormy Dragon:

    Alternate headline: Foreign policy and defense policy establishment whose sole function is to provide advice and planning to the President wants you to know that this catastrophic 20 year failure of advice and planning is totally not their fault

    That’s a willfully silly reading of the critique being leveled here.

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Yes, things would certainly gone better if the withdraw had been planned so that all of our people left well before they left so that they could cold defend themselves until well after they left.

    Sigh. Embassy personnel, Afghan interpreters, and the rest rely on infantry-type forces to provide their safety and aviation assets for transport out. That mission should have been accomplished before the phased withdrawal of the security providers.

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  67. JohnSF says:

    Yalda Hakim, BBC:

    In case you missed it: Today Afghans were clinging to the undercarriage of US planes taxiing along the apron, then falling to their death, one by one, as the plane took off.

    The US military aircraft took off with citizens and diplomatic staff.

    This happened in Kabul today

    Eyewitnesses said that after American forces fired into the air to disperse crowds trying to force their way onto planes, at least three dead bodies were seen, although it’s not yet clear if they were shot or died in a stampede

    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the mission in Afghanistan has been a success. What does failure look like?

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  68. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    5000 people in 2 or 3 places in country to guarantee quality of life to Afghans who want to live in the 21st century was not an unrighteous cause.

    And you’re pretty sure the Taliban would have just thrown up their hands and said, well whaddya gonna do? The Afghan government was rotten to its core, their army was a joke, the Pakistanis can squeeze our nuts any time they like, the Taliban was quite clearly alive and well, and none of those facts apply to Japan, Germany or South Korea.

    You’re proposing fixed positions and a purely defensive posture, leaving the enemy with the initiative. When has it ever been a good idea to surrender the initiative to an active enemy?

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  69. @HarvardLaw92:

    except to say that I was speaking solely to the issue of expatriating Afghan citizens who were inevitably going to be put at risk of execution for being seen as collaborators.

    On this, we agree. There should have been a better plan on this front and I find the lack of one to be pretty awful.

    I was referring to the rest of it: one would like to think there was a better way to plan for what just happened/is happening, but am not sure what that means in any practical sense.

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  70. Gustopher says:

    The Washington Post has a pretty gripping article on the collapse of the Afghan army

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/15/afghanistan-military-collapse-taliban/

    KABUL — The spectacular collapse of Afghanistan’s military that allowed Taliban fighters to walk into the Afghan capital Sunday despite 20 years of training and billions of dollars in American aid began with a series of deals brokered in rural villages between the militant group and some of the Afghan government’s lowest-ranking officials.

    The deals, initially offered early last year, were often described by Afghan officials as cease-fires, but Taliban leaders were in fact offering money in exchange for government forces to hand over their weapons, according to an Afghan officer and a U.S. official.

    Over the next year and a half, the meetings advanced to the district level and then rapidly on to provincial capitals, culminating in a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces, according to interviews with more than a dozen Afghan officers, police, special operations troops and other soldiers.

    That’s more than a lack of training, that’s —well— treason on a mass scale. Or pragmatism, as the soldiers wanted to be on the winning side. Or hunger since they weren’t getting paid by the Afghan government.

    And if the WaPo can report on it almost immediately, then that brings up questions about how it came as a surprise to our government.

    We should have done more to get the people who helped us out. That’s on Biden. That’s why the timetable was moved back from May.

    But this was going to be a shit show no matter what he did.

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  71. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I am not anti-military, I come from a military family, grew up on bases, but I don’t share your confidence in the military at this point, Lounsbury, because I don’t see why I should trust anything coming out of an organization that managed to spend 88 billion dollars on an army to protect a nation whose pre-invasion GDP was on a par with Chad, FFS, and yet failed catastrophically.

    Well… I think I am the person who has made the comment in another direction, but the confidence in your military is bounded by what it is demonstrably good at [re-running Great Power wars, and smashing any conventional or near-conventional opponent]. Only fools would fight the US in conventional war. And even in short-term assymetrical interventions, also only fools would fight you.

    But same as the Romans learned – generally unbeatable legions do not make long-term occuption ipso facto achievable as successes unless other criterion obtain.

    But you are not as a nation or military institution demonstrably any good at building clientelle forces in lower-income situations where your specific mode of institutional and logistical organisation is not sustainable. Nor as comments here evidence, are you lot any good at admitting that (except perhaps backhandedly and strangely resentfully…).

    Bon – beni adam beni adam. No one particularly loves admitting weak points nor blind spots.

    @Jim Brown 32: Apparently Americans can’t quite grasp the idea that there is no power but the tribes… so your question starts from the false premise there is another choice.

    @HarvardLaw92: British or other “arrogance” has nothing to do with the observation. It is merely a factual observation ascribing nothing to say the old British empire model (which except in coming to an understanding that Afghanistan was nothing but a toothache and so one need to come to an understanding with the Emir / King, does not recommend, but the painful lesson learned in the multiple rounds of 19th century error could have been added on to the Sov example).

    That said I have already opined that barring a Stalin type approach (which would hardly be recommended for the USA, destructive of your reputation for no good gain) nothing more than making an arrangment warlords was the only path.

    That doesn’t change the observation of the repeated non-success the USA demonstrates on military training engagement with lower income developing countries. And whatever blame one puts on politicians, the internal inability to sustain the lesson within your military (as I understand internal critiques are not blind as such) can’t be merely put this on politicians and declare the military is faultless.

    But again, that doesn’t mean I am opining that the US military is incomptent, but this is an area of repeated failure. The cultural-institutional needs gap is doubtless just a bridge too far.

    @Jim Brown 32: Few (not no one) lament your ongoing presence in Europe or Japan as (1) you are more or less welcome in both, (2) the engagement and presence aligns with both local (European, Japanse) and your institutional capacities, (3) the economic and overall infrastructure of said places aligns both economic and logistical in

    Afghanistan is not Europe nor Japan nor even South Korea – each of which having been busted up following war but otherwise all of which having long centralised state traditions, at minimum early stage industrial development (Korea) or really near American level (Japan) if not equal (Europe). These are not mere nattering egg-head details, they are rather fundamental to both the interest case and to the sustianability.

    The failure of your project is not trust, it is lack of a real understanding of that reality, in poor ability to engage with different circumstances and the strange American inability to not understand that World War II and its post-war order is not The Model for every thing you do since. It’s bizarre the degree to which you all unconsciously remain unable to not think through all your international engagement except via that intellectual template (although perhaps understandable as the Great Success).

    Not really different than, to take an older imperial order, the difference between Roman Britain and its ability to support the imperial infrastructure in its fundamentals, and Scotland of the same period (or the lands beyond the Rhine). The fundamentals, the economics and the related cultural structures simply not there.

    But you rather evidence the cultural blindness that will continue to see non-success:

    Children born during our time there aren’t even old enough to run the country and reject the old ways

    Reject the old ways… amusing pretence.

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  72. KM says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    We are still in Korea, Japan, Europe and other places 70 years later. No one laments how much money that’s costing us and we aren’t even needed in those places.

    The reason is that we can withdraw from those places without worrying about instant social collapse. We’re not there solely to prop up a government but for our own various strategic reasons. We are not existentially necessary and that makes it easier for people to accept longer term investments. If you tell the public we *must* be there or else the last 20 years will descend into chaos immediately, you are going to get a lot of people asking WTF we’ve been doing for 20 years and if we’re just yelling at the tides to top.

    5000 people in 2 or 3 places in country to guarantee quality of life to Afghans who want to live in the 21st century was not an unrighteous cause.

    Are we an empire or not? Is it a colony/ territory or not? Is the military’s job to enforce quality of life on a “nation” that isn’t really a nation and won’t be one without heavy constant intervention? We keep acting like it’s a giant self-imposed prison and without the guards, it goes to hell in a second. If that’s the case, then it’s the natural state of being for a place we’re imposing an artificial order on and we need to be willing to be the wardens for a “nation” full of insurgents willing to shank us FOREVER.

    Reality is we don’t owe anyone a better quality of life in their own land – that’s up to them to achieve. You can’t force an constant artificial peace if the underlying problems of society refuse to address by the society in question. We can assist and we can support but we cannot keep running things forever since it then becomes OUR land, not theirs. If it’s not theirs, there’s no reason to fix it since the occupiers are doing the work. They are not a country as we understand it and try to run it – they are a collection of independent and antagonistic groups that do not want to be a country, just a bunch of smaller tribe-states. We do not owe them blood and treasure for decades and that’s what it will at the absolute bare minimum – it’s the graveyard of empires for a reason. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.

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  73. Lounsbury says:

    @Gustopher: Like I said mon ami, the Afghan State was nothing but a Potemkin village built to flatter the American Czars. It had no viable roots. A bit of foreign shrubbery transplanted as Potemkin façade, incapable of growing on its own in the soil there. A less flattering shrubbery but domestic one might have had a chance, but not that one.

    The Afghans abandoning it were merely being rationale.

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  74. @Lounsbury:

    the strange American inability to not understand that World War II and its post-war order is not The Model for every thing you do since

    Yup.

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  75. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: There are alot of people in the Military that like a challenge–even a lost cause. It’s a can-do culture by necessity. When the Pentagon has good leadership–which I think they have and have had for most of the 20 years of this—they have to make chicken salad out of chicken sh!t.

    Official policy was to create a central government with an army and police to secure the governance structure. Environmental factors made that a non-likely outcome. No President until Biden–officially changed the endgame–so DOD continued doing what activities they could which made sense and could be tied to the endstate directed from POTUS. In this case, that means–“we are training and securing elections.”

    Were there private conversations about “Hey Boss, this problem really has some baked-in difficulties that makes our success challenging”? I can’t say for certain but knowing the character of the uniformed people that would have had those conversation–I’m fairly certain those conversations were had. GAO is usually pretty aggressive if Congress sic’s then on any Department so Id be shocked if all the info needed to call POTUS on the matt weren’t buried in the reports they send to Committees. In the 3 times I’ve been interviewed by them about a Congressional high-interest item–the report they did was truthful–and died in the Committee. No action taken .

    In public–no General Officer is going to wage a counter campaign against the President’s stated policy unless it breaks the law, is immoral, or unethical. (btw Direction that carries risk of casualties are not considered unethical or immoral because we can mitigate those risks)

    The Chairman publicly broke with Trump because POTUS was directing illegal activities

    There are always private talks and public messaging. Sometimes they are aligned…many times they are not. What DOD was officially tasked to do never changed–and the things that are implied that need to happen to make the mission successful were never supported by congress or advocated for by POTUS.

    This is why I say it was considered a managed problem–you keep people there to keep the grass cut. Trump sold the riding mower so you either had to buy a new one or let the grass grow. Biden decided we didn’t want to replace the mower.

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  76. @Jim Brown 32:

    We are still in Korea, Japan, Europe and other places 70 years later. No one laments how much money that’s costing us and we aren’t even needed in those places.

    Those are in no way analogous. We are in those places are pure power projection for our own national security goals. They have zero to do with providing stability to those countries.

    5000 people in 2 or 3 places in country to guarantee quality of life to Afghans who want to live in the 21st century was not an unrighteous cause.

    Why would we think that no insurgency would arise if we said we were going to stay forever? This week has demonstrated that the Taliban are not going away and that they have a lot of support across the country.

    If the US military presence really was the glue holding all this together, it seems naive to assume that this was a sustainable circumstance.

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  77. KM says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t think anyone sensible is arguing that we should have evacuated every single Afghan who might become a Taliban casualty. Rather, we’re arguing that we had a duty to the interpreters and others most directly tied to the American mission.

    Again, so we only save the clearly useful to us but leave innocent villagers with targets on their back to die. Yeah – that’s not gonna endear them to us or make them want to visibly support us at all. Wonder why we had such a hard time over there? Could it be they knew the score from that last few times this has happened?

    From a practical standpoint, the villagers knew we would leave and when we did, they were screwed. For 20 years, this has been the sword dangling over everyone’s head. The thread just snapped recently, that’s all….. We should have saved those directly tied to us but let’s be real – anyone who is even remotely suspected of being not anti-US is gonna die. Did you sell to soldiers or work with them in any small way? Doomed. Didn’t tell the US to GTFO and fight back consistently for two decades? Dead. Some will have more obvious targets painted on them because of their collaboration but there are thousands of people who weren’t considered important enough to even be thought of for evac that are facing death today. Whole villages might get wiped out for being too friendly but because they weren’t on payroll, they would never have had a spot on a plane.

    We absolutely could and should have saved more. My complaint is that everyone is focusing on useful assets when the Taliban’s hit list is gonna be a lot more expansive. Over the years, we could have slowly gotten them out but the harsh truth is we didn’t care then and we don’t really care now.

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  78. inhumans99 says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    It is way too easy to assume from the comfort of ones desk chair that a few months of planning would be enough to safely evacuate several hundred thousand Afghanis (that is no small task to pull-off even well prepared ahead of time). Keep in mind that if Biden was succeeding Obama, or I would say if he was succeeding even Bush, that he would have been able to start setting the table to be well prepared to govern the United States.

    Prior to being sworn in Biden was hamstrung by Trump, and especially by Congress over being able to do the usual prep work to enter the White House prepared to do the job. Congress did not work on providing a Security Clearance for many of Biden’s picks prior to Biden’s swearing in (or if they did it was last minute and very close to the day Biden was sworn in, so things would pile up and end up on the to do list for Congress pretty fast), they did not fast-track the approval of Cabinet Members who did not really need to go through the long drawn out process of going in front of Congress to plead for their approval, they just dragged their feet.

    Really, in a world where folks like McConnell had any shame, he and the rest of the GOP would feel a great sense of shame that they have also let down a lot of folks in Afghanistan that deserved better from us after we spent over 20 years occupying their country.

    Biden is taking a lot of cheap shops over what went down in Afghanistan this weekend.

    I hope members of Congress realize that they may want to be careful in using this against Biden, after all this is the same GOP congress that watched their guy whip people up into a frenzy and encourage them to get violent months before (and even the day-of) the day Biden was sworn in. Congress was clearly caught with their pants down on 01/06/21, and yet they should have known what could happen and been better prepared.

    Congress lecturing Biden on Afghanistan is pretty much the pot calling the kettle black.

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  79. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:

    But you are not as a nation or military institution demonstrably any good at building clientelle forces in lower-income situations where your specific mode of institutional and logistical organisation is not sustainable.

    I’ve been yelling that for years. The idea that the most advanced, sophisticated, gear-dependent military on earth should be training illiterate goatherds in one of the poorest countries on earth is absurd on its face.

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  80. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Yes–that was the basically the prize at the end of the game for us—BUT ONLY if we could get it at minimum cost in terms of real money to USG and minimum casualties.

    Had it been a Strategic imperative instead of a nice to have–we would have wrecked the country and built it back instead of the scalpel approach and hoping the Afghan experience with elections would catch on and they’d adopt it for themselves.

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  81. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: We have leverage over the Paki’s–the Taliban is only out in the open because Biden said we’re out and we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone.

    They don’t want any with us–this is the best on the planet vs the Proud Boys. We’d take casualties obviously but so would they–orders of magnitude of what they’d need for survival. They’d lurk in the rural outskirts like they did before and uses IEDs and VBIEDs to remind us they were still around.

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  82. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Yes. Maybe not absurd, but unless you had some carved out special service dedicated to such – and if career advancement did not depend on the main military…

    Now would that be healthy for a democratic republic and its miltary, peraps a different question.

    @Jim Brown 32: Apparently your are completely unable to take historical lessons. Rather illustrative of the cultural blindness that keeps regenerating your American failures in this set of circumstances…. Destroy and rebuild… oh and people then get transformed into little Americans. You spent as much if not more money (inflation adjusted) on this than you did your WWII model and it still failed (See 2018 figures: https://www.cfr.org/blog/it-takes-more-money-make-marshall-plan). You might begin to suspect that rerunning the WWII model in other circumstances doesn’t actually work.

    Or not.

    Stalin already showed what’s needed to acheive the remodeling – the Sovs did this in Central Asia on reoccupying post-Revolution. Basically genocide. So if you wish to become Nazis or Party Communist, well… it’s not the “minimum cost” in terms of real money. It’s deciding to Save the Afghans by committing genocide on the Afghans. Soviets were quite okay with such under Stalin, but then they were quite okay with genocidal suppression of Ukrainians, Tatars, Volga Germans, etc.

    You all really do need to somehow get over the WWII dream. It was a unique case.

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  83. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @KM: I could say the same about owing quality of life to Democratic constituencies. How many friggin programs does it take for people to get their shit together and do the time-consuming thing required to make life better for themselves? There comes a point where YOU have to do something.

    We do those things because we have the power to and have humanity. Shit–lets just be France then.

    We don’t owe them anything no–but that’s not the standard we use for deciding what we do and who we do it for–and you know it.

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  84. JohnSF says:

    People ask “why did the Afghan government and army collapse?

    Few people wish to be the last to die in a doomed cause.
    And the Doha Agreement doomed them.

    Basically, includes commitments to:
    – complete withdrawal of all US and allied troops within an agreed time
    – the immediate release of thousands of Taliban prisoners
    – dropping all sanctions against and bounties upon the Taliban
    – a promise not to “interfere” in the running of the new Afghan state

    Now, ask yourselves, if you were an Afghan, and your “ally” had signed such a deal, over your objections, what would your guess be as to the likely course of events.

    If Biden had repudiated the deal, the Afghans might have had cause for hope.
    But on these terms?
    It’s all but an outright surrender, and a massive inducement to all on the government side to consider what might enable them and their families to survive.

    And if this was not being plainly reported to the highest levels, I would be astonished.

    But then Biden is reported as saying back in 2010, when asked about US obligations to Afghans:
    when he asked about American obligations to Afghans

    ‘Fuck that, we don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.’

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  85. JohnMcC says:

    @Kingdaddy: That business about a ‘massive blind spot’…. You know that every Afghan military unit that was being ‘trained’ had American ‘trainers’ and that these were/are typically imbedded with Afghan commanders. We also know that regular reports on strengths, weaknesses and plans to correct weaknesses are reported up the chain.

    Whacha bet that the Afghan army described in 20 yrs of those reports had nothing whatever to do with the Afghan army that actually existed?

    That would be a ‘massive blind spot’ wouldn’t it? Wonder how many of the authors of those reports will ever have to account for that blind spot? But I bet we both know.

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  86. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The idea that the most advanced, sophisticated, gear-dependent military on earth should be training illiterate goatherds in one of the poorest countries on earth is absurd on its face.

    Given that the illiterate goatherds were not being paid to be in the Afghan army, and that the Taliban was willing to give them money to just stand down and surrender… maybe the training wasn’t the problem.

    The illiterate goatherds were collectively literate enough to read the Doha agreement that @JohnSF references, and smart enough to understand how screwed they were and that they should take the best deal they could. It turns out that working in an army for no pay is less freedom that living under the Taliban and getting some cash.

    We never saw them put their training to use against the Taliban as we pulled out. But, yes, neither they nor their goats are reading a lot of Animorphs.

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  87. Gustopher says:

    @JohnSF:

    But then Biden is reported as saying back in 2010, when asked about US obligations to Afghans:
    when he asked about American obligations to Afghans

    ‘Fuck that, we don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.’

    He’s not wrong though — politically, rather than morally. The number of people who care about the Afghans in this country is remarkably small.

    And while the right wing will try to paint this as Biden’s Benghazi, it will resonate exactly like Benghazi — only among the few people who are completely bought in on the Republican Party anyway, and who won’t notice the hypocrisy when two weeks ago Rand Paul was saying we shouldn’t be rescuing any translators because they should stay in Afghanistan and fight the Taliban (presumably with irregular verbs)

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  88. KM says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    I could say the same about owing quality of life to Democratic constituencies.

    You could but it’s a false equivalence and you know it. There’s a world of difference between your own citizens you are supposed to represent and people half a world away in a country not our own that don’t want you there in the first place. They want the stability and money we offer, not us. They’d have kicked us out in a heartbeat if they could have gotten what they wanted any other way.

    We do those things because we have the power to and have humanity.

    But we don’t have the capacity or will for a forever deployment and this would be a forever deployment. @Jim Brown 32 – you cannot save everyone. That’s a sad fact of life. It’s not a failure of empathy or liberal kindness and ideals to understand we are finite and can’t keep supporting the unsupportable. It’s not a failure of humanity to admit this was a charade doomed to fail the second it got less support then it had. We cannot fix every nation that has problems; hell, we can’t even fix ourselves. Send a force of 5,000 volunteers to do the military’s work than and have it backed up by private money if it’s so easy to do but you aren’t gonna find any takers. This was going to happen eventually and just kickin’ it down the road means it will only be more disastrous when it collapses.

    It’s a fantasy we’ve been indulging for 20 damn years this wasn’t going to be the outcome. It was always going to burn down when we left and we can’t stay there forever no matter what you want to insist- basic logic tells you how this was gonna go down. It never, never, NEVER goes the way invaders want in Afghanistan but we keep pretending just a little bit more would have turn the tide or gotten a better outcome.

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  89. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    Mullah Omar did say from the beginning his strategy included the deep embedding of friends in the Afghan military. We may have thought that was just the blue-on-blue terrorists but it seems clear now Omar was playing a deeper game than simply damaging morale with a bit of violence.

    I believe James has it exactly right. The only thing I would venture to mention is the failure was in accurately predicting the sudden and utter collapse of the Afghan forces. Biden must have been thinking there would be a few more weeks to get our people out seems the most likely reason we failed. Some might say now it was obvious, but I don’t recall anyone saying it would surely happen by last weekend, and there are reports many of the Talibs are rather shocked it happened this quick too.

    That notwithstanding, the red tape blocking the evacuation of the people who worked for us should have been cleared away a month ago. It was widely reported it was all but stopping the process, and it seemed obvious (even to me) that executive directives would be needed to clear it.

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  90. Kingdaddy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Seriously, could we stop China from invading Taiwan, for example? Can our ships cruise the Taiwan strait without being taken out by land-based missiles? You don’t know, I don’t know, and no one will know for sure unless it’s put to the test.

    You can’t know for sure, but you can narrow down the range of likely outcomes through wargaming. You can also unearth some surprising (and therefore uncomfortable) results, such as the conclusion from the Millennium Challenge exercise that the Iranians would create problems for our carrier battle groups by attacking them with swarms of small, inexpensive craft.

    I wonder if anyone in the Pentagon, State, or elsewhere (including an interagency effort0 did a “tabletop” exercise about a US withdrawal from Afghanistan. They did one on the evacuation…

    In early August, even before the major Taliban push began, the White House convened a tabletop exercise on the planning for an emergency exit. At the embassy in Kabul, the Emergency Action Committee had taken evacuation plans off the shelf and was refining them, virtually on a day-to-day basis, officials said.

    …But it might not have encompassed what was happening with the Afghan military and the Taliban, beyond the mechanics of the evacuation.

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  91. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @inhumans99:

    Biden entered office with decades of foreign policy and administrative experience, and he doesn’t have to wait for a security clearance. Neither do the already cleared leaders over at the Pentagon. This was a military operation, ergo the best source of credible intel about the situation on the ground is usually sourced from the same. Had it been a priority to streamline the bureaucratic challenges, get these people off of the ground and out of the country, it would have been achievable. The military would have made it happen. The political will to do so wasn’t there.

    I remain convinced that is because workable, real world options were presented to the White House early in the game (along with some other, more politically oriented ones), and the political policy shop that constitutes the West Wing chose the one(s) it believed were best for it politically, not the ones best suited to the real world needs of the end game on the ground in Afghanistan. I’d proffer that every single war / skirmish we’ve had since WW2 has gone south not because of a lack of military capability, but because of mishandling and prioritization of political goals over military goals by the civilian political apparatus. It’s not a delightful bake sale, it’s nasty business, and if you’re going to commit to it, you have to do so in a way that permits it to be executed along military priorities – i.e. to win it. We haven’t done that in a long time, because the American electorate doesn’t have the stomach for it, and the results speak for themselves.

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  92. JohnSF says:

    @KM:

    it’s the graveyard of empires for a reason

    Which empires is it the graveyard of?
    This is just a cliche.

    Can you think of, lets say two, empires that found their graves their; or perhaps just a graveyard for a lot of soldiers in of imperial armies?
    True enough
    But no more so than, say, the plains of northern Europe.
    Or the peninsulas of the Mediterranean.
    Or most other places imperial armies have fought.

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  93. Lounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Understanding things via WWII again….

    You all are apparently completely incapable of not thinking through your great and grand adventure and coming out on the international power stage.

    Military priorities do not achieve WWII style victories in cases where said military priorities are category errors as to thinking and action. Rerunning WWII is not a path to winning unless you are deciding you want to become little American knock-offs of Stalin, which is a set of clothes that fits you poorly I think.

    Since you harbour such resentment queerly enough against the British, try the French for lessons, perhaps oddly closer to American style, Imperialism-wise.

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  94. Long Time Listener says:

    Let’s see where we were, in 2020. Have our views and comments changed?

    https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/us-signs-deal-with-taliban/#comments

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  95. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Which I think starts to get at what has been lurking underneath my own set of arguments, which has slowly been coming into focus for me as well. Any deployment of US military force should only happen in the first place based on a set of achievable, strategic objectives, or else don’t go down that road.

    Decimating the Taliban – military, strategic objective. Achievable. Devote sufficient resources to it, accept that there will be a cost that will have to be paid, and unleash the military to carry it out. It has an end point. Same principles apply to the elimination of OBL.

    Turning “Afghanistan” into some delightful ongoing democracy party – political, non-strategic objective. Something that can only be forced into being with the full resources of the country devoted to it, for a long period of time. It isn’t strategic (unless you consider a permanent presence there of benefit, which I tend to do) and it has no endpoint in the conventional, public sense of time. By necessity it will be essentially eternal.

    We tend to get the latter conflated with the former, but aren’t willing to shoulder the cost, either in blood or treasure, that’s required.

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  96. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Lounsbury:

    You completely misread that comment. Go back and try again.

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  97. JohnSF says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Definitely; this is a massive issue.

    Governments in both the US and the UK live for the front page, head of news soundbite, the polls, the focus group response, the “how does it play with the base”?
    Whatever sound, reality-based assessments and options come up the line, which can get skewed at senior level anyway, play second fiddle to political concerns.

    See the folly of UK politicians (esp David Cameron) re. response to Army requests for resources for Helmand.

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  98. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    I’ll tell you who it may resonate with.
    Any future putative allies where the US says:
    “Sure. We’ve got your back. We won’t ever let you down. Trust us.”
    (p.s. Please read disclaimer re. time expiry on this guarantee, thank you)

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  99. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: Oh good god, this tedious misplaced pedantry again: the aphorism is not that Empires collapse in / due to Afghanistan, it is that their armies die there for no good enduring result. Bloody hell, don’t be impossibly boring.

    @JohnSF: Permanent interests not permanent allies – anything else is fuzzy minded claptrap.

    And as one learns in investment, promising open chequebook and open guarantee of backing does not generally introduce success, and always and every time introduces Moral Hazard and highly destructive excessive risk taking.

    Unlimited and unconditional – or approximations of either value – guarantees to assuage ego-driven posturing only lead to Good Money being thrown after Bad.

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  100. JohnSF says:

    @Lounsbury:
    Sorry about being impossibly boring.
    I’ll have to learn to leave that to the expert.
    Take it away, maestro…

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  101. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: I believe mon ami that my role is being impossibly annoying. Boring is not my niche. As a specialist, I do try to say in my niche.

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  102. JohnSF says:

    @JohnSF:
    Sorry, have bore a bit more:

    ..their armies die there for no good enduring result

    Armies have in almost every region of the world (bar Antarctica the penguins are too scary) for no enduring reason.
    What marks out Afghanistan as particular exceptional, grave-wise?

    And also, there are arguably no such things as truly permanent interests either.
    Another cliche.

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  103. Jen says:

    @Long Time Listener: Nice find, and interesting to read.

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  104. KM says:

    Ok, so everyone’s getting a little testy. I think that drives home a point many of us have made in some form: this was a failure because of lack of communication, planning and clear goals across the board from start to finish. What begins poorly ends poorly. What was the point of going there? What was the point of staying? What would victory look like? What’s the accepted end goal or is there even an end in sight?

    This is a comment board and we can’t even come to a vague consensus among ourselves yet we expected this to work in real time. Biden made some mistakes but there was never going to be a non-messy end to this. We also couldn’t permanently be a presence in a warzone – places like Japan and Korea that we’ve been in for decades aren’t seeing our soldiers shot at and fear of total social collapse if they leave. Completely eradicating the Taliban may not have even been a solution as we saw with ISIS – something new just springs up if the ideological foundations are still in play. You can’t hold a snapped femur together with a bandaid and you can’t keep slapping bandaids on it forever hoping “it’s enough” will suffice. We screwed up at the beginning and kept going down this path under sunken cost fallacies and the mistaken belief we could change things. This was a terribly planned pullout but even a protracted one would still have had the same end result. There was no victory or good ending here – we only held off total loss for two decades. The patient was doomed from the initial wound and interns bickering in the breakroom about what experimental treatment might have worked wouldn’t have done anything other than maybe buy one more day.

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  105. keef says:

    “As I’ve noted previously, there’s plenty of blame to go around for the debacle that is Afghanistan and Biden likely deserves the smallest share among the US Presidents who oversaw our involvement.”

    On second read I find this from James rather convenient wording. Presidents? If memory serves, he was VP for 8 of the 20 years. Not exactly clean hands. Further, the notion that he’s a swell guy and has all this fabulous talent at his disposal, yet makes a Keystone Cops type mockery of the exit don’t quite square.

    With all the back and forth in the thread it seems odd that perhaps the most important issue is not addressed: what will US’ enemies make of a “wait them out” strategy now. Looks like a pretty good strategy. Hopefully, this deliberation will enter our future thinking before embarking on Mission Impossibles.

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  106. Michael Cain says:

    @JohnSF:

    What marks out Afghanistan as particular exceptional, grave-wise?

    I’ve usually remarked that it’s a matter of European and Asian empires getting there around the time of their maximum extent, before starting to decline. That’s not necessarily a coincidence. Between mountains and deserts, and nasty winters, it’s not like it’s highly desirable territory.

    OTOH, it must be more attractive than the US Great Plains. The GP have about double the area, but only about a sixth the population. Yes, on average Afghanistan’s population density is about twelve times that of the Great Plains.

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  107. Jon says:

    A wise man once said “… it is difficult to plan for a mass evacuation without inducing the conditions that necessitate a mass evacuation.”

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  108. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    My father was a US Army ‘lifer,’ 20 years in service. There are men in the ‘Afghan army’ who’ve served as long. Men who grew up in that army, and then walked away without firing a shot.

    This is FUBAR, as they used to say. The Biden administration did not impress. But the speed of this collapse goes primarily to the abject failure of the US military and US intelligence services.

    We are the last people on earth who should be training 3rd world troops. The Turks, maybe the Egyptians. I mean, obviously poor-ass little Afghanistan was never, ever going to be able to have a trillion dollar’s worth of Air Force overhead at all times. And our various intelligence agencies, likewise, had 20 years in-country. 20 years – entire careers – and they knew absolutely nothing.

    I think you misunderstand the fundamental nature of armed forces, war, and warfare as well as the history of what we did in Afghanistan. I’ll try to make this short:

    An army doesn’t exist in isolation. The Clausewitz trinity still holds (people – government – army). Fundamentally, war is the use of organized violence by a political community to achieve political ends, and an army is, therefore, both a political creation and a political tool in service to that political community, which consists of the people and the government. This basic framework operates at any organizational level from a town or tribal militia all the way up to a nation-state.

    The fundamental flaw in our approach was to create a national army for a nation that didn’t really exist. We built the army, but the other two legs of the trinity were never there and no amount of training could create them. The Afghan army didn’t collapse because they were poorly trained or because we tried to train to western standards. They collapsed because of the absence of the other parts of the trinity that are required to sustain a military force. And by sustain, I don’t just mean the material and logistical, but also the political, social, and moral, which are all necessary elements for any military force to have the will to fight. And the Afghan army collapsed from a lack of will, not a lack of adequate training.

    So you are expecting too much if you think the US military should not only be able to train a military force but also to inculcate a sense of nationalism in that force as well as the other parts of the trinity – the government and the people.

    Third, let’s be clear that training a national military force was a decision that our political leaders made and supported since the beginning. The reason our political leaders chose this course is because they are biased toward nation-state organizational concepts. But an even bigger factor is that the goal was to specifically dismantle the tribal and militia military forces that defined Afghanistan for a generation.

    Fourth, the US military was left holding the bag in Afghanistan and was ordered to take on tasks outside of its core competencies because our political leaders never built the US government civilian capacity to lead and handle those areas.

    Way back in the mid 2000’s there was a lot of talk about how the missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan were overly militarized, and that the other aspects for a successful post-conflict rebuilding of civil society should be done by non-military functions of the US government as well as NGO’s and other interested private parties. But that civilian capacity-building never happened. In 2007 you had the “revolt of the diplomats” when the Bush administration tried to get the State Department to do its job in Iraq. After that, the US government gave up and civilian capacity was never expanded. So all that fell onto the military, contractors, and a few NGOs. You had military commanders conducting diplomacy in Afghanistan, organizing and coordinating infrastructure projects, training Afghan forces, and many other functions that were well outside the military’s core competencies. All in addition to providing security and, when necessary, killing people and breaking things.

    So yeah, it turns out the military is not very good at tasks it was never meant to do. How incompetent!

    The question as to whether all the time, training, and resources spent to try to make the US military in a quasi-colonial administration affected our core warfighting capabilities is a good one. And I think the answer to that is yes. Our ability to conduct the kind of high-level combined arms warfare is much diminished.

    So I would use this analogy: Let’s say the mayor wants to send a hunter into the dark forest to kill the wolves that lurk there to protect the village. The mayor decides to best way to keep the wolves away is to build an outpost there. Normally, building an outpost would require lumberjacks to cut down the trees, sawyers to mill the lumber, and carpenters to build the structure.

    But even after killing most of the wolves and keeping the others at bay, the lumberjacks, sawyers, and carpenters say they can’t build the house, it’s too dangerous. So the mayor, seeing that the hunter can survive in the woods, tells the hunter that he must continue to hunt, but also must cut down the trees, build the lumbermill, saw the trees into boards, and then build the outpost.

    The hunter is finally told that he can leave the forest. Soon after the wolves come. They take over the outpost because it was poorly constructed but also because it was empty and undefended. A few locals in town blame the hunter for building such a poorly constructed fort and for not defending it. Meanwhile, the mayor, lumberjack, sawyer and carpenter, upon hearing this, remain silent.

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  109. dazedandconfused says:

    @Andy:

    Andy,

    As a tangential embellishment, the story of how one can “build a house” for someone and piss them off:
    https://www.eli.org/sites/default/files/vol.5_ch.20_unruhshalaby_colorcoverpage.pdf

    See page 9, “land rights context”.

    It’s in our self-obsessed nature to wonder only how we “lost” it and ignore how the Talibs won it, but the latter is where the best lessons are to be found. This is a story of how they won the battle of hearts and minds in the hill country by serving as an effective arbitrator of local disputes. Pretty much all the “government” the elders of the clans care to have.

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  110. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Andy: Good analogy.

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  111. @Andy: Good post.

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  112. Andy says:

    Just watched Biden’s speech. Not pulling of punches and no prevaricating. He said what needed to be said and buttressed my confidence in his leadership.

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  113. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Andy: His logic is valid to me. He basically said if the political leaders and the ANA isn’t invested. Im out.

    While I disagree with that condition–I don’t see that as a particularly problematic condition. Of course, he did own that it happened quicker than he thought—what he didn’t say was that it happened within the window of what he was advised of.

    There was more orderly options available to him–but he chose to go the speed route–which came from WH staff. Now he has to wipe egg off his face.

    BTW for any interested –I got bored during this Tropical Storm and googled GAO reports on ANA readiness and our Governance establishment efforts. It all there in all its naked glory—sent to Congress who can’t be bothered to do anything but name Post Offices or propose/filibuster performative legislation. And that’s just the unclass reports.

    The data was there to hold someone accountable. No one really cared. Afg was only occasionally a top priority. It’s a backwater both geographically and career wise.

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  114. Scott F. says:

    @Andy:
    Biden:

    “I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. That’s why we’re still there, we were clear-eyed about the risks, we planned for every contingency. But I always promised the American people I would be straight with you. The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”

    Biden is taking the political hit in the short term, but future Presidents will thank him for getting them (and the US) off the hook.

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  115. Jim Brown 32 says:

    This is both hilarious and angering watching this Garry Reid guy with DOD take the heat for (yet another ) State failure.

    They are in charge of visas and vetting and were told to plan for 25,000 evacuees—DOD was to provide transport.

    What do you get when you ask State to do anything except attend State dinners, go to conferences, and take meeting notes? The scene you saw at the airport…complete sh*t show.

    But the US strategy is going to be diplomacy–translation: see ya suckers.

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  116. steve says:

    So having been both enlisted and lower level officer I dont always have the highest opinion of flag level officers seeing tham as often largely political. Some of that is because of our Viet Nam experience. Our senior military back then really let us down and participated/enabled a lot of the lying and mismanagement that helped lead to a bad outcome there. How certain are we that while the grind level people were saying the afghans would fold in hours we didnt have those at the top giving amor optimistic picture.

    Steve

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  117. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner:

    As I’ve been arguing since at least 2009, it was lost when Obama took the reins.

    {Slips on comp teacher hat] I’ll just note that this statement can mean two different things:
    1)…it was lost when (because) Obama took the reins, and
    2)…it was (already)lost [even before] Obama took the reins.

    You may want/need to clarify which one you mean. Or you may not. I dunno. (A lot of things these days.)

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  118. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “That mission should have been accomplished before the phased withdrawal of the security providers.”

    And yet, knowing the truth of it, it still never happens. Hmmm…

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  119. Christine says:

    I graduated high school in 1980 and was so disappointed when the Olympics were boycotted because of the USSR invasion of Afghanistan. I followed the news on how the USSR was faring and recall it was described as their “Vietnam” in that there is no winning there. A quagmire indeed.
    When Bush gave up the search for bin Laden by March of 2002, I knew we were in for another quagmire. Obama should have pulled out after killing bin Laden, so yes he along with Bush and Trump are to blame, not Joe. I think Joe is showing his mettle, and gives zero phucks because he knows he is on the right side of history getting us out of there. FINALLY.
    Sadly, I don’t think there ever would have been an easy exit. Planning be damned, these people are desperate and we know what desperate people do. ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING INCLUDING JUMPING ON MILITARY AIRPLANES.

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  120. JohnSF says:

    James Glancey:

    The Afghans we were with in February, were all executed outside their homes in Kandahar on Thursday.

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  121. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @KM: Additionally, as I’ve been pondering the issue more I’m seeing that 2 or 3 enclaves of up to 5 or 6 thousand people in a country of ~40 million looks a little problematical to me. What will these enclaves be? Green zone areas in a major city? Scarcely more than refugee camps? Something in between? And how many troops is it going to take to protect these enclaves at the point that some warlord/Taliban bureaucrat decides that he’s tired of the situation and moves to unseat said enclaves? Doesn’t seem workable at first glance. Or even tenth.

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  122. Gustopher says:

    @Christine:

    Sadly, I don’t think there ever would have been an easy exit. Planning be damned, these people are desperate and we know what desperate people do. ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING INCLUDING JUMPING ON MILITARY AIRPLANES

    We could have negotiated directly with the Taliban for the safe passage of our friends and local allies, rather than relying upon a local army to fight to give us time when it was far more in their interest to cut a deal with the Taliban.

    We could have accepted that there was going to be a big refugee crisis, and worked on that.

    We could have pulled back from one province at a time, over a longer period, getting our allies to safety, and possibly even ended with effectively partitioning Afghanistan.

    There may not be a national identity there, but there are definitely regional identities, and our nation building may have just been at too high of a level. There isn’t a great record of multi-ethnic countries in the world — there’s us, Great Britain, and a whole bunch that have fallen apart or that maintain their status with force.

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  123. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jim Brown 32: I see my problem now. (And I’ve been in similar, though in no wise either as dire or important, situations teaching in a foreign country.) My experience is that no matter how nice the brioche, heirloom tomatoes, little thin red onion slices, hydroponic red oak lettuce garnish, and tarragon aioli are, I STILL KNOW THAT IT’S A SHIT SANDWICH. I congratulate you on being able to transcend in a way that I haven’t.

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  124. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    So you are expecting too much if you think the US military should not only be able to train a military force but also to inculcate a sense of nationalism in that force as well as the other parts of the trinity – the government and the people.

    Were there four stars on the Hill making this point? Did they tell Rumsfeld this was outside their core competence? When Biden decided on withdrawal did the Joint Chiefs call him up and say, Mr. President, this shit will fall apart in two weeks?

    Did McChrystal or Petraeus warn us in their books that we were spending a fortune on a Potemkin army that was likely to fold without firing a shot? Did the Pentagon not figure out that we were training an army to use an air force it could never have? Would the Turks or Egyptians have trained them to be as dependent on air power and hi-tech?

    There are a lot of questions about the military’s competence here, and they can’t just be dismissed by pointing an accusing finger at other organizations or even at politicians. When we lose wars we should figure out how and why without regard for the egos and institutional sensitivities.

    Look, Biden will take a hit and deserve it. The intelligence community – hard to write that with a straight face – will take a hit, and richly deserve it. @Jim Brown 32: wants to throw some shade at State, fine, they can answer for their failures. But don’t tell me the military did not fuck this up. 20 years dude, this wasn’t some desperate fast-and-dirty mission where you’d expect problems, this was two decades and multiples of Afghanistan’s GDP, and. . . vapor.

    The bottom line is abject failure, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

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  125. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @dazedandconfused: ‘Fuck that, we don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.’

    NO ONE ever intended for the people who worked for us to get out. Not in 2001, not in 2021, not ever. They were human resources with the emphasis on “resources” not “human.” First, last, and always.

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  126. keef says:

    @steve:

    We can’t be certain. But that runs counter to every single thing I’ve read about the advice he got.

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  127. dazedandconfused says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Those are not my words, nor did I quote someone else using them. Hit the wrong reply button?

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  128. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @dazedandconfused: No, it was a comment on:

    That notwithstanding, the red tape blocking the evacuation of the people who worked for us should have been cleared away a month ago. It was widely reported it was all but stopping the process, and it seemed obvious (even to me) that executive directives would be needed to clear it.

    I probably should have prefaced my comment better, but thought that, given the final paragraph was the point of your comment, it wasn’t as necessary. My bad. 🙁

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  129. Christine says:

    @Gustopher: We can’t handle the refugee crisis on our southern border and you think we could have managed one halfway around the world in Southern Asia? It was long overdue to rip that bandaid off.

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  130. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Your issue is you don’t seem to understand that the military is not an independent entity. Its a Civilian run cabinet that works for the Civilian leader.

    Yes, 4 star Generals tell the bald face truth in private. In public they stay within what they are authorized to say. When you listen to them in public they are operating in a public affairs role. They are not advising you the public, they are backing up the Presidents position at the time. You are getting messaging–not data and info.

    As I mentioned early, if you want more investigative type info…you can usually find something GAO did that can give a better feel than news conferences.

    Bottom line is these are poor brown people with nothing of tremendous value to offer America besided some Military Industrial Complex welfare, some revenge, and an active fight for our troops looking to forge their skills live.

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  131. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The military and especially military leadership (civilian and DoD) are certainly not free from sin when it comes to Afghanistan. I know I’ve commented here many times about my many issues with the senior ranks the way our system promotes careerism and being a “yes man.”

    There are also a lot of reasons that military officers do not publicly fall on their swords over policy disputes. This is arguably insubordinate – at the very least it’s problematic from a civil-military relations perspective. In the interest of brevity, I won’t go through all the reasons for this, but I think if look at it historically, and the cases where this happened, you can probably figure out why. Think of MacArthur and the poster boy for this.

    In short, there is always an inevitable tension between military subordination to the civilian government and the military engaging in “truth to power” advocacy in opposition to that civilian government.

    So I do agree the military isn’t blameless. But the core of this failure is at the strategic and policy level. The political goals were unobtainable via the means and resources that policymakers were willing to expend. That isn’t the military’s fault, especially considering the military was tasked to do so many non-military functions. It was never in the cards that the US military could change Afghan society into a western liberal democracy. That is something that no military force can accomplish. Again, the purpose of a military force is to use organized violence to achieve political ends. If achieving the required ends does not require organized violence (or the threat of organized violence), then that is not a military function. Nation-building and attempting to social engineer a foreign society is not part of the job description.

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  132. DrDaveT says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I don’t think people are criticizing the military as bumbling, but rather the defense department.

    Read that again, and see if it makes any more sense afterward.

    Which part of “the civilians didn’t listen” didn’t you understand?

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  133. DrDaveT says:

    @Lounsbury:

    they are complete and utter rubbish at engagement in developing auxilary allied forces outside of highly developed world models

    They’re also terrible at knitting and surfing. Which is not surprising, given that those are also not things they are either selected or trained for.

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  134. Lounsbury says:

    @Gustopher: Indeed, it was a bit of imperial arrogance – and if there is a let down it is the US being so arrogant and prideful that rather than negotiate a transition directly with the Taleban and make arrangements, they choose the pretences they did.

    Here again, a bit of study of the old empires would have taught to swallow that bit of pridefulness.

    @DrDaveT: Well yes, although I am sure a goodly number can knit and more surf, but unlike knitting or surfing, it does arise with great frequency that your military pretends to train lower income country military forces, auxiliaries in the end.

    They do a poor job of it is more than evident. The response rather than being pointlessly nationalistically defensive might be to look to a proxy to rely on who is closer to the technological and cultural framework of the auxilaries.

    In any case Fareed Zakaria has a useful and wise observation

    But above all, that government’s legitimacy was crippled because it survived only thanks to the support of a foreign power. Afghan identity is closely tied to resistance against foreign invasion, particularly the invasion of infidels. (Afghan history glorifies the century-long struggle against the British and the jihad against the godless Soviet Union.) It is easy to use these tropes to mobilize nationalism and religious devotion, which powerfully fuel the will to fight and die. The Ashraf Ghani government had no countervailing narrative of equal intensity to inspire its troops.

    The United States had been watching the Taliban gain ground in Afghanistan for years now. It is rich and powerful enough to have been able to mask that reality through a steady stream of counter-attacks and air, missile and drone strikes. But none of that changed the fact that, despite all its efforts, it had not been able to achieve victory — it could not defeat the Taliban. Could it have withdrawn better, more slowly, in a different season, after more negotiations? Certainly. This withdrawal has been poorly planned and executed. But the naked truth is this: There is no elegant way to lose a war.

    What strikes me as peculiar is how utterly blind Americans are to the reality that they’re not going to be perceived by a population they way they think they should be – and despite how very proud and prickly they are about their Revolution and weirdly prickly about British things, they are utterly blind to a broad range of Afghans seeing them as not different than Red Coats.

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  135. Lounsbury says:

    @Andy: Regarding ‘The fundamental flaw in our approach was to create a national army for a nation that didn’t really exist. We built the army, but the other two legs of the trinity were never there and no amount of training could create them. …They collapsed because of the absence of the other parts of the trinity that are required to sustain a military force. And by sustain, I don’t just mean the material and logistical, but also the political, social, and moral, which are all necessary elements for any military force to have the will to fight. And the Afghan army collapsed from a lack of will, not a lack of adequate training.”

    It is not new in the end.
    I draw attention the profile, useful of the Afghan forces in the Third Anglo-Afghan war
    “In 1919 the Afghan regular army was not a very formidable force, and was only able to muster some 50,000 men. …

    In addition to this, however, in a boost to the army’s strength, the Afghan command could call upon the loyalty of up to 80,000 frontier tribesmen and an indeterminate number of deserters from local militia units under British command. In reality, the Afghan regular army was not ready for war. As in past years, the upper levels of the officer corps were riddled with political intrigue. …:
    Afghan regular units…were ill-trained, ill-paid, and probably under strength. The cavalry was little better than indifferent infantry mounted on equally indifferent ponies. … There was no organised transport and arrangements for supply were rudimentary.[21]

    In support of the regulars, the Afghan command expected to call out the tribes, which could gather up to 20,000 or 30,000 Afridi fighters in the Khyber region alone. In stark contrast to the regulars, the tribal lashkars were probably the best troops that the Afghans had, being of excellent fighting quality, well armed, mainly with weapons that they had made themselves or stolen from the garrisons and with plenty of ammunition.[22]”

    Queer is it not that a text written about the 1919 Afghan central army could be almost directly transposed?

    @Andy: “Third, let’s be clear that training a national military force was a decision that our political leaders made and supported since the beginning. The reason our political leaders chose this course is because they are biased toward nation-state organizational concepts. But an even bigger factor is that the goal was to specifically dismantle the tribal and militia military forces that defined Afghanistan for a generation.”

    More than a generation, really in practical terms “forever” the tribal militias….

    The USA made an enormous category error in its entire engagement with Afghanistan, and everything was built on a foundation of sand. When foundations are bad, no matter the quality of what is built above, it is all for naught.

    However, as much as you lot hate old British empire lessons, the lesson of colonial empires, British and French is the first administration is always military in such undeveloped countries, you can not apply your WWII derived development models and Marshall Plans. In short, if you’re going to do such wars, you have to have a military component that is indeed built to do things outside of what you lot love to build, a big WWII rerun focused military. Which you’re smashingly prepared for, nothing conventional can stand before you.
    But is anything conventional of any size ever going to actually bother to do so again?
    (and for dear Harvard, this is not old European arrogance, it is merely old lessons – the IF in fighting such wars and colonial power referene is not a recommendation to do so, really the contrary)

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  136. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld.

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  137. Andy says:

    @Lounsbury:

    However, as much as you lot hate old British empire lessons, the lesson of colonial empires, British and French is the first administration is always military in such undeveloped countries, you can not apply your WWII derived development models and Marshall Plans. In short, if you’re going to do such wars, you have to have a military component that is indeed built to do things outside of what you lot love to build, a big WWII rerun focused military. Which you’re smashingly prepared for, nothing conventional can stand before you.

    I agree with your comment generally, but want to highlight this point. It’s hard to remember now after 20 years of military-focused nation-building, but that is correct. Up until the mid-2000s, the US military was never expected to be the modern equivalent of a colonial administration and, in fact, for the Iraq invasion they were told not to plan for any non-security significant tasks after Saddam was deposed because it would all be handled by State and other agencies. And we know how that turned out.

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  138. dazedandconfused says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    NO ONE ever intended for the people who worked for us to get out. Not in 2001, not in 2021, not ever. They were human resources with the emphasis on “resources” not “human.” First, last, and always.

    That’s not my observation. I recall hearing people talk about the possible (probable) need to get the translators for years now. There is still an institutional guilt over what happened to the South Vietnamese within the Pentagon. Currently it’s a widely accepted notion in Congress, aside from a few gadflies like Boebert and Rand Paul.

    I’m sure we will hear a lot more details in the coming weeks as to what precisely was blocking up the works, heard a lot of stuff, like it being illegal to ship them here, it was illegal to evac them without the permission of the Afghan government, and of course the slowness of the visa process. One thing seems clear though, the fall of Kabul was much quicker than expected, by several weeks.

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  139. mujera says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Here’s an idea: Let’s offer asylum to Afghan women and let THEM decide whether they want to leave. Armchair historian mansplainers like you do NOT get a say in their lives.
    You keep making tired references to Potemkin Villages. The people hanging from that plane looked pretty real to me.

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  140. John430 says:

    “Mr. Biden knew the risks. He has often noted that he came to office with more foreign policy experience than any president in recent memory, arguably since Dwight D. Eisenhower.”

    Unfortunately for America, he was always wrong!

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  141. Dudley Sharp says:

    Any 15 year old, who had seen a slew of war movies, would, easily, know that all US citizens and our allies should be out of the theater, prior to the military leaving.

    The insanity of this withdrawal is beyond understanding.

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