The Taliban has now taken over Jalalabad, spelling the fall of the last major Afghan city other than Kabul to the extremist fighters as the US withdraws its troops from the country.
An Afghan official confirmed the key eastern city fell under Taliban control without a fight early Sunday morning when the governor surrendered, saying it was ‘the only way to save civilian lives.’
The fall of Jalalabad has also given the Taliban control of a road leading to the Pakistan city of Peshawar, one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan.
Jalalabad is close to the Pakistani border and just 80 miles from Kabul – the Afghanistan capital with more than four million people and now the only remaining major city still under government control.
Concerns are mounting over how long Kabul can stave off the Taliban insurgents as they have captured the northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, the second-largest city Kandahar and third-largest city Herat all within the last 48 hours.
The Taliban is now closing in on the capital from all sides, now controlling territories to the North, South, East and West, while reports on social media said the city was gripped by blackouts and street fighting overnight Saturday.
A US defense official has warned it could be only a matter of days before the insurgent fighters take control. Just last week, US intelligence estimates expected Kabul to be able to hold out for at least three months.
The US is scrambling to evacuate more than 10,000 American citizens from Kabul, with officials said to be trying to strike a deal with the Taliban for its fighters not to descend on Kabul until it can pull everyone out.
However, a senior US official told the New York Times the Taliban has warned the US it must cease airstrikes or else its extremist fighters will move in.
Joe Biden has vowed that any action that puts Americans at risk ‘will be met with a swift and strong US military response.’
The Taliban has now taken over Jalalabad, spelling the fall of the last major Afghan city other than Kabul to the extremist fighters as the US withdraws its troops from the country. Pictured Taliban forced patrol Herat Saturday
Taliban forces patrol a street in Herat, Afghanistan on Friday. Kabul, the Afghanistan capital, is now the only remaining major city still under government control
Taliban fighters stand guard on a roadside in Herat. Concerns are mounting over how long Kabul can stave off the Taliban insurgents as they have captured the northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, the second-largest city Kandahar and third-largest city Herat all within the last 48 hours
Taliban militants gather a day after taking control of Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Saturday. The second-largest city in Afghanistan was taken Friday
A man sells Taliban flags in Herat province, west of Kabul, Saturday – one day after the city was taken by the extremist group
This comes as:
- The first batch of diplomats from the US Embassy in Kabul started being evacuated out Sunday morning
- Joe Biden increased the number of troops being sent to evacuate Americans to 5,000
- The president defended the withdrawal of US troops and blamed Donald Trump for a deal that left the warlords ‘in the strongest position militarily since 2001’
- The Biden administration will hold a virtual briefing with House members Sunday following a request by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
- Taliban fighters invaded the palatial home of Afghan warlord and US ally General Rashid Dostum Saturday
- The Taliban took control of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif Saturday – one day after taking the cities of Kandahar and Herat
A total of 5,000 US troops are being deployed to help safely evacuate State Department staff from the US Embassy in Kabul with some of the first diplomats starting early Sunday.
Two US officials told Reuters a ‘small batch’ of people had already left while most staff were ready to go as soon as they were able.
The evacuation of embassy staff was originally slated to take 72 hours but officials have ramped up efforts to get all Embassy staff out within the next 36 hours as the militant assault picks up pace, sources told CBS News.
Only a small number of key personnel including top decision-makers, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Service and top decision-makers and security engineers able to destroy sensitive information will remain.
All US diplomats should be out of the country entirely by the end of August, the sources said.
Biden announced Saturday he was increasing the number of US troops being deployed to protect the withdrawal from the US embassy to 5,000.
Around 1,000 service members are already on the ground and 3,000 more were already being sent next week, before he announced the deployment of an extra 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg as the situation escalated Saturday.
Other western governments are also rapidly withdrawing their embassy staff, citizens and Afghans who worked for them from the country with the British ambassador set to leave by Sunday evening.
Meanwhile, hundreds of locals have fled to Kabul to try to escape Taliban control in their home provinces.
The Taliban is demanding that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani step aside from his position – something he is refusing to do.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with Ghani Saturday to discuss the ‘urgency of ongoing diplomatic and political efforts to reduce the violence,’ the State Department said in a statement.
‘The Secretary emphasized the United States’ commitment to a strong diplomatic and security relationship with the Government of Afghanistan and our continuing support for the people of Afghanistan.’
A virtual briefing will be held Sunday morning between Biden Administration officials and House members following a request by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It comes as the Biden administration has come under fire over the advancement of the Taliban in Afghanistan which many are blaming on the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Military helicopters stand on the tarmac of the military airport in Kabul Saturday from which the US is evacuating citizens
Passengers walk to the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul Saturday as people flee the country
People try to leave the country as the Taliban takes control of more areas of Afghanistan and closes in on the capital Kabul
Passengers trying to fly out of Kabul International Airport amid the Taliban offensive wait in line in Kabul Friday
Biden defended the withdrawal Saturday and blamed predecessor Donald Trump for a deal that left the warlords ‘in the strongest position militarily since 2001’.
‘One more year, or five more years, of US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,’ he said in a statement.
Biden also hit out at predecessor Trump for the deal with the Taliban that led to the recent withdrawal.
He said: ‘When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001.
‘Shortly before he left office, he also drew US forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500.
‘When I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict.
‘I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.’
Former CIA director and former commander of US and International Forces in Afghanistan David Petraeus also blasted the situation in Afghanistan ‘disastrous’, ‘catastrophic’ and an ‘an enormous national security set back’ for the world
Senator Tom Cotton tweeted that the ‘fiasco’ was ‘predictable’ and had ‘humiliated’ the US
Senator Mitt Romney posted that he could not understand why the US had pulled out of the country
Former Secretary of State for Trump Mike Pompeo blasted the Biden administration, claiming the Trump administration had a plan for bringing troops out
The president has been slammed by several Republicans, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy hitting out at the ‘complete mismanagement’ of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
McCarthy said: ‘The White House has no discernible plan other than pleading with the Taliban. The bungled withdrawal, reminiscent of his failed withdrawal from Iraq, is an embarrassment to our nation.’
‘President Biden must continue to provide the close air support necessary for the Afghan government to protect themselves from the Taliban and make sure al Qaeda and ISIS do not gain a foothold due to the Biden administration’s disastrous policies.’
Former CIA director and former commander of US and International Forces in Afghanistan David Petraeus also blasted the situation in Afghanistan ‘disastrous’, ‘catastrophic’ and an ‘an enormous national security set back’ for the world.
Petraeus said on The Rita Cosby Show on WABC Radio the US withdrawal had caused a domino effect in the country.
‘This is an enormous national security set back and it is on the verge of getting much worse unless we decide to take really significant action,’ Petraeus said.
‘We are now in a situation where the Taliban are trying to encircle Kabul – a city of 5 of 6 million before hundreds of thousands of refugees starting flooding into it.’
Senator Tom Cotton tweeted that the ‘fiasco’ was ‘predictable’ and had ‘humiliated’ the US.
‘The fiasco in Afghanistan wasn’t just predictable, it was predicted. Joe Biden’s ill-planned retreat has now humiliated America and put at risk thousands of Americans left in Kabul,’ he said.
‘At a minimum, President Biden must unleash American air power to destroy every Taliban fighter in the vicinity of Kabul until we can save our fellow Americans. Anything less will further confirm Joe Biden’s impotence to the world.’
Senator Mitt Romney posted that he could not understand why the US had pulled out of the country ‘without an effective strategy to defend our partners.’
The Taliban have ransacked the palatial home of top Afghan warlord and US ally General Dostum. They are pictured with a golden tea set
A fighter poses in front of a gold cabinet at the home of Army Marshal Rashid Dostum – an infamous warlord and a former Afghan vice president who has survived the past 40 years of conflict by cutting deals and switching sides
Fighters wielding guns were filmed walking around the luxurious oval-shaped room, filled with chandeliers and gold furniture, and posing in chairs
‘I understand but disagree with those who felt we should leave Afghanistan; I cannot understand why it has been done with such tragic human cost; without an effective strategy to defend our partners; and with inestimable shock to our nation’s credibility, reliability, and honor,’ he tweeted Saturday.
Former Secretary of State for Trump Mike Pompeo blasted the Biden administration, claiming the Trump administration had a plan for bringing troops out.
‘Our administration had a model of deterrence in place as we prepared to bring the soldiers, sailors, marines, everybody who is on the ground there, home,’ he tweeted.
‘It looks like the Biden Administration has not been able to execute this.’
Taliban fighters invaded the palatial home of top Afghan warlord and US ally General Rashid Dostum Saturday after taking control of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Dostum was a key US ally during the 20 year campaign against the Taliban and famously fought with the Special Forces ‘horse soldiers’ shortly after 9/11.
Before 9/11 he was an infamous warlord who was known for crushing prisoners alive beneath the wheels of a tank and in recent years he was a senior figure in the Afghan National Army. He is believed to have escaped.
On Saturday, fighters wielding guns were filmed walking Dostum’s home in Mazar-i-Sharif around the luxurious oval-shaped room, filled with chandeliers and gold furniture.
Smoke rises about the Kandahar, Afghanistan as Taliban forces took the country’s third largest city
The Taliban standing on a roadside in Kandahar after taking over more parts of Afghanistan. The scale and speed of the Taliban advance has shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country
Biden wrote a statement from Camp David on Saturday afternoon, insisting that he could not force the Afghan army to fight
The Taliban have moved to within seven miles of Kabul, and taken over swathes of territory across the rest of Afghanistan. The warlords now control 19 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces
Biden’s statement in full: ‘I will not pass this war on to a fifth president’
‘Over the past several days I have been in close contact with my national security team to give them direction on how to protect our interests and values as we end our military mission in Afghanistan.
First, based on the recommendations of our diplomatic, military, and intelligence teams, I have authorized the deployment of approximately 5,000 US troops to make sure we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance.
Second, I have ordered our armed forces and our intelligence community to ensure that we will maintain the capability and the vigilance to address future terrorist threats from Afghanistan.
Third, I have directed the Secretary of State to support President Ghani and other Afghan leaders as they seek to prevent further bloodshed and pursue a political settlement. Secretary Blinken will also engage with key regional stakeholders.
Fourth, we have conveyed to the Taliban representatives in Doha, via our Combatant Commander, that any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts US personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong US military response.
Fifth, I have placed Ambassador Tracey Jacobson in charge of a whole of government effort to process, transport, and relocate Afghan special immigrant visa applicants and other Afghan allies. Our hearts go out to the brave Afghan men and women who are now at risk. We are working to evacuate thousands of those who helped our cause and their families.
That is what we are going to do. Now let me be clear about how we got here.
America went to Afghanistan 20 years ago to defeat the forces that attacked this country on September 11th. That mission resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden over a decade ago and the degradation of al Qaeda. And yet, 10 years later, when I became President, a small number of US troops still remained on the ground, in harm’s way, with a looming deadline to withdraw them or go back to open combat.
Over our country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, America has sent its finest young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion dollars, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the-art military equipment, and maintained their air force as part of the longest war in US history. One more year, or five more years, of US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.
When I came to office, I inherited a deal cut by my predecessor—which he invited the Taliban to discuss at Camp David on the eve of 9/11 of 2019—that left the Taliban in the strongest position militarily since 2001 and imposed a May 1, 2021 deadline on US forces. Shortly before he left office, he also drew US forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500. Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict. I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.’
The fighters videoed themselves lounging on Dostum’s gold furniture, posing in chairs and inspecting his golden tea set.
Videos from Kandahar have also showed Taliban fighters seizing grounded US-made Blackhawk helicopters and taking to the air in Russian aircraft after turning their crew.
It came following the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, the country’s fourth largest city, which Afghan forces and two powerful former warlords had pledged to defend.
The move handed the insurgents control over all of northern Afghanistan.
‘The army is not fighting. It is only Atta (Muhammad) Noor and (Marshal Abdul Rashid) Dostum’s militias defending the city,’ Mohammad Ibrahim Khairandesh, a former provincial council member who now lives in the city, told The New York Times.
‘The situation is critical, and it’s getting worse.’
The US military is preparing to lower the American flag over the Embassy – if the State Department gives the order – signaling its closure.
‘We are probably experiencing the most massive, brutal and opportunistic military campaign of violence and terror, by the Taliban, in the history of our country,’ Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar said at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute earlier this week.
The situation appears to be dire as insurgent forces have tightened their grip around Kabul after warlords captured two more provinces on Saturday and moved within seven miles of the city.
Herds of civilians who escaped the violence flooded the streets of Kabul and set up camps while diplomats work with other countries to see who’s willing to take in Afghan refugees.
The State Department is in talks with several other countries to house US-affiliated Afghan refugees, and Canada has already welcomed 20,000 Afghan refugees threatened by the Taliban, the IRCC – Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada – said in a Twitter statement.
So far, about 1,200 Afghans have been evacuated to the United States and that number is set to rise to 3,500 in the coming weeks under ‘Operation Allies Refuge,’ with some going to a U.S. military base in Virginia to finalize their paperwork and others directly to US hosts, Reuters reported.
A deal to house about 8,000 Afghans in Qatar, which hosts a large US military base, has been close for weeks, a US official told Reuters, although no official deal has been announced.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani addressed the nation in a minute-long video statement Saturday morning (US time) that was translated into English.
‘Afghanistan is in serious danger of instability,’ Ghani said.
‘Though I know that you are worried about your current situation and your future, I assure you that as your president, my focus is prevent the expansion of instability, violence and displacement of my people,’ Ghani said.
‘As part of a historical mission, I will do my best to stop this imposed conflict on the Afghan people to result in further killing of innocent people, loss of your achievements of the last 20 years, destruction of public property and prolonged instability.’
He said he’s engaging with Afghan and international leaders, and consultations are ‘urgently ongoing and the results will soon be shared.’
This was his first public comment since the Taliban demanded he resign in exchange for a reduction in violence.
Between Friday and Saturday, the Taliban made major advances in what’s already been an efficient takeover of the country.
They captured Herat and Kandahar, which are the country’s second- and third-largest cities, as well as the Logar province, just south of Kabul.
The Taliban continued its swift movement towards Kabul by capturing Mazar-i-Sharif.
Refugees flooded the Kabul in recent days as the Taliban continues to circle the city
Diplomats are working with other countries to see who’s willing to take in Afghan refugees who had to flee their homes
The IRCC – Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada – said the country has welcome 20,000 vulnerable Afghans threatened by the Taliban
Encampments of displaced civilians, who fled their homes because the Taliban took over, are set up in Kabul
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for Biden to launch US airstrikes against the Taliban after speaking to to US Ambassador to Afghanistan Adela Raz on Friday.
The Kentucky Republican said in a statement that ‘this debacle was not only foreseeable, it was foreseen.’
‘With that said, it is not too late to prevent the Taliban from overrunning Kabul,’ McConnell said.
‘The Administration should move quickly to hammer Taliban advances with air strikes, provide critical support to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) defending the capital and prevent the seemingly imminent fall of the city.
‘If they fail to do so, the security threat to the United States will assuredly grow and the humanitarian cost to innocent Afghans will be catastrophic.’
But it might be too late. Axios is reporting that the Biden administration is preparing for the fall of Kabul, despite the president’s statements in recent days showing confidence in the Afghan military to ward of insurgents.
Hoda Ahmadi, a lawmaker from Logar province, told The Associated Press that the Taliban have reached the Char Asyab district, which is just seven miles south of Kabul.
The American flag flying over what’s considered US Territory will be brought down soon and brought back to the United States or a different safe haven, Axios reported.
A Taliban fighter stands guard over surrendered Afghan security member forces in the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan on August 13
Afghan policemen inspect a car at a checkpoint along the road in Kabul on August 14
Taliban forces began reclaiming land they lost during the United State’s 20-year occupation months before Biden announced his plans to withdraw troops by September 11.
The preceding Trump administration negotiated the terms of a U.S. withdrawal in talks with the Taliban last year.
Between May and June, the Taliban recaptured 50 of Afghanistan’s 421 districts, Deborah Lyons, the UN’s special envoy on Afghanistan, told Newsweek.
But the troop drawn down sped up the take over, and now the Taliban has a vice grip around the capital.
‘Clearly from their actions, it appears as if they are trying to get Kabul isolated,’ Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, referring to the Taliban’s speedy and efficient takedown of major provincial capitals this past week.
Kirby declined to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment of whether the Taliban will converge on Kabul.
Currently, there are 650 American troops still in the country to help protect the nation’s diplomatic presence, according to the Associated Press, but there’s no plan for how long the 5,000 Marines and Army infantrymen will remain in the country and there appears to be no appetite from either party to engage the Taliban.
‘This is a temporary mission with a narrow focus,’ Kirby said.
Stephen Biddle, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, told The Associated Press that sending the troops is a morale killer for the Afghan military.
‘The message that sent to Afghans is: ‘The city of Kabul is going to fall so fast that we can’t organize an orderly withdrawal from the embassy,” Biddle told the news outlet.
This suggests to Afghans that the Americans see little future for the government and that ‘this place could be toast within hours.’
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Taliban fighters stand guard inside the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan on August 13
The Taliban has rapidly seized provinces in Afghanistan since the US left. They inciting violence and fear in the citizens of Kabul as they move closer to seizing the city
Meanwhile, Biden was on his way to Camp David in Maryland on Friday but didn’t speak to reporters.
He’s been taking criticism at home and abroad for pulling the troops out of the country.
Ata Mohammed Noor, an Afghan warlord and key US ally during the occupation, said the withdrawal was ‘irresponsible’ and the sudden exit weakened the Afghanistan military, which Noor said is not in a position to ward off insurgents, Newsweek reported.
He has since warned about a possible civil war.
Within the US, several Republican leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have ripped Biden for this decision.
Friday night, McCarthy tweeted, ‘Tonight we held a call with Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the US to discuss the deteriorating situation. I remain deeply concerned with the Biden Admin’s mismanagement of their bungled withdrawal. Much like his failed withdrawal from Iraq, it is an embarrassment to our nation.’
Biden continued to defend his decision to pull the troops out of Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the commander-in-chief said the Afghan military is more powerful than the Taliban.
‘The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese Army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability,’ Biden said this week from the White House. ‘There’s going to be no circumstances where you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the United States from Afghanistan.’
The president alluded to the $1trillion and 20 years worth of investments to train and arm the Afghan forces.
‘And Afghan leaders have to come together. We lost to death and injury, thousands of American personnel. They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,’ Biden said.
President Joe Biden (left) has been heavily criticized by Afghanistan allies and Republican leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell (right) for his handling of the troop withdrawal. McConnell has called on the Biden Administration to call an airstrike
An Afghan policeman stands guard at a checkpoint along the road in Kabul on August 14 as Taliban forces close in on the capital
Passengers trying to fly out of Kabul International Airport amid the Taliban offensive wait in the terminal in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 13
The US is not the only country pulling out of Afghanistan.
European countries – including Britain, Germany, Denmark and Spain – all announced the withdrawal of personnel from their respective embassies on Friday.
For Kabul residents and the tens of thousands who have sought refuge there in recent weeks, the overwhelming mood was one of confusion and fear of what lies ahead.
‘We don’t know what is going on,’ one resident – Khairddin Logari – told AFP.
The Taliban has reportedly been ruthless when during its takeover.
Taliban fighters are going door-to-door and forcibly marrying girls as young as 12 and forcing them into sex slavery as they seize vast swathes of the Afghanistan government forces.
Jihadist commanders have ordered imams in areas they have captured to bring them lists of unmarried women aged from 12 to 45 for their soldiers to marry because they view them as ‘qhanimat’ or ‘spoils of war’ – to be divided up among the victors.
They’re also killing Afghan government troops who surrender, the US claimed.
Video taken in Faryab province last month appeared to show Taliban fighters massacring 22 Afghan commandos after they had surrendered, including the son of a well-known general.
Hundreds of government troops have surrendered to the Taliban since fighting escalated in May with the withdrawal of US troops – some without firing a shot, others after being cut off and surrounded with little or no chance of reinforcement or resupply from the government in Kabul.
A Taliban fighter looks on as he stands at the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan August 14
Taliban fighters pose as they stand guard along the roadside in Herat on August 14
People walk near a mural of President Ashraf Ghani at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul. The Taliban has called on Ghani to resign
The scale and speed of the Taliban advance has shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country after toppling the Taliban in the wake of the September 11 attacks nearly 20 years ago.
Days before a final US withdrawal ordered by President Joe Biden, individual soldiers, units and even whole divisions have surrendered – handing the insurgents even more vehicles and military hardware to fuel their lightning advance.
Despite the frantic evacuation efforts, the Biden administration continues to insist that a complete Taliban takeover is not inevitable, as McConnell believes.
‘Kabul is not right now in an imminent threat environment,’ Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday, while acknowledging that Taliban fighters were ‘trying to isolate’ the city.
Officials took pains to avoid describing the operation as an evacuation as they announced that the State Department would reduce its civilian footprint of 4,000 people to a ‘core diplomatic presence.’
But that was before Saturday’s news that the Taliban have moved to within seven miles of Kabul, which has triggered fresh questions about whether Biden had been right to announce a complete withdrawal.
Officials insist they always had contingency plans to help American staff leave safely, but critics said the result has been chaos.
But even allies have expressed concern. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the Trump administration had forged a ‘rotten deal’ with the Taliban that risked allowing terrorists to return.
‘I’ve been pretty blunt about it publicly and that’s quite a rare thing when it comes to United States decisions, but strategically it causes a lot of problems and as an international community, it’s very difficult for what we’re seeing today,’ he told Sky News.
The city of Kabul police are patrolling the streets and defending civilians who have flocked to the city
For Kabul residents and the tens of thousands who have sought refuge there in recent weeks, the overwhelming mood was one of confusion and fear of what lies ahead
Afghan police are guarding a checkpoint along a road in Kabul on August 14
The Taliban offensive has accelerated at the end of the week with the capture of Herat in the north and Kandahar – the group’s spiritual heartland – in the south.
Kandahar resident Abdul Nafi told AFP the city was calm after government forces abandoned it for the sanctuary of military facilities outside, where they were negotiating terms of surrender.
‘I came out this morning, I saw Taliban white flags in most squares of the city,’ he said. ‘I thought it might be the first day of Eid.’
Eid is one of two celebrations in the Islamic faith.
Pro-Taliban social media accounts have boasted of the vast spoils of war captured by the insurgents – posting photos of armored vehicles, heavy weapons, and even a drone seized by their fighters at abandoned military bases.
Taliban fighters sit on the back of a vehicle in the city of Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on August 14
Flag of Taliban militants is raised at a square in Herat, Afghanistan, after seizing control of the city on August 13.
Taliban flags are being sold in the Herat province, west of Kabul, which was captured Friday
The US Embassy in Kabul has been ordered to destroy sensitive materials as Biden sends in 3,000 troops to help evacuate
Members of Joint Forces Headquarters (JFHQ) are pictured here in the Ministry of Defense’s handout deploying to Afghanistan to assist in the draw down of troops from the area
Longest war: Were America’s decades in Afghanistan worth it?
Here’s what 19-year-old Lance Cpl. William Bee felt flying into southern Afghanistan on Christmas Day 2001: purely lucky. The U.S. was hitting back at the al-Qaida plotters who had brought down the World Trade Center, and Bee found himself among the first Marines on the ground.
‘Excitement,’ Bee says these days, of the teenage Bee’s thoughts then. ‘To be the dudes that got to open it up first.’
In the decade that followed, three more deployments in America’s longest war scoured away that lucky feeling.
For Bee, it came down to a night in 2008 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. By then a sergeant, Bee held the hand of an American sniper who had just been shot in the head, as a medic sliced open the man’s throat for an airway.
‘After that it was like, you know what — ‘F**k these people,” Bee recounted, of what drove him by his fourth and final Afghan deployment. ‘I just want to bring my guys back. That’s all I care about. I want to bring them home.’
As President Joe Biden ends the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan this month, Americans and Afghans are questioning whether the war was worth the cost: more than 3,000 American and other NATO lives lost, tens of thousands of Afghans dead and trillions of dollars of U.S. debt that generations of Americans will pay for. Afghanistan, after a week of stunning Taliban advances, appears at imminent threat of falling back under Taliban rule, just as Americans found it nearly 20 years ago.
For Biden, for Bee and for some of the American principals in the U.S. and NATO war in Afghanistan, the answer to whether it was worth the cost often comes down to parsing.
There were the first years of the war, when Americans broke up Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida in Afghanistan and routed the Taliban government that had hosted the terrorist network.
The proof is clear, says Douglas Lute, White House czar for the war during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, and a retired lieutenant general: Al-Qaida hasn’t been able to mount a major attack on the West since 2005.
‘We have decimated al-Qaida in that region, in Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ Lute says.
But after that came the grinding second phase of the war. US fears of a Taliban rebound whenever Americans eventually pulled out meant that service members such as Bee kept getting sent back in, racking up more close calls, injuries and dead comrades.
Lute and some others argue that what the second half of the war bought was time — a grace period for Afghanistan’s government, security forces and civil society to try to build enough strength to survive on their own.
Quality of life in some ways did improve, modernizing under the Western occupation, even as the millions of dollars the U.S. poured into Afghanistan fed corruption. Infant mortality rates fell by half. In 2005, fewer than 1 in 4 Afghans had access to electricity. By 2019, nearly all did.
The second half of the war allowed Afghan women, in particular, opportunities entirely denied them under the fundamentalist Taliban, so that more than 1 in 3 teenage girls — their whole lives spent under the protection of Western forces — today can read and write.
But it’s that longest, second phase of the war that looks on the verge of complete failure now.
The U.S. war left the Taliban undefeated and failed to secure a political settlement. Taliban forces this past week have swept across two-thirds of the country and captured provincial capitals, on the path of victory before U.S. combat forces even complete their pullout. On many fronts, the Taliban are rolling over Afghan security forces that U.S. and NATO forces spent two decades working to build.
This swift advance sets up a last stand in Kabul, where most Afghans live. It threatens to clamp the country under the Taliban’s strict interpretation of religious law, erasing much of the gains.
‘There’s no ‘mission accomplished,” Biden snapped last month, batting down a question from a reporter.
Biden quickly corrected himself, evoking the victories of the first few years of the war. ‘The mission was accomplished in that we … got Osama bin Laden, and terrorism is not emanating from that part of the world,’ he added.
Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for Central Asia during much of the war’s first decade, says the criticism was largely not of the conflict itself but because it went on so long.
‘It was the expansion of war aims, to try to create a government that was capable of stopping any future attacks,’ Boucher said.
America expended the most lives, and dollars, on the most inconclusive years of the war.
The strain of fighting two post-9/11 wars at once with an all-volunteer military meant that more than half of the 2.8 million American servicemen and women who deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq served two or more times, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University.
The repeated deployments contributed to disability rates in those veterans that are more than double that of Vietnam veterans, says Linda Bilmes, a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard University.
Bilmes calculates the U.S. will spend more than $2 trillion just caring for and supporting Afghanistan and Iraq veterans as they age, with costs peaking 30 years to 40 years from now.
That’s on top of $1 trillion in Pentagon and State Department costs in Afghanistan since 2001. Because the U.S. borrowed rather than raised taxes to pay for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, interest payments are estimated to cost succeeding generations of Americans trillions of dollars more still.
Annual combat deaths peaked around the time of the war’s midpoint, as Obama tried a final surge of forces to defeat the Taliban. In all, 2,448 American troops, 1,144 service members from NATO and other allied countries, more than 47,000 Afghan civilians and at least 66,000 Afghan military and police died, according to the Pentagon and to the Costs of War project.
All the while, a succession of U.S. commanders tried new strategies, acronyms and slogans in fighting a Taliban insurgency.
Kandahar’s airstrip, where Bee was quickly put to work digging a foxhole for himself over Christmas 2001, grew into a post for tens of thousands of NATO troops, complete with Popeyes and Burger Kings and a hockey rink.
Over the years, fighting forces such as Bee’s 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit moved into hot spots to fight the Taliban and build ties with local leaders, often only to see gains lost when their unit rotated out again. In Helmand province, which proved the turning point for Bee in 2008, hundreds of U.S. and other NATO forces died fighting that way. Taliban fighters recaptured the province on Friday.
Bee’s Afghanistan tours finally ended in 2010, when an improvised explosive device exploded 4 feet from him, killing two fellow service members who had been standing with him. It was Bee’s third head injury, and for a time left him unable to walk a block without falling down.
Was it worth it?
‘The people whose lives we affected, I personally think we did them better, that they’re better off for it,’ answered Bee. who lives in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He now works for a company that provides autonomous robots for Marine training at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and is co-writing a book about his time in Afghanistan.
‘But I also wouldn’t trade a handful of Afghan villages for one Marine,’ he added.
Ask the same question in Afghanistan, though, and you get different answers.
Some Afghans — asked that question before the Taliban’s stunning sweep last week — respond that it’s more than time for Americans to let Afghans handle their own affairs.
But one 21-year-old woman, Shogufa, says American troops’ two decades on the ground meant all the difference for her.
The Associated Press is using her first name only, given fears of Taliban retribution against women who violate their strict codes.
When still in her infancy, she was pledged to marry a much older cousin in the countryside to pay off a loan. She grew up in a family, and society, where few women could read or write.
But as she grew up, Shogufa came across a Western mountaineering nonprofit that had come to Kabul to promote fitness and leadership for Afghan girls. It was one of a host of such development groups that came to Afghanistan during the U.S.-led war.
Shogufa thrived. She scaled steps hacked out of the ice in an Afghan-girl attempt on Afghanistan’s highest mountain, an unthinkable endeavor under the Taliban and still controversial today. She deflected her family’s moves to marry her off to her cousin. She got a job and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
For Shogufa today, the gratitude for what she’s gained is shadowed by her fears of all that she stands to lose.
Her message to Americans, as they left and the Taliban closed in on Kabul? ‘Thank you for everything you have done in Afghanistan,’ she said, in good but imperfect English. ‘The other thing was to request that they stay with us.’
Source: The Associated Press