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We now commemorate the first anniversary of the catastrophic withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. After more than twenty years of continuous military presence in that country, thousands of American troop casualties, and millions of millions of dollars spent in vain trying to impose a stable and democratic government, the vast majority of the American people wanted our troops to return home. The least they expected was an orderly and without incident departure. It wasn’t too much to ask for. There was no reason why it shouldn’t have happened that way.
But unfortunately, Biden was more focused on the political victory of being the president who finally pulled the troops out of Afghanistan than on ensuring that the exit had to be a successful one. Thus, he insisted on removing the troops rather than following the recommendation of his military advisors to postpone the withdrawal in the face of the inevitable collapse of the government, creating an environment of total anarchy that led to unprecedented national security and humanitarian tragedy. One year after this debacle, we cannot forget what happened or who caused it.
First, we cannot forget the duplicity of President Biden. It is genuinely inconceivable that he publicly assured the country that it was “not inevitable” for the Taliban to take control of the country when intelligence agencies informed him that it would happen. He also lied when he said he could not leave troops in Afghanistan much longer than the Trump administration agreed with the Taliban. Although the agreement Trump reached with the Taliban set the departure date for May 1, 2021, Biden had already postponed it once and could do it again, especially considering that the Taliban were not complying with the conditions imposed by the agreement.
Under the deal brokered by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2020, US withdrawal from Afghanistan was conditional on the Taliban negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan government and committing to prevent terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State from establishing themselves in the country. The Taliban were violating both conditions. According to a report from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, published in May 2021, during the first three months of that year, the Taliban had increased their attacks against the Afghan government armed forces. They were coordinating “large-scale offensives” with Al Qaeda.
It is clear that Biden engaged in a blatant exercise of manipulating public opinion to proceed with the withdrawal at all costs despite the severe risks, hoping to achieve a political triumph. His irresponsible conduct, however, had dire consequences.
The human and material cost of the departure of our soldiers from Afghanistan and the devastating impact of this, in geopolitical terms, cannot be minimized. This was a real disaster from any angle you look at it.
The situation at the airport in Kabul, when thousands of people arrived to try to escape the country, was one of total chaos. Although Biden assured that in Afghanistan, we would not see images similar to those of the dramatic departure from Saigon, the media showed videos of hundreds of civilians surrounding passenger planes, trying to prevent them from taking off or getting on the outer parts of them.
Islamic State members also took advantage of the confusion around the airport to plant an explosive at one of the gates, killing 13 American soldiers and at least 170 Afghan civilians. And, as if that were not enough, hundreds of American citizens, and thousands more Afghans who collaborated with the American military and diplomats, were stranded in the country when they could not get to the airport, even though Biden promised that no American citizen would be left behind.
Biden also left the Taliban $7 billion worth of military equipment and weapons that our troops could not take because of their hasty departure. Even if much of the equipment, such as planes and helicopters, was purposely disabled, it could have been preserved for use by our military.
Finally, Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan showed weakness and lack of leadership to the world. It has undoubtedly encouraged all of our adversaries, including Putin, who a few months later invaded Ukraine, as well as China, who has stepped up their harassment of Taiwan. As South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said, “This was the retreat that was heard around the world… this retreat was heard in Moscow. It was heard in every terrorist camp around the world. The terrorists are on steroids and all of our allies are disturbed by this withdrawal.”
It is clear that President Biden failed the American people. His incompetence in Afghanistan caused great human suffering and jeopardized our national security and credibility worldwide. The sad fact is that all of this could have been avoided if the president had listened to the generals and intelligence officers rather than his political advisors. This insult to our people cannot be forgotten.
Alfonso Aguilar es de Senior VP and Political Director de El American, exjefe de la Oficina de Ciudadanía de los Estados Unidos durante la administración del presidente George W. Bush y presidente del Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. // Alfonso Aguilar is the Senior VP and Political Director of El American and former head of the Office of United States Citizenship during the administration of President George W. Bush and president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.