President Biden ordered the remaining American troops to withdraw from Afghanistan earlier this year, after 20 years of an American military intervention that has been seen by many as a hopeless fight. The U.S has deployed more than 775,000 total troops (with more than 2,000 U.S deaths) over its long stint in Afghanistan and spent over $2.26 trillion in the longest war in American history. It looks increasingly likely that such cost in blood and treasure will be in vain at the end.
The United States invaded Afghanistan a month after the September 11 attacks in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban government that had provided aid to Al-Qaeda throughout the years. While they managed to do that relatively quickly, the Taliban mounted an insurgency that has challenged both U.S forces and the Kabul government quite effectively.
The Taliban blistering offensive to retake Afghanistan
As American troops are increasingly near to withdraw their final military assets from the ground, the insurgent Taliban forces are making an astonishing advance towards the capital Kabul. According to the FDD’s tracker, the Taliban forces now control 233 out of the 407 districts of Afghanistan, 57% of the entire Afghan territory, while government forces only have total control over 65 districts, and 109 districts remain contested between both belligerents.
Over the last week, Taliban forces have captured at least 9 provincial capitals, an extremely quick pace that has surprised American decision-makers, who thought the Kabul government would put up more of a fight and would force the Taliban to return to the negotiating table and reach an agreement more palatable.
Nothing farther from the truth, as American intelligence has reportedly forecasted that the Taliban could now take the capital in less than 90 days, a significant change from the previous assessment that calculated the Afghani government would retain power for at least one more year.
The long-awaited American withdrawal has sometimes been rushed and chaotic, with American troops abandoning its largest airbase in the country in the middle of the night and did not tell the new Afghan commander of their exit, who found out about the American withdrawal two hours after they left and were able to secure the compound only after looters had stripped down the base bare.
American air support, the single most crucial advantage that the Afghani government has over the Taliban insurgency, have not increased during the ongoing Taliban offensive and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has refused to give numbers of how many attacks they have conducted over the last few weeks and did not answer if the U.S military plans to continue such operations after the withdrawal ends at the end of this month.
The Afgan army, which on paper is 300,000 men strong, has failed to provide strong resistance against the Taliban with reports of entire army corps surrendering cities and valuable military equipment to Taliban forces throughout the country. As a reaction to the current offensive, the Afghan president has replaced the head of the army, who had only been in office for a couple of months.
Stalled Negotiations and “rotten deals”
While the Taliban have gained significant ground in their fight against the Kabul government, the official negotiations between both parties have stalled in Qatar, with an Afghan government spokesman saying that the Taliban are showing no real interest in negotiation but rather “achieving its goals with violence”, something that has been denied by the Taliban albeit supported by the blistering advances of their armies in the field.
Last year, former President Trump had reached a deal (which British Defence Secretary has called a “rotten” one) with the Taliban in February last year where the Taliban committed to not allow the territory they hold to be used by Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and that the Western allies would withdraw their troops in 14 months after the signing of the deal, an agreement that was not signed by the Kabul government.
Even if the Taliban committed themselves to not provide more support to Al-Qaeda, a U.N report showed that the insurgent group not only still has strong ties with Al-Qaeda, but that the latter is actually “gaining strength” under the protection and support of the Taliban.
Although neither the Taliban nor the government has reached an agreement and it is becoming clear that the Taliban have not cut their relationship with terrorist groups, American troops have continued their withdrawal on schedule and fellow Western allies have also decided to get their troops away from an increasingly insecure Afghanistan.
Reactions to the collapse
Biden has said that he “does not regret” his decision to order the American withdrawal earlier this year, saying to reporters that “Afghan leaders have to come together” and that “they’ve got to fight for themselves, for their nation”. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has said that the Kabul government has superior numbers, equipment, and organization skills and that “this is the time to use those advantages”.
There have been some politicians who have criticized the administration’s decision to quickly withdraw from Afghanistan, with veteran Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) saying that the decision was a mistake and that “you are already seeing the Taliban gain strength. You look at a return to the late 90s, which by the way set up the stage for 9/11 to happen.” and that “unfortunately, when I look to history and see what the rapid withdrawal in Iraq did, we were back there a few years later.”
With the afghan army discipline and morale faltering it is looking increasingly likely that America’s longest war will leave Afganisthan just as it took it: with an Al-Qaeda friendly Taliban government firmly in power in Afghanistan.
Another country added to the list of vanquished superpowers in the “graveyard of empires”.