US President Joe Biden firmly defended his decision on Monday to pull the country out of Afghanistan, blaming Afghan leaders for the country’s collapse —“much faster than expected,” he admitted— for lack of political will to join forces against the Taliban. Not even a glimmer of self-criticism in a speech expected by the dizzying pace of events in Kabul; only the justification for the withdrawal with arguments already known. “American soldiers could not and should not continue fighting and dying in a war that Afghans are not willing to fight,” he said, after referring to the “surrender” and flight of Afghan authorities, led by President Ashraf Ghani after the takeover. of the capital by mujahideen, on Sunday.
As representatives of his government had reiterated over the weekend, the objectives of the US presence in Afghanistan were fulfilled: to stop al Qaeda and capture Osama bin Laden. “But the terrorist threat has largely surpassed Afghanistan and reached other countries”, among which he cited Somalia (Al Shabab), Iraq and Syria under the Islamic State. “The goal of mobilization was never to build a democratic nation; only fight terrorism”, an argument, recalled Biden, who has defended since his time as vice president of Barack Obama.
The president stated that he only had two options: to follow the agreement signed by Trump with the Taliban in February 2020 “or to escalate the conflict” of war. But “if Afghan forces weren’t going to fight, staying a year or more would mean nothing,” he said, accusing Afghan leaders of lack of will, despite having given them “everything they needed.”
The president was silent throughout the weekend, a gesture marked by the rapid pace of events, until images of chaos and violence from a desperate mob at Kabul airport led the president to interrupt his vacation to address the nation, in early Monday afternoon, with statements that were not even dated hours earlier.
In his penultimate attempt to justify the decision to leave Afghanistan, Biden again stated this morning, through his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, that the fall of Kabul was not inevitable and that responsibility for the collapse should be placed on the Afghan forces. This argument, along with the promise to “lead the international community in defending human rights in Afghanistan” — an empty promise also announced by Sullivan — is the protection that the Biden Administration has provided in the face of the barrage of criticism for the country’s hasty evacuation. Central Asian.
Biden spent the weekend at the Camp David residence, from where he flew at noon on Monday to the White House, though he had originally planned on staying until Wednesday. It was a weekend without public pronouncements — with the exception of a photo that shows him alone, following the collapse of Kabul on several screens — and with an announcement with a domestic bias, his forte: the 25% increase in the amount of the Government program federal anti-hunger, food stamp system.
Biden never hid his intention to extricate himself from distant conflicts to focus on the recovery and reconstruction of the country after the pandemic, but the achievements of the beginning of his term (the rescue of coronavirus victims, the infrastructure plan and the additional package of social assistance , still in process) may be overshadowed by the fiasco in Afghanistan, while Washington disclaims responsibility for the mistakes in the country.
After just seven months in the White House, withdrawal from Afghanistan will be marked for the remainder of his term. Few among Democrats and Republicans, and the bulk of public opinion, discussed not the pertinence of the exit, but the opportunity and how it would take place. And what was seen in Afghanistan these days confirms, according to most analysts, the disconnect between the reality in the country and the analysis of intelligence and defense, reducing to the comic category that “mission accomplished” by George W. Bush, proclaimed in May of 2003, just days after the US invasion of Iraq, before the country was engulfed by sectarian violence and ISIS barbarism. Compared to Bush’s triumphalism — the same one that embarked the US on the Afghan “war on terror” after 9/11 — Biden’s confidence in a non-consequential exit from Afghanistan sounds, to many, naive and shortsighted.
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Overestimated calculations and errors
For some analysts, Biden’s conviction that Afghanistan would not fall into Taliban hands is an example of wishful thinking, based on an accumulation of overestimated calculations (the actual capabilities of Afghan forces, for example) and errors such as ignoring Iraq’s precedent, and Afghanistan’s own feudal structure. Senior Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the front and General Mark Milley, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to convince him in late March to leave a few thousand troops. of troops — 3,000 to 4,500, nearly double the forces deployed at the time — to avoid a repeat of Iraq’s warlike evolution, when in 2014 the regular army was defeated by the Islamic State after the withdrawal of US combat troops, which forced the president at the time, Barack Obama, to turn around and send more troops to the Arab country.
Biden’s insistence on the need to leave Afghanistan, convinced that the US presence would only increase dependence on Kabul, was already final in April, when he announced the withdrawal, initially for September 11th. In late June, intelligence agencies said that the threat to Kabul would take a year and a half to materialize if the Taliban continued to gain ground, as it did after the withdrawal agreement signed by Trump with the mujahideen in February 2020.
Reality demonstrated this weekend that it took the Taliban ten days to take a military tour of Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul. The attribution of responsibilities comes to the wheels of the Biden Administration, but also to the three previous ones, due to the succession of mistakes made during 20 years — the duration of the North American occupation.
According to an analysis by the Agence France Presse, the first of them was high-generation military equipment, tailored for a modern army, but inadequate in a country where only 30% of the population has access to regular electricity supply and a good part of the troops, illiterate, had no training to use it. According to the latest report by SIGAR (the office of the Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan), presented last week to Congress, “the advanced weapons, vehicles and logistics systems used by the Western military were far from the capabilities of the Afghan force. , largely illiterate and uneducated”.
Another miscalculation was the confidence in the numerical superiority of the Afghan forces – a total of 300,000 troops, including the military and police – against the 70,000-75,000 Taliban, as Biden stressed last month. In fact, as of July 2020, according to the West Point Military Academy’s Counter-Terrorism Center, of the 300,000, only 185,000 were Army and Defense Ministry special operations forces, while police and other security forces would constitute the remaining. West Point’s assessment placed the percentage of trained fighters at 60%, according to AFP. Not counting the 8,000 Air Force members, the most accurate estimate of the Afghan Army’s composition would be 96,000 troops.
In addition to the lack of training of troops, there is demoralization, at a rate of up to 25% of desertions per year until 2020, according to the SIGAR report. Among the reasons for the abandonment is the lack of payment of salaries – the only responsibility of the Government of Kabul after the US announced its withdrawal in April – and the lack of equipment, in addition to food and provisions. It did not help to keep the troops’ morale high, the report emphasizes, the Pentagon’s promise to continue helping Afghan troops from a distance, once the withdrawal is complete, through the Zoom platform, due to the country’s precarious technology. The withdrawal of the contractors on whom the maintenance of logistics in Afghanistan depended was the nail that closed the coffin.
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