By Qudrat Ullah
The fall of Kabul to Taliban on August 15, 2021 cemented the complete collapse of Afghanistan’s security forces, which United States and its allies built in the last twenty years by spending billions of dollars. This week UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee in an inquiry said, “UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last year was a disaster and a betrayal that will damage the nation’s interests for years”. The committee added that there had been systematic failures of intelligence, diplomacy and planning.
In mid-May, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) blamed United States for the collapse of Afghanistan’s military. It said that the “single most important factor” behind it was the U.S. hasty withdrawal of armed forces and private contractors under the deal signed with Taliban in Doha Qatar in February 2020 by the then President Trump and its implementation by President Joe Biden.
In an interview in January 2018 with CBS 60 Minutes, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani admitted that Afghan Army will not last more than six months without U.S. support and Afghan Government will collapse. The same concerns were echoed in an intelligence assessment released in June 2021, where U.S. officials acknowledged that Afghan government could fall within six months of the American military departing.
After the fall of Kabul, President Joe Biden rejected the criticism, saying “We gave them (Afghan government) every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future”. Omar Zakhilwal, former ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan, in a series of tweets, blamed Ashraf Ghani for the country’s rapid collapse, citing the factors “Ghani’s misuse of authority, rampant corruption for reducing the Afghan state to “personal fiefdom”.
Now the question arises. Who is really, or mostly, to blame? Is it Trump? Biden? U.S. military leaders? Afghanistan’s security forces? Or, as some Afghans alleged that it was Ashraf Ghani?
SIGAR in its May 2022 report explained the factors and added that the first and foremost factor in the collapse of Afghan Army was due to the reduction of U.S. support to Afghan Security Forces amid the U.S. Taliban agreement. U.S. changed the rule of engagement and decreased the airstrikes which enabled Taliban to easily target Afghan Army positions.
The second factor was that U.S. and its allies never built Afghanistan’s security forces to be self-sustaining, rather largely in their own image. They equipped Afghan Army with most sophisticated equipment mostly run by the contractors. It made the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) more dependent on U.S. forces and contractors.
The third factor was the then President Ghani’s frequent rotation of ANDSF leaders and his marginalization of competent U.S.-trained officers in favor of loyalists who frequently lacked knowledge of the security sector. Fourth factor was that Afghan government failed to develop a national security plan for post-U.S. withdrawal era.
The other major factor was Taliban’s effective military campaign which isolated ANDSF and undermined their willingness to fight. United State Institute of Peace in August 2021 described that Taliban’s main strategy included to occupy rural areas, then surround cities and increase both local fear and control. In this way Taliban continued to implement it on a national scale and they cut off major cities from each other and isolated Kabul.
SIGAR in its May 2022 report added nine more factors in the span of last twenty years of war, including strategic shortfalls, bureaucratic problems and cultural issues which intertwined and worked together to create inefficiencies in U.S. approach. SIGAR, an oversight authority in Afghan reconstruction founded in 2008, in its reports from time to time highlighted these structural flaws, which largely were ignored by the administrations of the time. It could have not changed the course of the future because the complexities of Afghan society.
Now when the inquires by U.S. and UK authorities in detail have highlighted the factors for ANDSF collapse and the fall of Kabul, then why Pakistan was and still being blamed for the failures made by Washington and its allies fighting the so-called U.S. history’s longest war. U.S. and its allies still consider Pakistan an important ally in war against terror, but they had single out the country for the mess they left in Afghanistan.
It’s easy to blame others for own failures, but it would never be easy to settle things down which resulted from their own failures. Taliban are now in power, still not recognized by any of the country around the world. Its economy is sinking day by day. Taliban are intensifying their strict and conservative approach over Human Rights and limiting the freedom of women by keeping them out of the work force and educations sector. They are not able to run the country amid the weak economy in the time of Russia-Ukraine war, where even developed countries are finding it difficult to make things run smoothly.
So, the answer to “who is to blame” for what happened with ANDSF is complex. Unless U.S. understands and accounts for what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how it went wrong in Afghanistan, it will likely repeat the same mistakes in the next conflict i.e. Russia-Ukraine war.
Qudrat Ullah is a freelancer and media activist. He writes on political developments and security issues with special focus on South Asia and the region. He can be reached at [email protected]