As the Taliban captures one provincial capital after another in Afghanistan (18 in all so far), the wearisome but familiar Beltway parlor game of who “lost” the country — as if it were ever an American possession to begin with — has started. President Biden is most likely to be saddled with the blame for ordering a “precipitous” exit. Even former President Trump, who set the stage for a full exit and vowed to end the forever wars, now says that “it should have been done much better.”
Precipitous? Is this really an accurate characterization of a military campaign that has lasted close to 20 years and that cost close to $90 billion just to train the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces — and almost $2.3 trillion if all other costs are added in, including $815.7 billion in war-related and reconstruction expenses?
The Afghan army outnumbers the Taliban by at least 4 to 1. It has more firepower on the ground and, despite its limitations, an air force, where the Taliban has none. Nor has the Taliban benefited from the training and funding of any country with resources comparable to those of the United States. While in some ultimately captured places such as Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, Afghan forces have fought back bravely under excellent leadership, elsewhere the army, police and local administrators have either fled or surrendered without a fight. The likelihood of the government retaking lost territory is therefore small at best.
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