Today marks an event I was not at all sure I would see in my lifetime -- the end of US military involvement in Afghanistan. At 11:59 local time, the last C17 aircraft left Kabul, which accounting for the time difference between the US and Afghanistan means the Biden administration just barely made the August 31st deadline it set earlier this year and that the Taliban was committed to not extending.
Yes, there are still Americans left behind in Afghanistan, as are untold numbers of Afghan allies and their families. No, I am not sure how those left behind will get out, as the FAA has put out a notice that the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) is uncontrolled and US civilian carriers are banned from flying into the airport without FAA clearance. As I feared in my last post on Afghanistan, a lot of those left behind are not going to make it out alive and I strongly suspect there will be Americans among the casualties.
I have said plenty on how I feel about the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and have plenty to say on how it’s being spun by a media determined to call it a success no matter what, but today I want to write about and process the end of the war in Afghanistan.
The past few weeks have been a lot to bear witness to. Since August 14th, the US has evacuated approximately 116,700 people with the total from July to August at 122,300 people. Moving over 116,000 people out of Afghanistan in two weeks, under extremely trying circumstances, is an amazing accomplishment, and everyone who made that logistically possible deserves an award. But in looking at those two numbers I can’t help but wonder how many more people we could have evacuated out of Afghanistan if evacuation had been made a priority before public awareness of the situation reached critical mass. Clearly, the ability was there. I still have my questions about the desire.
A war that has been going on almost the entirety of my adult life is over, at least for now. Three consecutive presidents campaigned on ending it. One of those presidents actually escalated it, but I have been told his gravest sin was wearing a tan suit. Another changed his mind at the last minute. One of them actually did it but in the most chaotic and damaging way possible. The US blundered its way into Afghanistan and it blundered its way out.
But the war is over, and there is some solace in that. Still, this is bittersweet for me, because I know this could have been handled so much better if anyone in the executive branch during the past three administrations actually gave a damn about doing better. And now, thanks to the ubiquity of social media, we’re all going to watch the consequences of that neglect play out on our timelines, feeds, and posts.
I have never been a pollyanna about how the war in Afghanistan would end. I long ago accepted that there were three options -- turn Afghanistan into a glass parking lot, commit to actual imperialism, or deal with a messy pullout. What I didn’t price in, and in retrospect probably should have, is the US failing to perform the basic duty of getting its citizens and allies out of harm’s way before the messy pullout.
Today is an odd day to be a libertarian -- it feels like we both won and lost. I wish I could feel more joy at the ending of a war that has gone on way too long, but I can’t help but be mad at how the ending has been horribly mismanaged.