Biden’s slogan of “America is Back” sounds more like “America is Gone", as the Afghans are left to the medievalist Taliban and the women to live in home jails.
Comparisons to the fall of Saigon in 1975 are aplenty and the infamous photo showing Americans boarding a helicopter from the roof of an apartment building is all over social media. It’s safe to say this is not the photo Biden wants associated with him. He is old enough to remember the humiliating defeat in Vietnam, but the abrupt and badly planned departure from Afghanistan he ordered feels quite similar.
‘Responsibility I Have Is to Protect America’s National Interests’
Biden’s prediction about Afghan government forces holding on for a while and providing a decent interval between US departure and the collapse might have proven wrong but his original decision to leave, no matter what, is at the heart of the issue. He has been clear for years about withdrawing from Afghanistan.
As a presidential candidate, Biden went so far as to say that he would bear “zero responsibility” for the outcome if the Taliban took over and women lost their basic rights of education and employment. “The responsibility I have is to protect America’s national interests,” he told CBS in February 2020. He spoke at length how suffering of mankind was ubiquitous and the US couldn’t be expected to intervene everywhere.
But Afghanistan is not everywhere. His aides abruptly ended the interview and there was no follow up question on the war’s origins and the US' responsibility to create just peace. Not the kind, in which one party is treated as a pariah and the other whom the US went to vanquish is handled with kids' gloves.
The Taliban are knocking on Kabul’s door with 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals under their control at the time of writing. Kandahar and Herat, the second and third-largest cities, are included in the list.
The symbolic and strategic significance of their capture can’t be overstated. Kandahar is said to be Taliban’s birthplace, but the movement grew out of madrassas in Pakistan in the early 1990s and was midwifed by Pakistan’s ISI.
Biden Administration Silent Over Targeted Sanctions on Key Pakistani Officials
Strangely, no US official wants to talk about Pakistan except in faint praise of its “help” in the peace process. While #SanctionPakistan trends on Twitter and a few experts such as Prof C Christine Fair of Georgetown University openly talk about putting immediate targeted sanctions on key Pakistani officials, the Biden administration is maintaining silence as other administrations have over the years.
Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal and a long-time observer, said on Twitter, “US military/intelligence leaders are directly responsible for the biggest intelligence failure since Tet in 1968,” referring to the Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese on more than 100 cities in South Vietnam. How did the Taliban plan, organise, position and execute this massive nationwide offensive under the noses of the US military, CIA, Defence Intelligence Agency and the Afghan forces? he asked.
The answer: they were too busy believing Taliban promises in Doha and they convinced themselves that the military offensive was to gain leverage in the peace negotiations.
But faced with the reality of Taliban’s sweep, foreign governments are leaving Kabul, evacuating their embassies while thousands of Afghans are fleeing their homes and trying to reach Kabul – their last refuge. The Pentagon is sending 3,000 troops to secure the exit of US personnel from Kabul. The British and the Canadians are doing the same.
The Biden Administration says it is not “abandonment".
“This is not an evacuation. This is not a wholesale withdrawal,” Ned Price, the State Department’s spokesman, insisted on Thursday at the daily briefing.
“This is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint,” Price said. His words were sadly reminiscent of the ugly euphemism for torture – 'enhanced interrogation techniques' – that came out of the Iraq War.
Afghans Have Got to Fight for Themselves: Biden
Reports of Taliban atrocities are multiplying from the areas they control – young girls being forced to marry Taliban fighters, women workers being told to stay home, and troops, who surrender, being butchered in cold blood. It’s a matter of time before we hear about the great warriors chopping off hands and stoning people to death in public squares.
The response from Washington is a mishmash of pleas to the Taliban to behave better and empty words about denying them “international recognition”, something the medievalists don’t seem to care about.
Biden, a man with a reputation of a feeling, caring elder, has been downright cold. He said this week that he did not regret his decision to withdraw and the Afghans “have got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation".
His press secretary Jen Psaki went a step further and blamed the Afghan security forces for lacking the “political will to fight back".
Has America Lost Appetite for the Afghanistan War after 20 Years?
There’s no official acknowledgment in Washington of how bad the so-called peace deal is or an answer to why the Biden Administration chose to retain the services of Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who negotiated the Doha debacle. No Afghan seems to respect, leave alone, like the man. His past record in Iraq is equally dodgy. Khalilzad’s labours in Afghanistan produced an exit deal, not a peace deal – that much is established beyond a doubt. The deal boils down to, “Don’t shoot at American forces as they leave and the rest is up to you.”
Now Khalilzad is pleading with the very same Taliban not to attack the US Embassy in Kabul, forgetting that he helped swell Taliban ranks by forcing the Afghan government to release 5,000 prisoners in exchange for absolutely nothing. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe his Twitter feed these days.
But Biden’s political managers have calculated they are fine with Khalilzad and the decision to withdraw because the American people have lost all appetite for the Afghanistan War after 20 years. They don’t seem to consider how other countries may see this abrupt US exit even if they have no choice but to go along with it.
The irony is that it was Donald Trump whose administration negotiated the Doha deal but it is Biden who will be stamped with it.
(Update: The crisis in Afghanistan escalated further on Sunday, 15 August, with Taliban fighters entering Kabul, as negotiations began with the Afghanistan government for an 'unconditional surrender' and a 'peaceful transfer of power'.)
(The writer is a senior Washington-based journalist. She can be reached at @seemasirohi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)