Afghanistan: A Requiem for an Avoidable Disaster

Author: Jim Webb

On August 26 a suicide terrorist detonated his jacket of explosives near the sewage ditch where thousands of Afghans had gathered at the edge of the airport in Kabul and killed not only himself but more than 180 people.  Among them were eleven American Marines, an Army soldier, and a Navy medical corpsman.

In Washington Joe Biden, the president who had ordered that the evacuation of Americans and their allies be accomplished by August 31 so that his new Administration could celebrate finally ending the Afghanistan war on the twenty-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was, characteristically, remaining out of sight.  His election campaign had largely taken place in the basement of his home in Delaware, minimizing his tendency to make public gaffes.  After the American military was ordered to occupy the Kabul airport following a blitzkrieg of sorts by the Taliban that toppled the Afghan government, he disappeared for days inside the protected isolation of Camp David or at his home in Delaware, from whence he would appear from time to time to read a set of carefully prepared remarks and then again disappear without taking questions.

Vice President Kamala Harris was finishing up a quick trip to Singapore and Vietnam and skipped a stop in California on the way home where she had intended to campaign for its embattled governor as he fends off a voter recall to throw him out of office.  At no point in her Asia trip did the Vice President speak directly about the ominous forced error in Afghanistan that had been initiated by the Biden Administration, although the world was waiting for reassurance from America’s top leadership as events on the ground morphed out of control.   In a remarkable display of tone-deaf diplomatic naiveté, the Vice President was pictured sitting in front of a sculpture of Ho Chi Minh during a meeting with Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the very moment the rest of the world was comparing America’s humiliating and incompetent dilemma in Kabul with the 1975 fall of Saigon. 

In Kabul, America’s capability to conduct an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan had turned into a disgusting nightmare of incompetence that can only be rectified by holding those responsible accountable.  A midnight abandonment of America’s most important airbase in Bagram on July 2 had put a double hex on a proper retrograde from the country, first by giving up a large-scale aviation platform whose massive runways and extensive outer perimeter made it eminently usable and defendable, and second by allowing the Taliban to release thousands of rabid terrorists who had been imprisoned there and were now on the loose.  In Kabul, American military units were largely forbidden to leave the airport to rescue and escort Americans and allied Afghans back to the airport.  An agreement was reached where the conquering Taliban controlled the checkpoints outside.  To make matters impossibly worse, American officials in Kabul were reported to have given the names and locations of some of our citizens and close allies to the Taliban, supposedly for the purpose of expediting their efforts to leave the country but in reality, simplifying the Taliban’s search for the very people whose lives depended on escaping from their clutches in the first place.

Read the full National Interest article here