The withdrawal from Afghanistan was an inevitable tragedy
Over the past week, dispiriting stories have dripped out from Afghanistan with a leaden inevitability. “US troops left Bagram Airbase at night with no notice”; “Afghan soldiers flee to Tajikistan after Taliban clashes”: “Taliban battle their way into western Afghan city”. We can expect such three-act tragedies to be repeated over the coming months, in plain sight but without attracting much notice.
The US has promised to remove all its forces from Afghanistan by 11 September this year, and there is something astonishing about the world’s hyperpower agreeing to a date that will become doubly resonant not of American victory but of American failure. Were America leaving Afghanistan after 20 years of spent blood but with a thriving, stable Afghan society, then it is possible that the whole exercise could still have been marked up as a success. Instead, the opposite is true.
After two decades of insurgency, open warfare and betrayal, the US and her allies are leaving an Afghanistan that could be overwhelmed by the Taliban at any moment. Only yesterday, just hours before Boris Johnson announced the end of Britain’s military mission in Afghanistan, Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the UK Defence Staff, revealed that the Taliban now holds “nearly 50% of the rural districts”.
Suhail Shaheen, the Islamist group’s spokesman, this week warned that all foreign troops must obey the withdrawal deadline — a demand that the Biden administration has so far displayed every indication of following. Yet it would be wrong to think Biden is solely to blame. As wildly different administrations have come and gone in the past two decades, a vacillating commitment to the Afghan operation has remained a constant.
Perhaps it is inevitable that when a conflict goes on for so long, people, including politicians, eventually switch off. But even without that, I suspect that many would have tired of the Afghanistan war long before this grim season finale. For the truth is that if there is no point in fighting wars you’re going to lose, there is even less point in fighting wars you’re going to lose slowly.
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