WORDS: 1,928 — The evacuation of Kabul? Yeah, it all looks bad over there. Things are out of control. There’s chaos everywhere. Things could have been planned much better for sure. The evacuation fiasco is all on the Biden team. People are desperate to leave; jumping on planes taxiing down the runway and dropping like flies to their deaths when the planes take off. Desperate people climbing over the walls, pushing through the razor wire.. fencing… trying to get out of Afghanistan before the Taliban lops off their heads or the heads of their family members. Video and images galore showing the American defeat by the Taliban.
Well.. I encourage the reader to step back and look from a wider lens here. The images of desperation are compelling to watch for anyone. The fact is.. if we want to investigate the screw up to point fingers, assign blame, make political hay to sway future votes… all that can be done later. Down the line when it’s appropriate we can go over the various post-mortem white papers, create commissions, appoint special prosecutors, all to investigate all the actions we did in Afghanistan, Until then it’s a good idea to keep focus of what’s going on. It should be NO surprise that after 20 years over there our leaving would be nothing less as painful for all as a dentist extracting an infected tooth without the use of Novocain, or as a TV talking head said.. like ripping the band-aid off. As Americans we usually like to feel good in the exercising of our foreign policies. We enjoy that moral high ground and it’s partially what (we think) adds to that “American exceptionalism” (that some other nations take exception to). After all, promoting democratic freedoms and human rights… R’ Us., right?
The Original Mission
While Biden’s speech was not the best he could have done, he did target on the reason we went into Afghanistan to provide context to the situation. We didn’t go there with the idea to nation-build and spread democracy. We went there to search for Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, and to search for terrorists being harbored by the Taliban government given Bush had declared a war on terrorism. We went there to take the “war” to the heart of those supporting terrorism. No more 9/11 for us.. Now… this “war on terrorism” comes in different facets as we started in Afghanistan. Our military shot into there to take control… oust the Taliban from control in order to release their ability to support terrorism. Obviously this created a vacuum in government to which we addressed in helping with what ended up being a nation-build and military build-up of their forces to sustain the on-going struggle with the Taliban, still a fighting force in certain rural areas of the country.
Not All Intel Is The Same
From another angle behind the scenes was the intel gathering and analysis in order to track the moves of potential terrorist groups and networks planning attacks directly in the West and the good old USA. This included working directly with those “warlords” and using good old American dollars to convince them to help. This worked and it was effective. One could argue that this helped hugely in keeping advance awareness of planning terrorist strikes, and keeping such attacks from happening in America. That worked. What also worked was the intel collected in tracking down specific leadership and follow up with necessary assassinations. It’s important to remember here that while the intel community in general is being ostracized for faulty advance warning of the strength and progress of Taliban advances that this likely had more to do with military intel gathering and analysis, along with State Department intel analysis… and NOT the same organizations assigned with international terrorist intel gathering. I think if you check back in the history in how we found Bin Laden, it was the folks who were gathering the intel from warlords and other confidential sources that we were able to follow where he was going.. or more like, where he had been.. Remember when Seal Team Six entered Bin Laden’s location in Pakistan and killed him? Immediately after they collected all the computers and media files.. which ended up being the proverbial “treasure trove” of intel information from which those intel folks could continue the “secret” war on terrorism. These are not the same folks that determine the military strength or whereabouts of an opposing fighting force.
By the way.. as we are all jumping on the bandwagon that America “lost” in Afghanistan.. keep in mind, our intel and military did in fact accomplish the mission of keeping further terrorist activity away from America, and those networks that were using Afghanistan as a base of operations were eliminated or they relocated to other countries. Al Qaeda all but vanished in country and Bin Laden himself left the country. The Taliban still was a fighting force in the rural areas for all those years we were introducing democracy and training a domestic military. You could easily say that we lost the nation-building effort, which in turn resulted in the Taliban gradually getting to today. Technically we had a “mission accomplished” moment to our original mission when we killed Bin Laden 10 years ago.
Ok… let’s address the here and now. I certainly cannot answer for how the Taliban has been administering it’s re-conquered provinces. I have no idea if heads are rolling or women are being raped. I can make a basic assumption that many media reporters are still able to travel in-country and take advantage of communication infrastructure to file their stories. But I am not aware of any at this point (although a Reuters photographer was killed in some crossfire a week or so back). I have heard that a few cities and towns did have firefights or outright battles. But when the Taliban entered Kabul…. it’s been quiet. If I were to guess I would presume this is because no one wants to engage the U.S. directly in an urban shooting match. Plus there might be a consideration as to the strength of any local militia or leftover Afghan commandos. The city’s population is 6 million… many times more than the Taliban in the entire country.
I would like to think that after 20 years of watching us Americans and our allies that Taliban leadership might be more inclined to approach “conquering” less about getting even and retribution against the white infidels and more along the idea of preserving existing infrastructure.. which is extensive…. rather than blowing it all to hell and back. Also.. Americans have not been engaging the Taliban directly… and in fact, this has resulted in this unique “détente'” at the airport between those Taliban controlling the airport entrances and the Americans on the airport perimeter. A further curious development would be for the Taliban at the entrance to allow safe passage into the airport for any Americans still trying to get to the airport.
As for those Afghan citizens who worked for or helped the Americans over the years, ala the interpreters, that’s hard to tell how the Taliban might respond to those not already at the airport. But here’s another sign I am seeing that this might be a “different” Taliban. .I am not seeing in any of the images.. video or photos… of wild celebration by the victorious Taliban fighters. No shooting of guns into the air. Remember that video of those Taliban fighters in the Afghan President’s office? No celebratory handshakes, no smiles, no laughing. Their weapons held casually, non-threatening. In the streets Taliban fighters are posing for photographs.. giving press interviews. This might suggest some command and control going on down to the rank-in-file. In other words, some intentional action to not incite violence. What does any of this mean? Could mean absolutely nothing.. or could be a visual “language” forming. I hope our diplomats are watching. As of this writing it’s being reported that there is a dialog between Taliban outside the airport and American military inside the airport.
As for fulfilling our promise to save these people who helped us in the field.. I see two schools of thought. I, too, feel strongly that we need to stick to our promises if for nothing else than we are Americans and we should be THAT good. The other consideration…. these people chose to help us as a way to serve their country. It was their contribution toward their own attempt to have democracy. It was the same as an Afghan citizen becoming a soldier in their military yet we don’t see ex-soldiers lining up at the airport with their family waiting to leave the country. Perhaps the next time we do this (hopefully not too soon) we don’t make these promises… we ask for volunteers, we pay them, give them housing and support… and let their WILL serve their country.,, not serve the United States.
Perhaps another lesson from our experience in Vietnam. Back in my college days of 1970 I oft promoted that America should just simply declare victory, an end to the war, and go home. Keep our embassy there.. give them lots of aid.. and simply buy their loyalty to us given they had absolutely nothing hence they would love American goods. Fast forward some 40+ years and that’s where we are at with them. My son went backpacking as a tourist in Nam three years ago with friends. Go figger he made it there and I never did. Point being… things could get a little more amicable this time around between us and the Taliban if we flat out don’t try and shun them completely.
Our Twenty Year Presence May Have Done More Than We Thought… Give It Time.
As for the human rights stuff and our obsession with how the Taliban treats women…. consider this. There’s been 20 years of education of the entire population. That’s almost two generations. If the Taliban just stops female education… there are still 20 years of educated females numbering in the millions roaming around the countryside… and they just might have a voice… especially in the bedroom. We shouldn’t count them down and out just yet. Also keep in mind that it’s a good chance the average Taliban fighter, who might have been a young child when the Americans arrived 20 years ago, has been part of this education along the way and might be able to apply acquired knowledge to influence a more modern approach. There is going to be a lot of latent Western cultural influence when the Americans leave. Afghans may not have had the will to pull a trigger… but they could very well have the will for a slower, more silent revolution.
What Might The Taliban Do After They Take Hold And Set Up A Government?
Hard to say. They can revert back to their near Stone Age lifestyle or realize that even a nomad country has to have some part in a global community in order to build commerce and form strategic relationships. Afghanistan could easily become a refugee destination should Pakistan or any of the other ” ‘stans ” on their borders have internal conflict. If so, they are going to need foreign help. This isn’t the same world as 20 years ago. Time will tell. But we should still watch for diplomatic opportunities and not just walk away. This should be part of the homage we give to all our soldiers who made the great sacrifice. The final chapter of America in Afghanistan has yet to be written..