The Leader of the Taliban Got It Right, Partially

“As for the United States’ future in Afghanistan, it will be fire and hell and total defeat, God willing, as it was for their predecessors-the Soviets and, before them, the British.” – Mohammad Omar.

Never in a million years did I think I’d be sitting here in my home office beginning a story with a quote from Mullah Omar and agreeing with him. The man was evil (after all, he did found the Taliban), but he knew his history. We weren’t forced out of Afghanistan so much as we cut and ran. I’m not sure that’s much better.

As the National Interest reminds us, Afghanistan has been invaded countless times through the centuries, but it never truly was conquered. Over the years, every city, town, and village became a fortress. All generations of Afghans knew war and repelling invaders were in their DNA.

Who were we to think we’d waltz in and…hold on a second, why were we there in the first place? We’ll have to think back over 20 years to get the answer to that question. It sure wasn’t to conquer the nation.

US Special Forces soldiers on horseback in Afghanistan
US Army Special Forces soldiers from Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595 traverse the rugged terrain of Afghanistan on horseback. They arrived in the country just 39 days after 9/11. Screenshot courtesy of YouTube and Alex Quade. The original photograph was taken by MSG Chris Spence, Communications Sergeant for ODA 595

That’s right, 9/11/2001. Al-Qaeda-backed terrorists attacked the United States, killing thousands of innocent Americans. We went in troops to destroy Al-Qaeda after the Taliban refused to turn over its founder and mastermind, Osama bin Laden. Just so we remember our history correctly, the Taliban ruled the country of Afghanistan at that time.

By the Numbers

Fast forward to twenty years of American fighting and bloodshed in Afghanistan, and we were still there. The New Yorker reminds us of the war’s toll on both sides. The US lost 2,461 service members, and countless others were maimed, wounded, or otherwise scarred for life. As a nation, we spent over 2.3 trillion dollars on the effort. More than three hundred thousand Afghans took up arms against the Taliban, and 60,000 died as a result.

What about the enemy? The Taliban took over 51,000 losses. Perhaps the worst statistic is the number of civilian lives lost, around forty-seven thousand. Many of those lives were lost in bombings initiated by the Taliban or ISIS.

In an interview with a former CIA station chief, The New Yorker quoted him as saying, “With Afghanistan, there was no overarching strategy of what we wanted to do,” and “If you look at US policy since 9/11, it was totally confused.”

The Fall of Kabul and the Mass Exodus

All things, both good and bad, must come to an end. In mid-July of 2021, SOFREP predicted the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. This was while our own US intelligence agencies were assuring the President that the Afghan government could hold out for a long time. Shortly after, we showed video footage allegedly showing Taliban fighters capturing and executing a group of Afghan commandos who had just surrendered.

We all knew there would come a day we’d pull out of Afghanistan for good. That day was the thirtieth of August, 2021. The last American troops left the country, but the administration abandoned it. There is a big difference.

The same former CIA station chief quoted above also said, “It’s hard to believe that we’ve abandoned the Afghans so overwhelmingly. We created this society, like it or not. We encouraged women to go to school and work. Now they’re being taken as war brides.” 

It all started on the fifteenth of August when Kabul fell to the Taliban with barely a shot fired. According to The Washington Post, Taliban fighters encountered little resistance as they entered the city. Most of the government officials had taken off long before they got there. Finally, after two decades, the Taliban went to the presidential palace and stated they were in charge again. Things had gone full circle since 9/11. This left many in our country thinking, “How did this happen?” and “Why were we there in the first place?”  

US Intelligence agencies got things pitifully wrong. They estimated that the capital might fall six months or a year after we left. In reality, it took less than a day.

A Taliban soldier, and his automatic weapon, watch from a Kabul hotel as the city falls into their hands once again. Screenshot from YouTube and Journeyman Pictures

Thousands of Afghans made their way to the airport to escape the country, many with only the clothes on their back. To some, life under Taliban rule was an all too painful memory; to others, too young to remember, there was a tremendous fear of the unknown.

The city changed almost overnight. Any public depictions of women were defaced or torn down. National flags were taken down. So when Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said to the press, “We assure the international community that there will be no discrimination against women.” almost no one believed him. The country, and the world, knew better.

Taliban leader Omar, hunted by Delta Force, lived next to US base

Read Next: Taliban leader Omar, hunted by Delta Force, lived next to US base

In mid-July of 2021, the Biden administration ordered the military to abandon Bagram Airfield in the middle of the night. According to reports from the Associated Press, we snuck away in the middle of the night without even telling the base’s new Afghan commander. We left behind some 3.5 million items, including numerous weapons systems and a prison full of 5,000 criminals, many of them members of the Taliban. Weeks later, American television broadcast numerous Taliban fighters walking the streets of Kabul with new American rifles paid for with US taxpayer money.

More than 600 Afghan men, women, and children are packed into a US Air Force C-17 waiting to depart Kabul airport. Image Credit: Defense One

The official US Air Force website, af.mil, tells us about the evacuation of Kabul, “the largest non-combatant evacuation airlift in US history.” Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall summed it up nicely,

“Our aircrews were among the first to respond, and their efforts would go on to surpass the historic Berlin Airlift. Concurrently, our ‘One Team,’ with the help of the international community, built a support plan to receive and give immediate care to the thousands who needed desperate help. It was during this difficult time, we were awed by the efforts of service members who risked everything, some even giving their lives, to help total strangers.” 

Let’s not forget about the thirteen American service members who lost their lives to a suicide bomber while aiding in the evacuation of the city of Kabul. Had our pull-out been done in an organized, well-thought-out manner, that very well may have never happened.

Over a little more than two weeks, our Air Force coordinated almost 800 military and civilian aircraft from 30 countries to evacuate tens of thousands of people from the chaos of Hamid Karzai International airport. Evacuees were airlifted to nine countries across eight time zones, working around the clock.

The Air Force Chief of Staff, General CQ Brown, says his Airmen flew more than 124,000 people to safety in that timespan. Quite impressive, by any standard. It was just about miraculous.  The American people often accuse the military of wasting money, and that is sometimes very true, but in Kabul the Air Force and its crews in the air and on the ground, showed they had the “right stuff” in spades and spent their money on the important stuff.

The withdrawal, as impressive as it was, was not perfect. A Congressional investigation into the matter found that more than 1,400 Afghan children were evacuated without a parent or guardian. Let’s hope they found their way to the proper authorities, or the proper authorities found them. Also, more than 800 Americans were left behind.

I put the blame for any bad outcomes here squarely on the shoulders of the administration. They had nearly 7 months to plan the orderly evacuation of US forces, our allies and American citizens from the country and appeared to have taken no action on this until it was far to late to preserve American prestige. The result was a humiliation for our country and 13 dead service members. There is abundant evidence that the administration ignored the advice of the Pentagon on how to conduct this pull-out from Afghanistan with minimal risk to our personnel, leaving us instead to slink away in the night leaving the blood of our own in the place of our vanishing shadow.