2021 Roundup: The failed US withdrawal from Afghanistan
A 20-year-long occupation was not enough for the US to establish a foothold in Afghanistan strong enough to ensure safe evacuation, leading to a chaotic withdrawal that marked the failure of its "mission".
The war on Afghanistan was concluded, and from the rubble and ash emerged a not-so victorious nation, the so-called exporter of democracy, the United States, following its long "war on terror" that took the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and handed over the rule in Afghanistan to Washington's sworn enemy, the Taliban. No one was victorious, though, for everyone sustained their own form of loss.
The withdrawal of the US-led coalition left everyone involved distraught and confused. The international community saw the withdrawal as a failure for Washington and its allies, and it raised concerns about the future of Afghanistan under the Taliban after the United States ravaged every part of the Afghan economy and left it in ruins through two decades of war.
Afghanistan was turned into the bullseye of the "war on terror" following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which saw the latter launching a military offensive, under the guise of defense, against various countries within the Islamic world.
The United States, under former President George W. Bush, authorized the use of force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and therefore putting Afghanistan in the US' iron sight, although the perpetrators were Saudis. Through that authorization, Washington took unconstitutional measures permitting the government to invade Afghanistan, monitor the calls of US citizens, and establish the Guantanamo Bay detention camp notorious for its horrible conditions.
Event after event, government after government, the United States maintained its presence in the nation, keeping a hand in the Afghan rule after toppling the former administration, and despite its military and political advantages in the Afghan arena, Washington still suffered a loss described as one of its worst. To add insult to injury, the war on Afghanistan was America's longest war ever.
Less than a month after the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the United States officially launched Operation Enduring Freedom with the United Kingdom, receiving support from France, Germany, Canada, and Australia. What those major powers failed to realize was the fact that "freedom" is not something you have to endure and that "freedom" cannot be achieved through bombing countries, reducing them to rubble.
The US-led combat mission took off in Afghanistan, and with that, the Taliban announced they were ready for "Jihad", which lasted for a couple of months before the coalition defeated them with the help of NATO and other allied militias and groups, ending their rule in the country.
Stronghold after stronghold, the US and co. defeated the Taliban.
After Kabul fell into the US and its allies, the West sought to establish a government in the country. The United Nations invited prominent Afghan factions to a conference that led to an agreement as per which Hamid Karzai, who later became Afghanistan's President, headed the interim administration. It also created an international "peacekeeping" force to "maintain security" in the Afghan capital, later leading to the establishment of the International Security Assistance Forces.
The US maintained a political role in Afghanistan alongside its military one, as its army created a "civil affairs framework" to expand the Kabul government's authority over the country, setting up "provincial reconstruction" teams in various provinces, which were later handed over to NATO. The system set up by the US and its allies was not met with approval from the International Community, but it went on regardless.
Year after year, the west-sponsored control of the country went on through successive presidents, administrations, and governments.
The Trump decision
In February of 2020, then US President Donald Trump struck a quid pro quo with the Taliban that entailed NATO withdrawing from Afghanistan in exchange for a Taliban pledge to impede any Al-Qaeda activity in areas under the group's control.
That decision was the beginning of the end for the US in Afghanistan, as all the Taliban had to do - as per the agreement - was to uphold their end of the agreement for 14 months, and the US and NATO would be out of their country.
"We think we'll be successful in the end," Trump optimistically proclaimed following the agreement. If only he knew.
This agreement was later used by his predecessor, Joe Biden, to deflect the blame for withdrawal and its repercussions.
So how did that go?
The 2020 Doha Agreement stipulated that the US forces withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. However, the Biden administration saw fit to postpone the withdrawal until September 11, 2021, mostly for dramatic effect to "mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11th."
President Biden later inched that deadline to August 31. There had only been 3,500 US troops in Afghanistan, as the Obama administration, after an escalation, and the Trump administration had already withdrawn troops from the country. By doing so, most of the US forces were out of the country at the time of the "grand finale".
The Biden administration and democrats alike went too far with blaming Trump for their own colossal failure, although they had a way out that they did not take. As per the agreement, the US could withdraw from the accord in the case that Afghan peace talks failed, which they did. But Biden chose to stay.
The time came for the US and NATO forces to pack their bags and move elsewhere following the Taliban's threats if the US failed to meet the Biden-postponed deadline.
After the Taliban made impressive advances all over Afghanistan, taking over the country city by city as the foreign forces scrambled to withdraw, the troops ended up leaving the country before the deadline.
Eventually, the Taliban reached Kabul and captured the presidential palace hours after the Afghan President fled the country in panic, resulting in the collapse of the government.
Despite the US and NATO allocating hundreds of billions of dollars to keep a foothold in Afghanistan, which included funding and training the Afghan National Army, the Taliban swept through the country like wildfire, capturing nearly the whole thing in just a week.
One week is all it took for the group to retake what the US and co. occupied for 20 years, which reflects the gravity of the withdrawal's failure.
The failure was manifested in various ways, the noteworthy ones being:
The US withdraws without informing allies
When Donald Trump signed the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in 2020, he did not consult with America's European allies. Likewise, when Biden brought forward the already-postponed withdrawal deadline by 11 days, he did not consult with his allies, prompting NATO officials from Germany, the UK, France, and Italy to slam him over the non-discussed advance.
The US leaves allies behind
Chaos filled the Kabul airport, America's way out of Afghanistan, as the Taliban advanced. With a number of aircraft not enough to airlift its allies and staff, the United States chose its nationals over its allies, putting the latter in a state of panic, as they feared the Taliban would not be merciful toward those who helped their foes.
The exit took place over a period of two weeks, during which the US evacuated some 120,000 people, but left thousands of Afghans who assisted the US and its allies behind, not to mention a couple of hundred US nationals.
Scenes from the airport were haunting, as people were frantically trying to be on board the next plane to leave Afghanistan out of fear of being left behind by those whom they dedicated years of loyalty to.
As a last resort, several people latched onto airplanes taking off from the airport in a bid to leave but later plummeted to their death, choosing dying over remaining in a country where their supposed allies abandoned them.
The situation around and inside the Kabul airport was one out of a dystopian novel; people clamoring, screaming, crying, and begging for the soldiers who had occupied their country for two decades to let them on board a plane to go to a foreign country where they do not have anything, dreading their own future. The "land of opportunities" did not respond to their calls. Not only that; it was as if the US soldiers have not had enough. Despite killing tens of thousands of civilians during their occupation, US soldiers opened fire on the crowd outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport, killing several civilians, including women and children.
The situation in which the United States left Afghanistan, especially the capital Kabul, following their hasty pull-out led to a very fragile state of security, so amid all the chaos in the capital, two blasts ripped through the crowds trying to enter the airport, killing more than 100 people, at least 90 of whom were Afghan nationals.
America's actions did not only lead to the death of more civilians in a country Washington pledged to "protect" during its withdrawal, but they also led to its failure in protecting its own servicemen.
Presidents and heads of state all across Europe, America's companion throughout its 20-year occupation, described the withdrawal as a "mistake" and a "miscalculation".
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said the western mission in Afghanistan was "fundamentally dependent" on Washington, yet the latter forgot about its allies, went rogue, and acted in quite an independent manner.
The manner in which Washington left its Afghan allies behind and gave its Western allies such short notice for their eviction had major repercussions on all parties involved.
The Afghan nationals' lives were in danger due to the intelligence they had given Washington during its stay in their country, which helped the US against the Taliban, who now rule the country.
Europe had to scramble to get its personnel and nationals out of the country before it became completely unable to.
And the United States created a schism with Europe, causing relations with the old continent to become very rocky, leading the latter to be warry in trusting the United States when it comes to any future joint venture.
Maybe not a miscalculation?
US President Joe Biden, after enduring what the world saw as a loss, defended the messy withdrawal. He argued that his country had achieved its objective in Afghanistan, despite the Taliban - whom the whole operation revolved around ousting - taking control over the entire country in a matter of days.
Afghanistan, despite all that it suffered, is trying to get back on its feet under the Taliban, which is pursuing diplomacy as a means to eradicate all the problems the country is facing, from poverty and malnourishment to unemployment. So far, this approach has gotten some aid flowing into Afghanistan, although there still are US sanctions imposed on the country, which will impede its progress.
It will take the Taliban decades to fix the living standards in Afghanistan after such a long war, especially since the country was on the verge of collapse, but the United States could take the same amount of time, if not more, to mend its relations with its allies whom it backstabbed, not to mention its image in the international arena after its defeat against a group it had a 20-year advantage against.