I’ve never been served in the U.S. Armed Forces, so I certainly haven’t been to Afghanistan. But I can’t imagine what those who have must be thinking as they watch reports come in of the Taliban quickly over-running that nation.
All of the sacrifices made by America’s servicemen and women in Afghanistan were in vain. The fall of Afghanistan is especially a slap in the face to the more than 2,000 Americans who were killed there and the more than 20,000 who were wounded. Everything they fought for — not to mention the trillions of dollars that were spent in the process — is down the drain.
But the plight of Americans is nothing compared to the Afghan citizens who knew a brief moment of hope and are now seeing the house of cards collapse. The fall of the U.S.-installed government in Afghanistan will mean a return of power to Islamic fundamentalists who will impose backwards laws and harsh punishments with a heavy hand. No one will suffer more than the Afghan women and their daughters who will once again be subjected to oppressive treatment at the hands of some of the world’s most backwards people.
History will not be kind to the U.S. This 20-year military campaign goes down as the longest war in the U.S. history, one that cost billions upon billions of dollars, and the victor of it is the Taliban, the very regime the U.S. ousted from power in Afghanistan for shielding the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban leader who was freed from jail three years ago, was on his way to Kabul on Sunday. His return to power helps ensure that the Taliban’s new reign will be no different than its last. That’s to the detriment of the Afghan people, and to the imperilment of the Western world. What had become a bloody homeland for the Afghan people who are powerless to escape the Taliban’s reign will be again. What had become a safe haven for terrorists planning to kill innocent Westerners could be again.
It’s hard to imagine how this could have ended more embarrasingly for the United States. This is, perhaps, an even more humiliating defeat than Vietnam. The U.S., under the Trump administration, asked Pakistan to free Baradar in 2018 so he could lead negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban. Last year, the administration announced a deal, signed by Baradar, that was supposed to be a move towards peace in Afghanistan, allowing the U.S. to withdraw its troops from the region and ending the 20-year war. Instead, the Taliban were merely playing the U.S. — both Trump and his successor, Joe Biden — as they planned a final offensive, which we’re now seeing carried out with stunning quickness and efficiency.
The fall of Kabul on Sunday completed the inevitable. The U.S.-led effort to remake Afghanistan into a better place to live for all her citizens is over. The American flag was lowered, and the final U.S. diplomats were evacuated by helicopter just hours before militants swept into the city.
It’s not just that the Taliban has reclaimed Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan, but the sheer swiftness and ease with which it happened that is so stunning. It took just over a week for the Taliban to retake the country, overwhelming the Afghan security forces that the U.S. and its allies spent billions of dollars and nearly 20 years to build. A month ago, Biden said that a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan was unlikely. A week ago, an American military assessment estimated that Kabul would not come under pressure from the militants for another month.
The blame game is in full swing in Washington, but what’s the point? The stark reality is that four administrations failed. The ultimate blame goes on Biden, of course. There is simply no way for Biden’s allies to spin that. The fall of Afghanistan occurred on his watch, and he has been long convinced that simply leaving was the only option. In a private conversation with Richard Holbrooke, who was Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Biden argued that the U.S. does not have an obligation to the Afghans who trusted us, nor does the U.S. have a moral obligation to the women of Afghanistan, saying, “I’m not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women’s rights,” according to a biography of Holbrooke written by George Packer.
We can only guess whether things would have played out the same if Trump had won re-election last November, but the fact remains that the ill-fated “peace deal” with the Taliban began with him, and he had set an even earlier deadline for complete withdrawal. Barack Obama and George W. Bush, too, share blame for the long American strategy that often seemed to lack purpose or results. That’s two Democrats and two Republicans, and 20 years wasted. In two decades, and under four different presidential administrations, we were unable to build a stable government that could stand without an American military presence. America’s influence in foreign affairs is diminished, and taxpayers are on the hook for the ungodly sums of money spent in Afghanistan.
In the end, though, the real losers in all of this are the Afghans. The Taliban has promised a peaceful transition of power and says it won’t interfere with businesses or those who worked with the U.S.-installed government of Afghanistan. But the Taliban is hardly trustworthy, and there have already been reports of revenge killings and brutalism in the cities that have been captured by the insurgents.
Under Sharia law, which is practiced by the Taliban, women have almost no rights, and are largely confined to their homes. Under the new Afghanistan government, women had rights they had never before known. Those are now gone. The lives of all Afghan women have been thrust into an immense cloud of uncertainty.
Aisha Khurram, a 22-year-old university student, may have summed it up best as she watched the U.S. Embassy being evacuated: “You failed the younger generation of Afghanistan.”
Shame on us.
ν Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at email@example.com.