A year ago, the United States suffered its most significant foreign policy humiliation since the 1970s, as the Afghan military crumbled under the pressure of the Taliban rampage. The U.S. military spent 20 years in the country yet failed to train their Afghan allies to stand for themselves and even to conduct a proper evacuation, where 13 American soldiers and hundreds of Afghans died after a bomb exploded near the airport. In other times, such bungled operations would typically result in dozens of resignations from the leaders in charge. However, a year after the Fall of Kabul, every civil and military officer who oversaw the humiliation still has a job and is carrying out their daily activities with no accountability.
When asked before the Fall of Kabul about the evacuation of Bagram Airfield —which they left in the middle of the night and without telling the afghan government— the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said that the airbase was not needed either for the tactical nor operational aspects of the plans the US had in Afghanistan after the evacuation. Secretary of State Blinken argued in June 2021 that his Department was “exploring every option” to expedite the visa process for Afghan allies and translators. They were confident in their abilities to oversee the evacuation, dismissing the concerns of lawmakers and the clear signs that the Taliban were quickly gaining ground as the American troops left the country.
The reality was far from what they promised. The United States military conducted a hasty retreat from Afghanistan, leaving their most important airbase in the middle of the night. This prevented them from providing air cover once the situation became untenable. The Department of State dragged its feet when processing special visas for Afghan translators; despite many warnings from the administration for months to speed up the process, the operation was so poorly planned that Afghan refugees fell to their deaths after trying to escape the country by hanging on to American military airplanes.
To make matters worse, the parting shot of the American military in Afghanistan was to conduct a drone strike. Yet, it failed because they made a “tragic mistake” and killed ten civilians with absolutely nothing to do with the terrorist attack that killed thirteen American soldiers. The military leadership left Afghanistan in a shameful hurry and committed a potential war crime on the way out. Again, with no accountability.
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Zero political accountability for the Fall of Kabul
After this humiliation, the people who oversaw the withdrawal are still in office: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. All of them were directly responsible for how the American military left Afghanistan and are all still cashing checks paid by the American taxpayer.
Instead of accepting their evident failures, the military and diplomatic leadership of the most powerful country in the world made countless excuses or even tried to sell the disastrous withdrawal as some success. Secretary of Defense Austin even dared to say that the military was prepared for any contingency. General Milley weirdly compared his decision not to resign with the heroic actions of his WW2 veteran father in Iwo Jima. The military also decided not to reprimand any people involved in the drone strike—the biggest debacle since the Fall of Saigon and not a single disciplinary action.
When in 1915, the British and ANZAC forces tried an ultimately disastrous invasion of the Dardanelles Straits, Winston Churchill —the Minister in charge of the operation— resigned in disgrace and accepted a commission in the trenches of the Western Front. If Churchill himself had to be accountable for his failures, why should Austin, Blinken, Sullivan, and Milley be free from it?
The Afghan debacle might be in the rear mirror of American politics, but that does not mean that there should not be political accountability for it. If no one pays for the incompetence displayed in the streets of Kabul, then there is no guarantee that an even bigger catastrophe could happen further down the road.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.