The Graveyard of Empires - how Afghanistan has been viewed by many over the course of history - just ask the British Empire, the Soviets, and now, even the US.
President Biden doubled down on his decision, defending the withdrawal, laying blame at Afghan leaders, as scenes in Kabul airport highlighted the chaotic desperation of those who feel abandoned.
BIDEN DOUBLES DOWN
In a highly anticipated response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, President Biden said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw US troops after 20 years.
President Biden - who weeks ago dismissed the possibility of the Taliban regaining power - acknowledged the situation “did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated”.
While he did say “the buck stops with me,” he was repeatedly critical of the Afghan government who “gave up and fled the country,” adding “we gave them every tool they could need”.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war that Afghan fighters are not willing to fight in themselves.”
Biden also spoke about the toll of the war - primarily the loss of American lives.
How many more generations of American daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan's civil war, when Afghan troops would not? How many more American lives is it worth?”
CNN reported Biden went back to Camp David - where he was being updated while on holiday - following the speech.
The human cost of the war
Over the course of the war, 2,448 US service members and 3,846 US contractors were killed. In terms of other allied service members, including NATO troops, 1,144 were killed.
An estimated 66,000 Afghan national military or police members were killed, and 47,245 Afghan civilians lost their lives.
More than 51,000 Taliban and other opposition fighters were also killed during the war.
How did pundits respond to Biden’s speech?
There was a widespread feeling the speech Biden made was written specifically to a domestic audience, with a focus much more on the American toll of the war.
Bigger picture: It is important to remember that prior to the Taliban taking over the country so quickly, there was a bipartisan desire to end the war in Afghanistan - often described as America’s longest war.
As mentioned on Monday, President Trump also sought to withdraw US troops, and had even set the earlier deadline of May 1, 2021.
It’s important to note that a lot of the debate in the US now centres around how the withdrawal was done, not why it was done.
“95% of the American people will agree with everything [President Biden] just said. 95% of the press covering this White House will disagree.” - Nicole Wallace, an MSNBC pundit, who also served as President George W Bush’s communications director
A Diplomat’s response
Ryan Crocker - who served as US Ambassador to Afghanistan under presidents Bush and Obama - said Biden’s handling of the situation raises “grave questions” about “his ability to lead our nation” as president.
“To have read this so wrong – or, even worse, to have understood what was likely to happen and not care.” - Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker speaking to The Spokesman Review
Financial Cost of the War
Over the course of the last 20 years, the US has spent an estimated $2.26 trillion on the war in Afghanistan.
To put that into context, Forbes noted “that’s $300,000,000 dollars per day, every day, for two decades”.
Of that money, the US has spent roughly $83 billion on training and equipping the Afghan army of 300,000.
Ready to Recognise?
During the Taliban’s last time in power - the mid 1990s until 2001 - only three countries recognised them. They were Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Since its rapid takeover, Russia, Pakistan and China have now all signalled a willingness to recognise the Taliban as the country’s new leaders.
Pakistan has long been accused of aiding the Taliban since they were overthrown by the US in 2001.
According to The Guardian, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan said the Taliban would be much better able to reach agreements “than the puppet government” that was in place under former president Ashraf Ghani.
OFFERS OF REFUGE
US President Biden said 2,000 Afghan civilians and their families - who assisted the US during the war - have already been evacuated. Biden added more will be done in the coming days, but provided no further detail on figures etc.
According to The New York Times, “at least 18,000 people have [visa] applications pending”.
Worth noting: At the end of the Vietnam war, 130,000 South Vietnamese were evacuated to the US. The Washington Post reports that within twenty years, more than a million had resettled in America.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly estimated roughly 10,000 people at risk would need to be evacuated.
- Canada has committed to taking 20,000 Afghan refugees - prioritising those most at risk, including women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
- Ireland’s government has committed to issuing 150 humanitarian visas.
- In terms of the UK, BBC News - citing Downing Street - said a scheme for resettling Afghan refugees will be outlined “soon”. More than 3,300 Afghans - including interpreters and their families - have already been admitted to the UK.
The Power of a Picture
In a photo that will make its way straight into the history books, around 640 Afghan citizens crammed into a US military plane at Kabul airport, in a desperate attempt to flea Taliban control.
A website called Defense One reported the flight took off from Kabul to Qatar on Sunday.
Rather than try to force the civilians off of the plane, “the crew made the decision to go,” Defense One reported.
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post sent a joint letter to President Biden calling for “an unequivocal signal” the the government will defend the Afghan journalists who worked for them for years.
We tried our best to answer any questions Instagram followers wanted answers to…
- Why did the US government have talks with the Taliban and not the Afghan Government? It was the Taliban who refused at the time, saying they would not engage in talks with the Afghan government - describing them as “American puppets”. The Trump administration agreed to go ahead with the talks, with many reports now saying this left many Afghan forces feeling the US had sided with the Taliban.
Why did the US decide to leave? It was often referred to as ‘America’s longest war,’ and for years polls showed a majority of Americans in favour of withdrawal. As mentioned above, the war cost 2,448 US service members and 3,846 US contractors lives, and an estimated $2.26 trillion.
Are there not enough flights for the desperate people trying to leave? All commercial flights out of Kabul have been cancelled amid the chaos. The airport is now only open on the military side, which is being used for evacuations.
Is it likely the US will re-enter? Or what will they do? Biden made it pretty clear in his speech that while he is “deeply saddened” by the current situation in Afghanistan, he doesn’t regret the decision to withdraw troops.
How large are the Taliban that they could regain power so easily? Hard to get exact numbers on this. CNN cited estimates saying anywhere between 58,000 to 100,000.
What % of the population support them? I think it will be very hard to get an accurate measure of this, particularly now that they have regained power.
How did the Afghan army collapse so quickly? Much of the media commentary on this points towards low morale among Afghan fighters - feeling like they didn’t genuinely believe in the Afghan government’s leadership, and that they likely felt abandoned by the US, particularly because they made an agreement with the Taliban.
“The swiftness with which the 300,000-strong force laid down arms in the face of the Taliban’s advance betrayed how little faith the country’s soldiers had in the institution they served and the national government they had sworn to defend.” - Analysis from Al Jazeera
Also, here is a very helpful piece from The Financial Times if you have a subscription - low morale, no support and bad politics: why the Afghan army folded
Why are comparisons being made to Saigon? During the Vietnam war, the US backed southern Vietnam. Its capital, Saigon, fell to the communist north in 1975 - leading to a chaotic evacuation from the US Embassy.