Four months after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, there are no longer any illusions about what a failure the policy has been. The effort to retrieve people was shoddy enough, with people left stranded and unable to access the airport, despite the high number of evacuees. But the strategic failure and damage to America is even worse.
The undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Kahl, told U.S. senators in October that terrorists could have the capability to attack the U.S. homeland from Afghanistan within six months, and perhaps sooner. He was referring to the Afghan branch of the Islamic State. He also said al-Qaeda could attack from Afghanistan within “a year or two.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, estimated the same thing happening in two to three years. Let’s recall that al-Qaeda, a close ally of the Taliban, is present in over half the provinces of Afghanistan, according to the U.N.
Our withdrawal has raised the threat to America, since the previous Afghan government prevented unfettered access by jihadists.
This was not unforeseen. Milley and the head of Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, have both testified to Congress that they thought 2,500 troops should have been kept in Afghanistan, the same level as in January 2021. McKenzie predicted a withdrawal would lead to a quick collapse, which duly happened, though in days not months. President Biden has denied to ABC News that he received this advice.
Biden has said that he needed to withdraw to avoid having to commit thousands of fresh U.S. troops into the war zone. He is almost alone in this claim because the U.S. and Afghan army was in a stalemate with the Taliban, and no new troops were needed. What the Afghan needed to survive was continued U.S. support, not reinforcements.
Beyond the strategic blunder, the Afghan themselves have suffered immeasurably. Roughly half the population of just under 40 million are estimated to have too little to eat. One million children could die of malnutrition by the end of the year.
In part this is because the U.S. froze Afghanistan’s $10 billion in cash in U.S. banks. This seized up the Afghan banking system, which meant businesses could not get cash to operate, and threw probably hundreds of thousands into unemployment.
Taxes have also plummeted as government offices are starved of employees whom the Taliban hate for their expertise. The value of the local currency has plummeted.
Another reason: The Taliban are deliberately starving ethnic rivals like the Hazara, refusing to allow them to trade in bazaars in their home province of Bamiyan.
But these are only pieces of the story. Afghanistan is a rural country, and the economic paralysis in all areas is probably also caused by fear and uncertainty over Taliban intentions. Markets are frozen because people are afraid to step out of line, and investment of any kind is impossible in a climate of fear.
Human Rights Watch reported that the Taliban are going house to house and arresting and killing former members of the security forces. HRW has documented over 100 examples, but the number is surely much higher.
Girls in most areas of the country are not allowed into secondary school, a practice that harks back to the 1990s Taliban rule. Female university students and teachers have protested at the shut-out, and been beaten for their trouble. Female government employees have mostly been told to stay home. The Taliban says these problems will be solved in time, but because the Taliban have no money to build segregated facilities their assurances are worthless.
The hard fact is that we lost 2,461 U.S. lives in Afghanistan for nothing because President Biden grew sick of the war. He was quoted by Bob Woodward as saying in 2009 that a Taliban takeover would be no bad thing for America.
The U.S. should have kept the 2,500 troops there as the military said, for minimal cost, for as long as it took. Just as American did in Korea and Germany to ensure success. Until the Taliban realized winning was not an option and negotiated with real conviction to salvage a piece of the pie.
Now, having made its mistake, America will have to step up and push massive amounts of aid to Afghanistan through the U.N. and other international agencies, to address a crisis we created. It’s no use arguing about eventually releasing frozen funds, massive aid is required now.
Former CIA Director Bob Gates famously wrote that Joe Biden had been wrong on every major foreign policy issue of the past 40 years. This episode is no different.