• John McDonnell

Abandoning Afghanistan is a moral failure


British Forces from 16 Air Assault Brigade arriving in Kabul on Sunday to evacuate British nationals

Last week the Taliban captured the Afghanistan base that the Australian defence forces had occupied at Tarin Kowt, without encountering any resistance from the Afghani soldiers who the Australians had spent 20 years training and supporting. By the weekend the Taliban were in control of the whole country and were in the outskirts of Kabul and the allies were engaged in a desperate mission to extract their remaining citizens and former Afghan support staff.


Australia had withdrawn its last troops in June. On Sunday the prime minister Scott Morrison told the media that 400 Afghan support staff and their families had already been brought to Australia and that more, together with Australians working for NGO’s, dual citizens and journalists would be evacuated next week.


Unfortunately, this leaves a great many Afghan officials, professionals and educated women and girls at the mercy of the Taliban who will not treat them kindly.


It didn’t have to be like this.


Fred Kagan, the former adviser on Afghanistan to Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McCrystal, writing in the New York Times, asserts that the chaotic and pre-emptory way that President Joe Biden conducted the withdrawal has left large numbers of Afghanis unprotected and at the mercy of the Taliban when they needn’t have been.


President Biden argues that he had no option but to withdraw in this fashion because of the terrible peace arrangement that Donald Trump negotiated with the Taliban. But Kagan points out that this provided for the withdrawal of all American troops by May 1st, and Biden was happy to set a date of September 9, the 20th anniversary of the attack on the twin towers, as the withdrawal date.


This means that the withdrawal is taking place during the height of the fighting season, whereas Dr Kagan says it would have made sense to withdraw during the winter when the Taliban retreat to their bases in Pakistan.


Without consulting the Afghan army, the Americans withdrew all their air support. Since the military strategy that the allies had inculcated into the Afghan army relied entirely on superior air support, this left the Afghanis totally exposed.


It is no wonder that most of them surrendered without a fight.


Dr Kagan says that American diplomats could have used the extra time to negotiate the existence of regional counter-terrorism bases to be occupied by American troops.


Simultaneously, the American military should have prepared contingencies in case those negotiations failed. And even that plan would have meant contending with an increasingly rampant Taliban, who started their offensive as soon as President Biden announced his intention to withdraw.


Dr Kagan says in his article in the Times:

“Adopting a more judicious approach would have required Mr. Biden to accept two things in addition to a longer timeline: the temporary deployment of additional U.S. forces and the slightly increased risk of American casualties.
“Sending additional troops into Afghanistan could have allowed the United States to carry out the withdrawal safely without severely disrupting military support. When the president ordered the pullout, there were some 3,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. One thousand or 2,000 additional troops deployed for less than a year could have made a significant difference. They would have allowed Gen. Austin S. Miller, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to continue supporting the Afghan security forces while simultaneously prepping the withdrawal.
“Obviously, Mr. Biden did not proceed in this manner. Instead, he ordered a hasty withdrawal of the military just as the Taliban offensive was moving into its major phase.”

President Biden clearly took the view that he did not want to waste more lives or treasure on a pointless war. However, in taking the course he has, he has abandoned many Afghanis, particularly women and girls, to a future without hope and the diminished US standing in the world.