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Where Did the US Go Wrong in Trying to Exit A 20-Year War in Afghanistan?

To understand, let's rewind to 2001 and the immediate aftermath of 9/11 attacks.

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Video Editor: Sandeep Suman

Editorial inputs: Rohit Khanna

The Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan. And it took them less than two weeks to do that once they seized the first provincial capital.

The world is now wondering if America's longest war – that went on for 20 years – was worth the cost, given that hundreds of thousands of civilians have died, been displaced and are now scrambling for refuge, lives of women and children are at stake? This, notwithstanding the fact that even American and other NATO lives were lost and trillions of dollars were spent in ramping up the Afghan military only to watch it topple like a house of cards in a matter of days.

To understand what led to the failure of the Afghan military and why 20 years were not good enough to keep the Taliban at bay, let's rewind to 2001.

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9/11 And Its Aftermath

On 11 September 2001, terrorists affiliated with Al-Qaeda hijacked commercial planes to execute terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington. These attacks were planned and directed from Afghanistan.

In retaliation, the US began Operation Enduring Freedom, a bombing campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. By the end of the year, the US and allied forces were successful in driving the Taliban from power in Afghanistan once they refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden who was behind the 9/11 attacks.

In 2002 and 2003, the then US President, George W Bush, announced a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, and the following year US invaded Iraq, diverting resources and attention from Afghanistan.

In 2009 Obama recommitted the US forces to Afghanistan to keep a "resurgent' Taliban in check. That year 30,000 additional US troops were sent to Afghanistan in addition to the 68,000 already stationed in the country.

The victory for America came in May 2011 when the US military and CIA agents successfully killed Osama Bin Laden.

That was the first phase of the war that the US won. But the second phase was about rebuilding Afghanistan and buying time for the Afghan government so they could stand up to the Taliban.

In 2014, touted to be the bloodiest year since 2001, NATO's forces withdrew, leaving responsibility for security to the Afghan army. That gave the Taliban momentum and they seized more territory.

By then, the US had announced the beginning of a drawdown in Afghanistan (in 2011), a plan for which was laid down by Obama in 2016.

But with Trump coming to power, he called off the US-Taliban peace talks that began in late 2018 and in early 2020, negotiated a deal with the Taliban for US troop withdrawal. The final nail in the coffin was Biden's announcement to clear out US troops in Afghanistan by September 2021.

But once the US evacuated the Bagram Airfield, the largest military installation in the country since the 2001 invasion, by 8 August, the first provincial capitals of Sar-e-Pul, Kunduz and Taloqan fell and on 15 August, Afghanistan went under Taliban rule.

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Was Joe Biden Wrong in Implementing the Drawdown?

Many of Biden’s allies believe he made the right decision to finally exit a war that the United States could not win and that was no longer in its national interest. But they concede that he made a series of major mistakes in executing the withdrawal.

First, the USAID spending watchdog for Afghanistan had warned that the US military had little or no means of knowing whether the Afghan forces were capable of operating independently. It maintained that the US military was overoptimistic about Afghan military capability, even though it had no reliable evidence.

Second, former western military officials and independent academics say widespread public disillusionment with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, chronic corruption and mismanagement within the armed forces, and a sheer lack of confidence among the troops that they could win against the Taliban without US military and intelligence support led to the quick collapse of the government – all of which the US was forewarned about.

Finally, the US had every knowledge that the Taliban attacks were increasing. Since 29 February 2020, the date of the final US-Taliban agreement, more enemy-initiated attacks were reported in every three months in comparison to the corresponding quarters the previous year.

Yet, Biden had clearly stated that Afghanistan would in no way be overrun by the Taliban.

Did his administration not plan for contingency to sustain critical counterterrorism operations? While the world mulls over this, a massive humanitarian crisis unfolds in Afghanistan as the Taliban leads the country into darkness.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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