Opinion: what to learn from Afghanistan disaster


US Central Command Public Affairs

US Airmen assist aircraft taking part in the evacuation of Kabul. Photo by US Central Command

Nicholas Scoggins, Staff Reporter

For the second time in less than a century, the American people are reeling from defeat in a war. Less than a month after the majority of NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban surged across the country, swiftly routing the Afghan National Army and capturing the capital of Kabul. Taliban forces, despite their statements that they have changed their ways, have returned to enforcing their draconian interpretation of Sharia law on the Afghan people, re-establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.  


This defeat is not the fault of the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who frequently sent the Taliban running. Rather, just like in Vietnam, the war was lost thanks to political leadership of both parties. At the beginning, American forces entered Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaeda and their Taliban backers, however the Bush administration shifted the mission to establishing a Western-style state in a region that was antithetical to the values of the local people.  


At the end of the war, the Biden administration committed one of the greatest geopolitical errors of the 21st century and conducted an extremely hasty withdrawal that both abandoned large amounts of military equipment and took away crucial support for the Afghan Armed Forces which led to them surrendering the American-supplied equipment the U.S. government had provided. As a result, the Taliban now has $85 Billion worth of modern American military equipment. This includes everything from M16A4 rifles with associated accessories such as night-vision scopes and laser designators, to M1117 armored cars to even Black Hawk helicopters and drones. With these weapons already making their way to the black market, terrorist groups around the world will likely have access to far better equipment thanks to the Taliban’s victory.


So, what are the biggest lessons to take from the fall of Afghanistan. The first is that the United States and the rest of the Western world must take extreme caution when it comes to promoting their values abroad. While things such as free elections, freedom of speech, and a secular government are all things that work for the U.S. and are cherished by Americans, many other countries are either indifferent or even hostile to these values. This was the case in Afghanistan, where much of the Afghan military did not feel motivated enough to fight to the death for a democratic state and thus either surrendered or deserted their posts in mass droves, allowing the Taliban to claim an easy victory.


The second is that the US needs to have a clear strategy on how to withdraw from a conflict without causing instability. This is where Biden made a major mistake. For example, when American forces left Bagram air base, they did it so quickly that they did not even alert the local Afghan commander that they were withdrawing, and they abandoned tons of equipment and supplies including rations, MRAPs (armored cars designed to withstand a mine blast) and ammunition.  Due to not communicating the withdrawal with local Afghan forces, the U.S. part of the base was not secure and, as a result, looters moved in and took anything not bolted down.  Another problem with the way the withdrawal was conducted was that crucial private military contracting (private companies who provide military services) were also sent home. This hurt the Afghan security forces severely, since the Afghan Air Force relied on contractors to keep it’s fleet of aircraft running. Access to air support was one of the greatest advantages the Afghan Armed Forces had over the Taliban, who lacked access to their own aircraft. However the withdraw of contractor support effectively grounded the Afghan Airforce, putting the Taliban on a much more even playing field with the government.


It is important to remember that while it appears American participation in Afghanistan might be over, many American servicemen and women are still suffering. Whether from mental health problems such as PTSD or horrific combat injuries sustained during operations in Afghanistan, many veterans are still fighting a metaphorical war. They gave everything they had for America, and now its people must do everything they can to help them.