Afghanistan: The Controversy That Is Not Going Away


Wesley Smith

September 9, 2021

7 min read

Foreign Policy



As a direct result of a series of decisions by the Biden Administration, what could have been relief—and possibly a cause for celebration as the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches—is now a weight around the Administration’s neck as it swims through very troubled political waters.  While most Americans supported decreasing our military operations and troops in Afghanistan, the execution of the plan to leave was an undeniable and dismal failure of historic proportions.  Since the presidency of Harry Truman, only two other Presidents have had approval ratings as low as Joe Biden’s only nine months into office. The dismay and criticism of President Biden’s actions over the last few weeks is bipartisan and deep.  Biden has only made it more so by his defensiveness over his decisions and his stiff-necked refusal to adjust the timeline or the practicalities of the withdrawal.  He keeps defending his decision to withdraw, incognizant that it was the execution of the exit—not the exit itself—that is the critical issue.

The result is the Taliban quickly overran the country, the U.S. left the vast majority of our Afghan allies, hundreds of U.S. citizens were abandoned in Afghanistan, and the world watched the televised scenes of chaos at the airport in Kabul.  An Islamic suicide bomber killed at least 180 people at that airport, including 13 American service members.  Breaking his vow to not leave Afghanistan unless all U.S. citizens who wished to leave were out, at midnight on August 30, the last American soldier boarded a plane and our entire military summarily left.  The Taliban immediately began rounding up people who worked for the U.S. government and executing them in front of their families—sometimes killing the family members, too.

The mistakes leading up to this debacle are numerous and many facts are just now being made public.  For example, in June—as the situation deteriorated—National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan questioned the rapid pace of the military withdrawal.  Other Administration officials recommended that the August 31 withdrawal date be extended to get all civilians out before the troops left.  It was revealed that, contrary to President Biden’s claims, military leaders were not unanimous in their recommendation to close Bagram Air Force Base.  Rather, when the President refused to give the military leadership more than 600 troops to execute the exit, they reluctantly closed Bagram in order to defend the Kabul airport and the U.S. Embassy.  The base was abandoned in the middle of a July night without even notifying the Afghan military commander on the base.  Billions of dollars of U.S. military equipment and weapons were simply left—materials now owned by the Taliban, which makes it the best-armed terrorist group in the world.  While the Administration boasts of evacuating 124,000 people, that does not detract from the fact that as many as 200 Americans and thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. or our NATO allies were left behind.

Mr. Biden said last week that his team planned for “every eventuality” in the withdrawal, a claim diminished by the sheer numbers of violence and missteps in the exit.  Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley declined to acknowledge any mistakes made by senior military leadership, saying that was a matter best addressed in an after-action review.  In this botched military operation, 5,000 additional troops had to deploy to Hamid Karzai International Airport in order to prevent the situation from being even worse, twice the number already initially there and a number the military did not want to go below in order to maintain stability in Afghanistan.

In an address to the nation following this humiliating operation, the President (while claiming to accept ultimate responsibility) blamed everyone but himself.  It was a posture unbecoming to a Commander-in-Chief of the world’s premier military power.  He blamed the previous President of the United States, the President of Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence agencies, and the Afghan military.  He tried to pin the details of the exit on the recommendations of his senior military leadership.  To add insult to injury, he even blamed the abandoned U.S. citizens in Afghanistan, saying they were warned 19 times to leave—a claim not borne out by the facts.

America’s longest war came to a calamitous end.  The President had indignantly claimed it would be nothing like the U.S. departure from Vietnam and the desperate people trying to cling to a helicopter leaving our embassy in Saigon.  In fact, the scenes in Kabul made the events in the last days of the Vietnam War seem like an orderly high school fire drill by comparison.

Secretary of State Blinken’s statement that the military mission was over, and the diplomatic mission had begun was not reassuring.  He claims the U.S. will use diplomacy to rescue the thousands of people abandoned in Afghanistan and that we have leverage.  What leverage?  We have no embassy there.  We have no military presence. All our CIA stations have been closed.  Recognizing a terrorist organization as the legitimate government of this nation has its own repercussions—politically, militarily, and otherwise. If we free up the billions of dollars in Afghan assets to give to the Taliban—or worse yet, give it direct financial aid—it smacks of paying a ransom for hostages.  With newly pledged support from Iran, Russia, and China, the Taliban may not even be interested in U.S. financial assistance.

Secretary Blinken recently stated that the Taliban needs to know the international community is watching and will hold them to their commitments to not exact revenge or commit other acts of violence.  Meanwhile, Christians are singled out in house-to-house searches and executed, as is anyone who worked for the U.S. and its allies. Reports of atrocities are coming in daily.  A pregnant Afghan policewoman was stabbed to death in front of her family, before the Taliban killed all of them, too.

General Kenneth McKenzie, Commander of U.S. Central Command with oversight of Afghanistan stated, “I will tell you, the Taliban has been very, very pragmatic and very business-like . . . .”  I am certain that the Taliban is being very pragmatic and business-like as they kill those who helped us and as they refuse to let U.S. citizens leave the country.  He went on to refer to the Taliban as being “useful” and “helpful” in the U.S. withdrawal, something we never thought we would hear a U.S. four-star general say.

The entire situation is one giant misstep after another—compounded by conflicting messaging from the Biden Administration.  Our people are not stranded—they are abandoned.  This was not a withdrawal—it was a surrender, a capitulation.  We did not evacuate—we fled.

After fighting the Taliban for 20 years, it controls the country in which we sacrificed blood and treasure.  The anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 is days away.  It was the Taliban that harbored Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and facilitated the attacks on America on that clear Tuesday morning in America in 2001.  This year, as it should be, will be a commemoration.  Like Pearl Harbor, it is something we remember—not something we celebrate.  Hopefully, our President will see it as such and not attempt to take a victory lap as the one who ended this war.

Besides, the war is not over.  Our enemies are emboldened by the events of the last few weeks.  Bin Laden’s chief of security moved back to his home in eastern Afghanistan the day our troops left; al-Qaeda is still in Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network was allowed by the Taliban to provide security for our troops at the Kabul airport, where it allowed a member of ISIS to kill our troops with a suicide bomb.  We would like for the Global War on Terror to be over.  However, the enemy gets a vote as to when a war ends.

May God bless and protect the United States of America.