So far, the American withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a chaotic and even deadly abandonment. We leave behind so many Afghans who helped us over two decades and are now desperate to escape the Taliban.
Why are Taliban troops having such an easy time with pro-government forces, who either surrendered at their first encounter or simply deserted? The Taliban militias cut through them like a knife through butter, in spite of 20 years of training and an estimated $88 billion of the United States’ money to formulate an Afghan-armed military.
Actually, it’s a story of three governments — the Taliban, the puppet government installed in Kabul and the U.S. government — one of them living in the dark ages but emerging victorious yet again.
Ragtag though it was, the Taliban governed Afghanistan before the United States invaded and drove them out. The Muslim militants’ support of Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks was given as the reason. In December 2001, the U.S. invaded Tora Bora after intelligence pinpointed bin Laden there. But he escaped to Pakistan and went into hiding for several years, until the Obama administration flushed him out and killed him.
The second government — the U.S.-established Afghan civilian government — was the U.S. pawn, and the United States did exactly with it what it did in Vietnam. American taxpayers threw in a total of $2.25 trillion for Afghanistan military and civilian endeavors and an ever-increasing number of troops. Over 2,000 armed forces died. The blood and treasure supported a corrupt cast of characters.
Meanwhile, the United States, in its fury over the deadly terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was willing to occupy Afghanistan despite its history of successfully resisting Soviet invaders and others who tried over the centuries. It was, like Vietnam, a quagmire.
Then successive American administrations and our allies did what we do best. We lied about progress there, or at least stretched the truth. So with that backdrop, why has the shattered Taliban always been proficient at wearing down the Americans and so easily rolling over the Afghans?
There is a considerable body of thought that it’s because the Taliban have a mystical cause: They don’t fear death because they dream of Paradise. Plus, their enemies are always the invaders … infidels.
The U.S. and its lackey government have only money. Fundamentalist passion always beats money, particularly when it is so misspent. To his credit, Donald Trump wanted to withdraw troops but was not able to. President Joe Biden, who quickly opposed being there after first supporting the invasion, last April announced that his administration would finally withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan. After the past days of miscalculation and tumult, it was a defiant President Biden who addressed the nation:
“I stand squarely behind my position … We gave them every chance for their own future.”
But now that the Taliban is taking the country back with such ease, escape for U.S. diplomats, families, supporters of Americans and the allies has turned into a helter-skelter mess. Biden has ordered thousands of troops back, but they were fired upon and unable to land for several hours because the runways were jammed with Afghans desperate to escape. How desperate? Many fell to their deaths while clinging to the side of a U.S. military plane as it took off. It was like fleeing from Saigon in April 1975 when the last Americans took flight. Only worse.
As the Taliban army rolls through Kabul and takes over, the country’s president has fled and his government has collapsed. As reports of new Taliban atrocities seep out, Joe Biden will bear the blame. Republicans have already started. Even Donald Trump sent a gloating email: “DO YOU MISS ME YET?”
There is time for recriminations later, including accounting for at least three presidents — Bush, Obama and Trump. Right now the American mission is to escape Afghanistan without further bloodshed and shame. Then the blame game can begin. Will we learn from defeat this time?
(Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.)
© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.