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Answers needed why Afghan exit so tragically mismanaged

The chaotic end to the 20-year military intervention in Afghanistan is a colossal foreign policy failure for President Joe Biden and his administration. To try to characterize it in any other fashion is to deny the plain evidence.

In April the commander-in-chief announced what he said would be an orderly withdrawal of remaining U.S. military personnel. Only July 8, with Taliban insurgents already taking over territory in rural areas, Biden dismissed questions whether the nation’s eventual takeover was inevitable.

“No, it’s not,” said Biden, referencing “300,000 well-equipped” Afghan troops that would stand up against a Taliban offensive.

When pressed whether there were any parallels between the Afghanistan campaign and the military failure in Vietnam, which ended with frenzied efforts to airlift South Vietnamese from Saigon, Biden almost bristled.

“None whatsoever. Zero,” he said then of any comparisons. “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy.”

This suggested confidence in his administration’s withdrawal plan. That confidence was badly misplaced.

When this chapter closes, Congress must investigate what intelligence the administration was receiving, what it did in response to that information, and why the end game in Afghanistan was handled so badly.

Unlike the helicopter on the roof of the embassy in Saigon, the indelible image from this U.S. exit may well be the video of an American military transport plane taking off from Kabul’s airport. Afghans, desperate and terrified of what awaited them under Taliban rule, grabbed onto the wings, only to fall from the plane as it lifted off.

Getting out of Afghanistan was one thing former President Trump and President Biden agreed on. Trump had negotiated what was essentially a surrender, a U.S. withdrawal by May 1, which Biden only slightly delayed.

To his credit, Biden did not waffle about his decision to end U.S. military involvement. Our preference had been to maintain a small U.S. force in the Kabul region, discouraging the complete collapse witnessed. But the president made a valid point in noting the Afghan leadership’s inability and unwillingness to end corruption in government and its military’s unwillingness to fight.

“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,” Biden said.

He admitted the obvious, that his administration had badly miscalculated. “The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated,” he said. “I am president of the United States of America. The buck stops with me.”

Biden outlined his approach on whether to insert U.S. forces in future overseas conflicts, an approach that is fundamentally sound and which, we believe, is shared by most Americans. Troops should be inserted only when necessary to protect our national security, Biden said, and given a clear mission. Once it is done, they should be brought home.

In Afghanistan, he reminded the nation, that mission was to disrupt the ability of Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, to again be a staging area for terrorist attacks, such as seen on Sept. 11, 2001 — and to hunt down Osama Bin Laden. These missions were achieved and should not have been expanded, suggested Biden, noting as vice president he opposed the surge in troops ordered by President Obama.

But the mission was expanded, beginning under the presidency of George W. Bush, to include giving girls the opportunity to become educated and women to take a place in government in commerce. It also expanded to try to build a democracy in the tribal, decentralized nation.

Biden may not have agreed with expanding the mission in these ways, as noble as the goals may have been, but the U.S. did so and Biden’s decision to end any military presence in the country abandons the women to an awful outcome, because of the faith they placed in that vision. That may prove to be the greatest tragedy.

It is difficult to predict how this volatile situation will play out. Biden announced reinserting 5,000 troops with the job of securing the Kabul airport and evacuating U.S. citizens and those Afghans who worked with our troops and diplomats. This makes sense.

He warned of a devastating response should the Taliban attack our forces on their way out. This made clear to the Taliban they would be foolish to reengage and delay the withdrawal.

They want us out and this president, like his predecessor, wants to get us out.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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