As I sit down to write this on the Sunday evening ending a week of chaos in Afghanistan, the news coming in is heartbreaking. The US embassy in Kabul has officially been evacuated and abandoned, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country, the Afghan government has collapsed, and thousands of Afghan citizens are desperately trying to board the last planes out of Afghanistan as news that the Taliban has completed its march into Kabul and intends to set up a new government in the next few weeks comes in.
All of this is, of course, on the heels of the US removing its remaining troops out of Afghanistan, fulfilling a promise both Presidents Biden and Trump made to end the war. Ending the war in Afghanistan remains the right course of action — if you want to make yourself ill the AP has broken down the cost of the Afghanistan war in both blood and treasure, pointing out that the US borrowed most of the money it used to fight the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq which means the actual costs are set to skyrocket in the future. On top of that, the Pentagon has known for 12 years the mission in Afghanistan was a failure, decided to lie to the American public about the situation on the ground, and has been flying on autopilot with no real mission or exit strategy. The US presence in Afghanistan could not be sustained in that fashion forever.
A throat clear before I go forward — the Biden administration has horribly botched the US withdrawal in ways I’ll go more into detail on in later pieces, specifically the horrifying situation both Afghan citizens who helped the US military and those who wish to flee Taliban rule are in. What has surprised me is the reaction to the Taliban’s swift moves to recapture Afghanistan, with both the US intelligence community and the public expressing shock and dismay that Afghanistan fell so quickly.
Anyone who has been paying attention to the actual situation in Afghanistan could have told you this would be how it all ends. Hell, the Taliban has been saying as much for the past 20 years, to anyone that would listen.
It has been known for at least a decade that the Afghan government was weak and corrupt. The majority of US financial aid was pilfered by said weak and corrupt government. The Afghan military was never up to the task of defending against the Taliban once US forces were gone, despite 20 years of training and $80B of US funding. The current situation, as depressing as it is, was never an if but a when.
What I can’t quite parse out right now is if the current shock is due to the suddenness of the Taliban’s return or of their return at all. The former I can understand; estimates I’ve seen from intelligence sources ranged anywhere from a rosy 1 ½ years to a realistic 90 days but there seems to have been a consensus that the Taliban would return to rule once the US left Afghanistan. Even Trump, with his ridiculous attempt to bring members of the Taliban to Camp David for negotiations without any members of the Afghan government present, understood this, The latter reaction, well, would require some extreme ignorance of the true situation in Afghanistan. I don’t dismiss that as an option, the amount of attention paid to events happening outside the US by people within the US is notoriously limited.
As for myself, all I feel right now is sadness. I’m sad and fearful for the Afghan people, I’m sad for every family who lost a loved one to this war, I’m sad for every solder who made it back but is irrevocably physically or mentally scarred, I’m sad for the decades and money wasted on a mission that was destroyed within a month.
What I am most sad about, however, are the two lessons that I’m sure will not be learned — that war is hell and nation-building is always a fool’s errand.