Make no mistake, the current situation in Afghanistan will go down as one of the major foreign policy disasters since the Second World War, alongside the Vietnam War and the Suez Crisis, and the ramifications will be long lasting and cut deep into the lives of those affected.
In just a matter of weeks the Afghan Army and Security forces crumbled as the Taliban took town after town, city after city, and province after province facing little resistance. The trigger was the withdrawal of US troops from the country, announced by President Biden in April to commence within just weeks. This was despite US intelligence reports released days before warning that the Taliban were confident of victory and were likely to make gains as the Afghan government would struggle to defend against them if coalition forces withdrew. This was backed by the CIA who suggested Kabul could fall within six months, and US commanders and generals specific to Afghanistan also shared these fears, yet it fell upon deaf ears in the White House. We now know that even these estimates were gravely wrong in a sorry indictment of the US intelligence community.
President Biden said just a month ago that it was “highly unlikely” that the Taliban would control the whole country and that “there’s going to be no circumstance” like in Saigon, Vietnam “where you see people being lifted off the roof on an embassy of the US from Afghanistan”. Despite this, American helicopters were flying above its embassy in Kabul doing just that, evacuating its diplomats and others to Kabul Airport where they had set up a make-shift embassy as they fled the country. This is just one example of the huge miscalculations made by government officials when making this important decision.
The intervention in Afghanistan had not even been a failure, we went from the US and NATO troops fighting directly to training and supporting the Afghan army and security services, enabling them to fight themselves with our support, working with them side by side. We were building new relationships with the people and its government and most vital we built up trust. Trust that has been so sparse and hard to come by for the US and the West in the Middle East and we had managed to develop a trust that had been formed and improved for the last 20 years.
We reached a point where the Afghan forces were superior to the Taliban forces in both quality and quantity. They were winning and winning with our guidance and backing. No operation such as this was ever going to be perfect and in this case with our involvement in Afghanistan it was certainly not. However, in time the country began to grow into its newfound freedoms, we saw huge improvements in women’s rights and girls’ education that would never otherwise have been possible. Some Afghans were pulled out of poverty as the economy began to improve steadily with a large number of wealthy expats, the modernization of the nation’s agriculture sector, and the establishment of more trade routes with neighboring countries. Troops worked alongside thousands of interpreters and support staff, all working to make their country and the lives of the countrymen and women better and these people have been abandoned by us and left to face the supposed consequences of their efforts.
The chance to continue improving and rebuilding the nation has been stolen from its people as the US and its affiliates pulled the rug from under the feet of our allies at speed leaving unbelievably little time to prepare and with no real plan or phased approach. The Afghanistan government was left with no air support or maintenance crews in an instant. Western military technology had been utilised to help the Afghans succeed and they were reliant on this support. The US alone has reportedly spent over $2 trillion on its efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the UK $30 billion. We also lost 2,448 US servicemen and 457 UK army personnel, which of course you cannot put a price on. Over 51,000 civilians are estimated to have lost their lives in addition to these figures since 2001. All this has resulted in nothing. Hundreds of billions of dollars wasted and instead of sustainable peace, the innocent Afghan people fear for their lives and dread what is to come. Countless stories have already spread across the internet and media of women being forced back into obeying hardline Taliban rules and girls refused entry to their schools. Reports of revenge killings and punishments have been rumoured while suggestions are being made about bringing back the old retributions such as stoning for adultery and the cutting off of the hands of thieves. Former allies of the government, its army and security servicemen, government officials in Kabul all now live in fear about what comes next with Minister of Education Rangina Hamidi telling BBC News that although she felt immediately safe, she could not be certain that she wouldn’t face punishment or death for her part in the Afghan government and that she was waiting for a knock at the door.
It is disgraceful that we have the financial, commercial, intellectual, military, developmental and cultural ability to defend our interests at home and abroad but have chosen to turn our backs on those who now find themselves in the most desperate of situations. Our commitment to Afghanistan was cut short far too early and will only encourage other enemies to challenge us aboard. The worst part is that this didn’t need to happen, millions didn’t need to live in fear, our leaders let it happen and they let it happen willingly all while ignoring expert advice of the consequences.
What is almost worse, and follows a fundamental track in America, is that instead of confronting an issue and working to solve it, a political blame game starts instead. The Republican Party egged on by former President Trump cannot be seen to agree at all with the incumbents and this is reciprocated by the other side. Both Trump and Biden were clearly in favour of this policy with Trump attempting to take ownership for the decision just months ago and Biden claiming it as his own. However, with the crisis reaching boiling point in the last few days, attempts have been made to scrub evidence of Trump’s support for the move with Trump releasing a statement calling for Biden’s resignation and Democrats have tried to pin blame on the former President. While Biden busies himself with his holidays, his Secretary of State was wheeled out to the media to wave away the glaring comparisons to Vietnam and attempt to refute the idea that Afghanistan had been a failure, a line the White House are somehow still trying to hold onto. Both would have executed this nonsensical plan in similar fashions and it is a nightmare turned reality for the victims in Afghanistan.
The world now watches on with bated-breath, hoping this isn’t going to be the calamity we all fear and that Afghanistan won’t return to the ways of cruel violence and punishment, suppression of women and girls, the lack of democracy and freedom and the dread that the country will become a safe-haven once again for terrorists that wish to attack our people at home.