So the fall of Afghanistan is upon us — a major crisis that could have been prevented.
Americans, coalition partners and loyal Afghans are sheltered in place near and around Kabul, and there is a deadline of Aug 31 imposed by the conquering force, the Taliban, to get out.
Initially, our response to Afghanistan was because of the 9/11 attacks on American soil, and our military mission was to track down Osama bin Laden, destroy the terrorist camps and expel the Taliban.
Meanwhile, the international community joined in to bring security and to help an Afghan civil society that had been beaten down by Russian occupation years before.
In the early 2000 years, our special forces, U.S. military units and coalition forces were under a NATO command called the International Security Assistance Forces. We had military and air superiority. This command pushed the Taliban into the hills and along the borders, attacked and worked hard to eliminate the Haqqani and al-Qaeda networks.
At the same time, ISAF worked to interact with the Afghan government, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the country to assist with reconstruction, and supported the work of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. There was an active counter-insurgency going on in the large cities but also a major international effort to provide stabilization for the Afghan people.
An interim government was set into place in 2001, and ultimately an election occurred whereby Hamid Karzai was elected president for two terms. He served from 2004-14. Civil society was on the move: elections, women in parliament, girls being educated, strides in health care, ethnic minority rights, etc.
In 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Embassy had five ambassadors working out of it. Provincial governors were working with UNAMA partners and security forces. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams helped tribal elders and their villages to build schools, wells, infrastructure and agricultural irrigation sites. Over 40 countries participated. The U.S. military was helping the Afghan ministries to build capacity and bring broadcasting so the Afghan people could tell their own stories. It was an exciting time, and everyone wanted to get to Afghanistan to help out.
Unfortunately, in 2014, the Obama administration and NATO shut down the ISAF headquarters and then the security footprint slowly withdrew. There was no commitment to create a long-lasting security force such as the U.S. government had done in Germany, Italy, Japan and Korea.
Once the NGOs and international relief groups felt unsafe, it was time to go. The Taliban observed the military pullout and calculated their time to strike.
The Afghan army was no match for the hardened Taliban, who were getting support from other countries outside Afghanistan. The U.S. government, the leader of NATO, left a fragile government under Ashraf Ghani, the president, who fled last week to Tajikistan to save his hide.
Events of the past week in Afghanistan displayed a lack of commitment, warnings, planning and mismanagement of a conflict that has made America the laughing stock of Russia, China, Iran and any other bad actor out there.
Not having a standing security force to protect Americans, our international and Afghan partners, to me, is unconscionable. To give up Bagram Airfield, our U.S. Embassy in Kabul, our perimeter security and our weapons to the Taliban calls for national security leaders to be fired.
The pullout of Afghanistan has been nothing but chaos and an embarrassment to our military veterans and Afghan partners who fought so hard the past 20 years. We should know how many Americans are on the ground and their locations. We should help our Afghan partners who stood side by side with us. We should push back on the Taliban and this ridiculous timeline. We should support our Marines, soldiers, naval and Air Force personnel with all that we can on the ground to evacuate Americans and friends.
The Biden administration knew the cautionary tales of Afghanistan and its intelligence reports. The Taliban blitzkrieg into Kabul was no mystery. It was a failure in leadership to protect our equipment, U.S. civilian and military personnel.
This unilateral action to pull out left our allies thinking bad thoughts about the U.S. government, but now it is the time to do whatever we can to get Americans out of Afghanistan safely and to avoid the bloodshed as much as possible. It’s time to act and to put our best foot forward.
Joseph D. Kenney is a retired Marine officer who served at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. from 2009-10. He lives in Wakefield.