U.S. President Joe Biden was defensive and defiant when he returned from his Camp David vacation to address the chaos in Kabul that saw the quick collapse of the American-backed government and military.
Biden defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops, close air bases and end air support for Afghan forces who capitulated to Taliban advances and the eventual takeover of Kabul.
Biden blamed Afghans for the Taliban takeover. “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,” Biden said Monday. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”
The first part about Afghan leaders is true. The second statement about Afghans troops deserves inspection.
There have been more than 2,400 U.S. troops and more than 3,900 American contractors killed during the 20-year war.
The Afghan military and police have suffered 69,000 fatalities during the war, according to Brown University. There have been another 71,000 civilian deaths during the U.S. war in Afghanistan and neighboring areas of Pakistan.
There are reports Afghan forces were not paid at times, and some may have been paid off by the Taliban not to fight.
Biden and some Democrats also point to the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban to withdraw troops. Biden chose to follow through on the exit started by Trump, arguing if he did not it would reignite more fighting with the Taliban.
The challenges for Biden are that he said in the very same speech that “the buck stops” with him and his aggressiveness to change and reverse other Trump policies — but not this one.
Biden and his defenders are right in their contention that the U.S. public — except for hawkish neoconservatives, various Cheney households, defense contractors and Pentagon types — favor an end to the $2 trillion, two-decade war.
But that is not the point of criticism of the White House and the $60 billion U.S. intelligence machine.
The fall of Afghanistan is a mammoth intelligence, political and military failure. The President, his Secretary of State and Pentagon brass obviously didn’t see this coming.
Just last month, Biden admonished those who asked if Kabul would end up looking like the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.
“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan,” Biden said July 8 — six weeks ago.
That is almost exactly what happened on Sunday, Aug. 15, when the U.S. helicopters helped evacuate and abandon America’s $2 billion embassy. That’s $2 billion bipartisan elites would never fathom really spending in Baltimore, Appalachia or here on the Eastern Shore.
Biden argued Afghanistan does not hold strategic interests for the U.S.
But there has been an eery, bipartisan American silence over the fact Afghanistan is home to a $4 billion opium and heroin drug trade that is now under auspices of the Taliban with America’s retreat.
Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world’s heroin and opiates — and the drug trade grew since the U.S. invasion in 2001, according to the United Nations.
Saving for one sentence acknowledging being caught off guard by the speed of the collapse, Biden was as stubbornly oblivious to the concerns about errors in judgment around the withdrawal as his team was to the realities on the ground in Kabul.
Hopefully, the missteps will also give rise to more scrutiny of U.S. military and defense spending which dwarfs the rest of the world (including China and Russia).
At the end of the day, all that American money, American technology and all that arrogance ended up losing to a group of insurrectionists piled into Toyota pickups with AK-47s and rocket launchers.