The Talibans: A new era for Afghanistan
We’ve all seen the harrowing images of dozens of Afghans running towards Kabul’s international airport trying to flee, running on the tarmac, as planes of the US Army fly away or hanging atop of staircases, trying to reach some kind of feeling of safety.
As the Taliban reached Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, on Sunday night, the country’s president, Ashraf Ghani fled to Tajikistan and the picture of Taliban fighters taking control over the presidential palace made its way across the world, one thing was clear: America’s longest and most expensive war, spanning over four Administrations and 20 years, over 2 trillion dollars spent, around 2,500 US troops dead and over 47,000 Afghan civilians’ lives lost, is nearing to a disastrous end.
After President Biden announced in April that he would overlook the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that wreaked havoc in the Middle East and led to the civil unrest, instability, further radicalisation and the overthrow by terrorist factions of an entire region, we are now witnessing the Taliban taking over Afghanistan.
How did we come to this?
The end to the Afghanistan war has been a political weight that has been looming over every president since George W. Bush. President Obama vowed to end America’s combat in Afghanistan when he ran for office all the way back, in 2009.
Afterwards, during the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump said he would keep the United States “out of endless and costly foreign wars”. In early 2020, President Trump signed a deal with the Taliban, in which the US and NATO allies agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months, if the they uphold their end of the bargain, namely to not allow al-Qaeda or any extremist group to operate in areas that are under their control.
In April of this year, President Biden announced that the United States will end its involvement into a war that was started by the same party over 20 years ago, upending two decades of work and sacrifice. This paved the way for a humanitarian catastrophe and called into question US credibility.
Even though the message of President Biden was one that resonated with millions of US citizens who believe that the very inception of this war was American exceptionalism in action, loss of money and life, the way this situation has been handled has risen to be the biggest foreign policy challenge the Biden Administration has seen it is mandate so far.
Criticism has been pouring in the direction of the President who has acted in such a hasty manner, despite his vast foreign policy experience. This baffled the international expert community in Washington and beyond.
Biden’s promise to get out has been a political move that has been promised by many before him. His already famous line, “I will not pass on this burden to a fifth president” sits at the core of his commitment – that of ending the saga of indefinite US intervention in Afghanistan.
However, the manner in which he has done this, disregarding advice from the entire military and national security establishment has been baffling to watch, especially in the last few days, when the result of 20 years of blood, toil, money and tears has evaporated overnight.
Kabul’s collapse was expected, but no one predicted that this would happen quite so soon. The US military assessment claiming last week that it would be at least a month before the capital will be under insurgent pressure. As the US forces, who were the backbone of the effort doubled by Afghan forces to control key supply chains and major cities, forcing the Taliban into mountainous and secluded regions, quickly begin to retreat, the Taliban started advancing, as they held control over key border crossings.
With the Afghan government crumbling in recent days – with none of the major provincial major capitals under their control at the beginning of August, the Taliban are now in control of most of them.
Whereas the beginning of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan began with former President Donald Trump (by the time he had left office, there were only 2,500 US troops remaining in Afghanistan), once he came to power, President Biden decided o go ahead with the plan and end US involvement in the country altogether.
After concluding that Afghanistan was an unwinnable war with no clear military solution in sight, the Biden Administration decided to go ahead with the plan and end America’s longest war.
However, at what cost?
On Monday, after a day of horrors in Kabul, President Biden held a press conference in which he was utterly unapologetic about his decision. While many agree with the purpose of ending military involvement, much of the criticism lies with hoe this has been handled, namely how the evacuation Americans unravelled, leaving Afghans to fend for themselves without having a contingency plan in sight.
While the US held its own, extracting even military dogs out of Kabul, hundreds of Afghans were left stranded on the tarmac of the capital’s international airport, begging for a western country to take them in, allowing them a chance to flee the country.
Many lawmakers on both sides have argued that the Administration has had months to compile a refugee plan that had bipartisan support. Even hawkish Republicans, who approved of the decision were incredibly critical of the way it had played out. Reckless negligence has been a term that has been coined over and over again with regards to the approach taken by President Biden.
While people who served in Afghanistan, who have lost dear ones, and who have seen the suffering, are desperate as they watch as a 20-year old financial, military and human effort collapses in a matter of days, we are left with a monumental discrepancy – that of the hundreds of people, stranded on the streets of Kabul and of the women, whose lives will be upended under Taliban rule, and on the other side, there is the cushy Washington elite, the mighty and powerful who take decisions on behalf of a world they will never encounter.
Photo source: AFP