Reflections on the Events of the Past Week in Afghanistan


CONTACT: Jessica Rosenblum, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, 202.800.4662/ [email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC — Following 20 years of training by U.S. and NATO militaries and a tremendous influx of capital support, the Afghan military rapidly disintegrated in city after city in the face of Taliban forces over the past 48 hours. Undersupplied, stretched thin after years of heavy casualties, and with little confidence they would be supported by the Afghan government, numerous units chose to surrender. Taliban fighters entered Kabul without violence this morning and a transfer of power occurred and former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has left the country. In an eleventh hour operation, President Biden is sending 5,000 troops to help evacuate the diplomatic mission, Afghans who worked with U.S. troops, and hopefully civil society leaders at particular risk from the Taliban.

The rapidity of the Afghan forces’ collapse has taken Washington by surprise, and critics are blaming President Biden’s decision in April to withdraw U.S. forces as the source of failure.

According to QI president Andrew Bacevich, “The real failure lies with the U.S. officials who have lied repeatedly about the alleged progress being made in building an effective government and military. Particularly shameful are those who pretend that the U.S. could have stayed the course in Afghanistan without cost. The option, as President Biden rightfully noted yesterday, was to either surge U.S. forces again or withdraw from Afghanistan’s civil war. The former would have meant indefinite and increased deployments of U.S. forces to fight for people who were not willing to fight for the government we imagined for them.”

Adds Adam Weinstein, research fellow and Afghanistan combat veteran, “The real failure lies with the mistaken belief that the United States could shape conditions and foster effective governance through the force of arms. The chaos that follows intervention and the chaos that follows withdrawal are rooted in the same fundamental mistake — that the U.S. thinks it can use its military to affect permanent social and political change in countries that it occupies.” He adds, “For those who claim that the continuation of U.S. airpower alone could have altered the reality on the ground, they are wrong. When Kunduz fell in 2015, it took U.S. air power and even boots on the ground to reassert control — and the United States bombed a Doctors Without Borders’ hospital in the process, killing dozens.”

Lora Lumpe, Quincy’s CEO says: “We knew we were being lied to over the past twenty years by those who touted the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but we could not have imagined the depth of those lies and their implications. Those who blame Biden for this fail are, in effect, saying that ceasing to lie is what causes the United States to lose credibility, not the lies themselves. This approach reveals the artifice on which so much of post-Cold War American foreign policy is built.”

“It’s striking that it took more than two years after the U.S. military withdrawal from Vietnam for Saigon to fall, whereas Kabul has fallen to the Taliban before the United States even completes its drawdown. Suffice it to say that the U.S. military has not gotten any better at the project of nation building over the past nearly fifty years,” remarks Bacevich. “We can only hope now that the spectacular failure the last 20 years has wrought will compel a national reckoning with the profound limitations and liabilities of the use of U.S. military force abroad.”