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  • Taliban fighters pause during their 2021 offensive to take over Afghanistan. (Photo: Sayed Hasib Maududi, Roshan Noorzai for VOA)
    Taliban fighters pause during their 2021 offensive to take over Afghanistan. (Photo: Sayed Hasib Maududi, Roshan Noorzai for VOA)

    Afghanistan has been a lost cause for more than a decade–something most Americans realize–but you wouldn’t know it judging by the media and lawmakers on the left and right.

    “Ninety-five percent of the American people will agree with everything [President Biden] just said; 95% of the press covering this White House will disagree,” said MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace, commenting on Biden’s address to the nation.

    Actually, the latest polls show 70 percent of all Americans favor a complete withdrawal, with solid majorities across the political spectrum. Both President Biden and Donald Trump campaigned on the promise during the 2020 election.

    The Chicago Council on Global Affairs was one of several organizations that polled the public. It found overwhelming support for withdrawal, including 77 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Independents.

    Trump went so far last year as to lock the country into a withdrawal by negotiating directly with the Taliban, giving them legitimacy.

    Then he drew down troops to a skeleton force from 15,000 to 2,500 and pressured the government to release 5,000 hardcore Taliban prisoners, paving the way for their takeover.

    It took late night comics, once again, to provide proper perspective on the debacle.

    Trump’s decisions led to this moment, from his negotiations with the Taliban to his pressure on the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, noted Stephen Colbert on his show last night.

    “You can’t put all the blame for a debacle you helped set the stage for,” he said. “That’s like Andrew Lloyd Webber calling ‘Cats’ a terrible movie. You wrote a musical with no plot! How did you think this was gonna end?” 

    It was a foregone conclusion when Biden took office that he had to complete the withdrawal. That, or send thousands of troops back to Afghanistan and resume the fighting.

    The stalemate had already cost the nation 2,400 dead, more than 20,000 wounded and more than $2 trillion in taxpayer funds over two decades, with no end in sight– not to mention the deaths of tens of thousand of Afghans.

    Still, that may have been an narrow option had the Afghan government and armed forces demonstrated a determination to fight the Taliban. But both caved like a wet paper bag.

    Perhaps that was inevitable, given the widespread corruption among government officials and military leaders. Soldiers reportedly went without pay for weeks, and commanders reportedly were selling weapons on the black market.

    The Taliban, wisely, began negotiating with regional officials and military units to surrender immediately after Trump signed the so-called peace treaty. That led to the fall of Kabul in less than 10 days, with no resistance.

    In the end, the only real winners were the hordes of military contractors who feasted on the war. The United States was only able to keep troop levels low by delegating maintenance, supply and other rear echelon duties to private companies.

    If there was pressure in the United States to continue our presence in Afghanistan, it was coming from the military-industrial complex, where war is always good for business.

    As President Biden noted in his address to the nation yesterday (Aug. 17), the strategic objective in Afghanistan–to neutralize Al Qaeda and kill Osama Bin Laden–was accomplished a decade ago.

    That would have been the right time to end the U.S. presence. But the pressure was overwhelming in Washington to continue the war with no clear goal, other than purportedly to establish a pro-Western government.

    The defense establishment and its longtail contractors stood to gain the most and cynically played off the nation’s desire to protect the human rights of Afghans–especially women– who suffered under Taliban rule.

    But the Pentagon, lawmakers and the media overlooked the nation’s near feudal society and deeply ingrained religious feuding and tribalism.

    Far from two decades, it would have taken two centuries to erase thousands of years of history and pull Afghanistan into the modern world.

    Criticism of the administration came from both sides of the aisle: Republicans were hypocritically outraged by the White House’s decision to go through with the withdrawal.

    Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Taliban leaders during negotiations leading to an agreement to withdraw U.S. troops. (Photo: US State Department)

    Democrats took potshots at the withdrawal’s haphazard manner, while acknowledging that President Biden was locked into Trump’s one-sided deal with the Taliban.

    Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, while supporting Biden’s decision, said the withdrawal  “should have been carefully planned to prevent violence and instability.”

    But that’s wishful thinking. Once it was clear the Americans were truly leaving, panic set in– and with good reason.

    The wild cards in the withdrawal, of course, were the rapid collapse of the government and military and the Taliban’s own reputation for ruthlessness and revenge.

    No wonder there was widespread panic among those who had ties to, or supported, the U.S. occupation.

    Clearly, the tenor and pace of the withdrawal was in the hands of the Taliban. So far, at least publicly, they have said they will allow all those who want to leave to do so. They have also declared an amnesty.

    Taliban leaders appear to realize they need international support and the support of its own people if they hope to prevent the day-to-day operation of the country from sliding into chaos.

    If the Taliban is true to its word, that should take a lot of pressure off the evacuation and allow it to proceed in an orderly fashion. If not, Biden has sent 6,000 combat troops into the country to forcefully secure the withdrawal.

    The important thing now is to stay the course and make sure the evacuation leaves no one behind. U.S. troops should stay on the ground until that’s accomplished.

    As for the aftermath, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell raised the specter that the withdrawal would embolden terrorist groups around the world.

    “What we have seen is an unmitigated disaster, a stain on the reputation of the United States of America,” he said. “Every terrorist around the world: in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Africa are cheering the defeat of the United States’ military, by a terrorist organization in Afghanistan,” he said.

    Aside from the shear hypocrisy of his comments, just the opposite is true.

    U.S. counter-terrorism strategy and capability have evolved since the invasion of Afghanistan. The emphasis today is on intelligence and surgical strikes against terrorist organizations that pose a threat to U.S. interests—wherever they operate.

    The U.S. has developed a global capability to strike at terror groups with special forces, precision guided weapons and drone technology.

    The need for a massive troop presence to occupy a nation is no longer necessary. The resources devoted to maintaining that in Afghanistan can be used elsewhere far more strategically.

    Although comparisons to Vietnam have been cited–and derided–the lessons of that war clearly should have been heeded in Afghanistan.

    It’s next to impossible to defeat an indigenous enemy that fights from sanctuaries out of reach of U.S. forces. That was the case in Korea, Vietnam and in Afghanistan.

    The Taliban could operate and be supplied from Pakistan with impunity, enabling them to sustain a low grade war indefinitely. As Biden said, they outcome would have been no different five years ago, or 15 years in the future.

    The United States should still be the champion of human rights in Afghanistan and around the world, but it must do so through diplomacy, humanitarian aid and leading by example.