This was foreseeable, the quality of Afghan forces was well known within the U.S. military and had been for years. When I was a young E-4 in Iraq in 2008, it was common knowledge the Iraqi Army was of dubious quality and the ANA/ANP were functionally worthless. The incredulity over the almost overnight collapse of the ANA/ANP reflects either total incompetence or outright deception. The politicians involved either declined to ask the military hard questions, were deceptively briefed by the military when those questions were asked, or were fully informed of just how bad the situation was and decided to conceal the fact. The military conversely is directly responsible for the current state of affairs. The senior officers in charge of operations in Afghanistan either believed their own propaganda that everything was fine, knew it was not and concealed it, or reported it and then failed to resign rather than perpetuate the situation. In any case, they did nothing to redress the strategic and tactical situation. By perpetuating the war, many senior officers were able to secure well-compensated positions in the private defense/contractor sector.
At one time it would be difficult to believe cowardice, corruption, incompetence, and a lack of integrity were prevalent among the U.S. military’s officer corps. If the increasing prevalence of woke political activism by the general officer corps, their internal political indoctrination of the rank and file, and their track record in Iraq and Afghanistan doesn’t convince you, examine the Afghan withdrawal.
The concept of reverse bounding in any retrograde movement is familiar to every well-trained soldier. The idea is that one element of the force moves rearward while another remains in place to provide cover for that movement. They then alternate roles until the entire force can break contact with the enemy. In a strategic sense, similar considerations prevail. The U.S. military failed to maintain a secure airhead, like Bagram Airbase, for instance, to facilitate a safe and orderly withdrawal of civilians and military personnel. It evacuated thousands of armed military personnel while allowing large numbers of civilians to remain in-country. (It so thoroughly failed to evacuate local nationals who had materially assisted coalition forces that Special Forces vets were creating GoFundMe accounts to enable the evacuation of their interpreters.) Any competent withdrawal necessitates maintaining a secure egress to which forces can progressively collapse, evacuating soft targets and non-combatants first (including any allied local nationals), and then withdrawing the armed security element. How this current farce was concocted by any operations planning staff is almost beyond comprehension. Protestations that the officers in charge never anticipated this swift a collapse of Afghan forces only underline their own unfitness for command.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan was always going to end with Taliban reconquest of the country. The absolute route currently being witnessed can be laid entirely at the door of the U.S. military who drafted the plan, and the civilians in the Department of Defense and the White House who approved it. It’s not over yet. Hamid Karzai Airport, located in Kabul, is functionally indefensible as an airhead against determined attack. It boasts a single runway that could be interdicted with relative ease, should the Taliban so choose. The situation has become dire enough that thousands of American soldiers are being redeployed to secure the area until evacuation can be completed.
This entire episode is the capstone on a twenty-year exercise in intellectual bankruptcy. The American soldier has once again demonstrated a fighting prowess unsurpassed anywhere in the world. The American officer corps has conversely demonstrated a total failure of leadership reminiscent of the French in Indochina. Its proposed doctrines have failed, and at the highest levels, its officers are deeply compromised politically and professionally. This is a situation that will not fix itself. In any serious military organization, they would be relieved in droves.
The political component is no better. Feckless U.S. presidents, senators, and representatives elected by short-sighted civilians have dithered over, waffled on, and finally aborted America’s longest (undeclared) war. These same people: civilian and military, now tell us China and Russia are the new geopolitical enemies while giving passing nods to continued counter-terror operations.
This is the true danger going forward. Against the Taliban, the military disaster we’ve witnessed is survivable. Against a peer-level state opponent, survival in the face of such a comprehensive defeat is uncertain at best. Unless the people and policies who orchestrated this defeat are excised from the political and military establishments in this country, we may not survive their next blunder.
Patrick Fox is an Iraq War veteran who served with the United States Air Force from 2005-2013. He holds a BS in Political Science from Tennessee State University and a Masters in Security from the University College of London.