The US occupied Afghanistan and dismantled the Taliban regime following the September 11, 2001 attack on the U.S twin tower by Al-Qaeda. The notorious terrorist network was said to have masterminded the attack from base in Afghanistan at the time.
On October 7, 2001, the US officially initiated the war in Afghanistan with huge support from its NATO allies alongside U.S-trained Afghan soldiers, pushing the Taliban fighters to the fringes.
But the Taliban quickly made massive gains in recent weeks and on Sunday the insurgents captured Afghan capital Kabul, leading to the fall of the democratic government that has been in place in the arab country since 20 years. Around the world many believe America lost the war even though President Joe Biden has justified the U.S decision to end the two-decade war and pull out troops after spending $2trillion there. More than 20,000 US soldiers and officers were reportedly wounded in Afghanistan, and 2,300 were killed before the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Sunday.
The New Diplomat brings you commentaries from global analysts and security experts on the Taliban takeover and how the Americans got it wrong.
Afghanistan Lost Long Ago — CNN’s Fareed Zakaria
“As we watch the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan, let us first dispense with the fantasy that the United States was maintaining the peace there with just a few thousand troops and that this situation could have been managed with this small commitment,” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria writes in his latest Washington Post column. “For the past couple of years, it looked that way to Americans because Washington had made a deal with the Taliban and, as a result, the Taliban was deliberately not attacking U.S. and coalition forces. For the Afghans themselves, the war was intensifying.”
Afghan forces appear to have had less motivation to fight than the Taliban, which can lean on national identity and religion to gather support, Fareed writes; government forces also weren’t getting the necessary support and supplies from their leaders.
“The United States had been watching the Taliban gain ground in Afghanistan for years now,” Fareed writes. “It is rich and powerful enough to have been able to mask that reality through a steady stream of counter-attacks and air, missile and drone strikes. But none of that changed the fact that, despite all its efforts, it had not been able to achieve victory—it could not defeat the Taliban. Could it have withdrawn better, more slowly, in a different season, after more negotiations? Certainly. This withdrawal has been poorly planned and executed. But the naked truth is this: There is no elegant way to lose a war.”
–Blame the US and Pakistan?
In the US, much of the conversation has focused on what went wrong. At Foreign Policy, South Asia expert C. Christine Fair writes that the US and Pakistan share blame.
America doled out money and support without a view of the consequences, Fair writes: “In many cases, U.S. firms even defrauded Afghans. In 2010, one military official with the International Security Assistance Force explained to New York Times journalist Carlotta Gall that ‘without being too dramatic, American contractors are contributing to fueling the insurgency.’ … The United States consistently sought shortcuts, such as opting to train ‘Afghan local police,’ which Afghans more accurately called militias.” Pakistan—though it has denied it—is widely said to have supported the Taliban through its military and intelligence services. “The United States walked out of Afghanistan in 1990 and made Pakistan the custodian of Afghanistan’s future,” Fair writes. “Today, it is repeating the same mistake.”
–The Taliban’s Advantage?
As Fareed notes, former US official in Afghanistan Carter Malkasian has examined the failed war effort in a new book, “The American War in Afghanistan: A History.”
Malkasian assessed the Taliban’s fighting advantage, in an excerpt published by Politico Magazine: “I have found no single answer to why we lost the war. While various explanations address different parts of the puzzle, the one I want to highlight here can perhaps be seen most clearly in the conversations I’ve had with the Taliban themselves, often in their native Pashto. ‘The Taliban fight for belief, for janat (heaven) and ghazi (killing infidels). … The army and police fight for money,’ a Taliban religious scholar from Kandahar told me in 2019. ‘The Taliban are willing to lose their head to fight. … How can the army and police compete?’”
–Tracing the Missteps
At The Atlantic, Eliot A. Cohen recounts vignettes from his time as an adviser to the US State Department, from 2007 to 2009, noting misguided security assessments by US forces in Afghanistan and a cycle of failure, learning, and declared improvements as new American troops cycled in.
At Foreign Affairs, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan (2014–2016) P. Michael McKinley, who supported President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw, writes that the US meddled too much in Afghan politics, overestimated Afghan forces, and underestimated the Taliban.
“Ultimately, Washington’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops is not the sole or even most important explanation for what is unfolding in Afghanistan today,” McKinley writes. “The explanation lies in 20 years of failed policies and the shortcomings of Afghanistan’s political leadership. We can still hope that we in the United States do not end up in a poisonous debate about ‘who lost Afghanistan.’ But if we do, let’s acknowledge that it was all of us.”
–What This Means for the World
For the region, refugee outflows will likely be a top concern. Some wonder what role China will play in shaping Afghanistan’s future. The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg tweets that one Russian newspaper asks if Moscow will have to send troops.
At The New Yorker, Robin Wright suggests that “[t]he fall of Kabul may serve as a bookend for the era of U.S. global power.” More from Wright: “First, jihadism has won a key battle against democracy. … The Taliban are likely, once again, to install Sharia as law of the land. Afghanistan will again, almost certainly, become a haven for like-minded militants, be they members of Al Qaeda or others in search of a haven or a sponsor. … Second, both Afghanistan and Iraq have proved that the United States can neither build nations nor create armies out of scratch … Third, America’s standing abroad is profoundly weakened.”
As the Taliban is expected to seek international recognition, and as some of Afghanistan’s neighbors eye the situation warily, Gideon Rachman’s Financial Times column argues that Afghanistan “is now part of the post-American world.”