After the US spent almost 20 years in Afghanistan, killed hundreds of thousands of people, and spent over $2 trillion, the failure and futility of the war is being put on display as the Afghan government is rapidly collapsing.
The Taliban’s success was predicted, not just by critics of the war, but also by the US government’s Afghanistan watchdog and US intelligence assessments. But the speed of the Taliban’s offensive was not expected, and it is opening up President Biden to criticism for his decision to withdraw.
Some hawks are calling for Biden to ramp up airstrikes against the Taliban to halt the offensive. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement that the Biden administration should “hammer” the Taliban with airstrikes.
“It is not too late to prevent the Taliban from overrunning Kabul. The Administration should move quickly to hammer Taliban advances with airstrikes, provide critical support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) defending the capital, and prevent the seemingly imminent fall of the city,” McConnell said.
The US has stepped up airstrikes in Afghanistan in recent weeks. The bombings have done little but kill civilians, and the Pentagon seems to be focusing the strikes on destroying US military equipment that ends up in the hands of the Taliban. US officials have conceded in comments to the press that limited US airstrikes without a significant ground presence will do little to reverse Taliban gains.
Other critics are not calling for an escalation but are slamming the way in which the US conducted the withdrawal. Even the British government, a close ally in the almost 20-year occupation, is calling Biden’s decision a “mistake.”
President Trump, whose administration negotiated the deal that led to the withdrawal, released a statement Thursday, slamming Biden over the situation. “Had our 2020 Presidential Election not been rigged, and if I were now President, the world would find that our withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a conditions-based withdrawal. I personally had discussions with top Taliban leaders whereby they understood what they are doing now would not have been acceptable,” he said.
“It would have been a much different and much more successful withdrawal, and the Taliban understood that better than anyone. What is going on now is not acceptable. It should have been done much better,” Trump added.
The US-Taliban peace deal signed in February 2020 paved the way for all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1st of this year. In exchange, the Taliban agreed to begin talks with the US-backed government. The intra-Afghan talks were held to some extent, but have been stalled. One reason for the delay is the fact that President Biden pushed back the original withdrawal deadline.
While fighting was raging in Afghanistan all year, the Taliban’s major offensive didn’t begin until after May 1st. The Taliban appeared to accept Biden’s new deadline since they haven’t attacked any foreign troops. But by pushing it back, the president lost what little chance there was for a political settlement. The Afghan government reportedly presented the Taliban with a power-sharing deal this week, but Kabul has pretty much lost all the leverage it had.
The Biden administration had designs to keep a small military presence in Afghanistan, but at this point, everything is up in the air. The plan was to keep about 650 troops at the embassy in Kabul, and the Pentagon established a military command at the facility. But now, the Taliban could move on Kabul any day, and the US is reportedly planning a full evacuation from the embassy.
The US has deployed an additional 3,000 troops to Kabul to aid in the evacuation, and about 5,000 more are on stand-by in the Gulf region. This means there will soon be more US troops in Afghanistan than there were when Biden came into office. But by all indications, this is not an escalation but an evacuation mission.