Few of us who lived on 11 September 2001 will never forget that day. We gazed in disbelief at video footage of airliners flying into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Many of my coworkers in Fort Lewis, Washington, could not stop watching the news reports as buildings collapsed and casualties mounted. Within days, intelligence sources confirmed the culpability of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and President George W. Bush deployed the first US Special Forces teams to avenge our dead on our enemies. Within months, US forces, along with allies from NATO and from the Northern Alliance, toppled the Taliban and began building a new and free Afghanistan.
Or so we believed. Last week, America’s twenty-year, $2 trillion campaign in Afghanistan ended in humiliation. Resurgent Taliban forces overran the county, finally taking the capital city of Kabul before the Americans even left. The nation was devastated and the people were in a panic. Thousands of Afghanis rushed the airport, trying to get on any plane out. People grabbed on to departing aircraft and fell to their deaths. On 30 April 1975, I watched footage of US helicopters lifting off from the roof of our embassy in Saigon, Vietnam, carrying fleeing staffers as the victorious North Vietnamese Army rolled into the fallen capital. I never thought that I would see such a spectacle again, but here it was, on 15 August 2021.
It was not that we could not defeat the Taliban…we did. US and properly supported Afghan forces smashed Taliban insurgents time and again during the war. American fighting men and women fought well, and have nothing of which to be ashamed. But the Taliban had learned the lessons of Ho Chi Minh. Their victory consisted of outlasting our willingness to stay. The Taliban did not defeat G.I Joe, but its crushed President Joe.
Americans debate the wisdom of leaving Afghanistan. Some argue that America’s longest war, from 2001-2021, had to end, regardless of the outcome. Others contend that US troops needed to stay, albeit in reduced numbers, to provide air cover, logistical and intelligence support, and to protect the infant Afghani national government and army against the mortal threat from the Taliban. After all, the US has had soldiers in South Korea from 1950 until today to ward off the danger of invasion from North Korea.
What few doubt, however, was the incompetence of the American withdrawal. The impetus for the withdrawal came from the White House. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, and the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, both of whom knew the likely disaster about to befall America and Afghanistan, refused to resign, as honorable soldiers have done in the past. Preferring their careers over the lives and freedoms of many, they executed Biden’s atrocious orders and ushered in a debacle.
Today, we have American diplomats asking Taliban overlords for grace in letting trapped Americans and Afghanis out. Many of these Afghanis served US forces as interpreters, intelligence providers, and in hundreds of other ways. During my tour in Iraq, such locals were indispensable to our mission, and some saved American lives. We are concerned about their welfare, including the likelihood of death at the hands of the Taliban. However, we also are determined to avoid bringing terrorists into the United States, which will happen if we do not thoroughly investigate each one prior to landing them on American soil. Given the prior performance of this administration, including its handling of the crisis at the southern border, America’s ability to vet anyone is in doubt.
In conclusion, Afghanistan has become a self-inflicted disaster. Joe Biden performed poorly, but his military experts, Secretary Austin and General Milley, were worse. As military men, they should resign immediately. US Commanders throughout our history have been relieved or resigned for less. American leaders must stabilize the situation, and rescue those who should be rescued (and no others). On a broader scale, America must rebuild fractured trust with those nations who counted on us, restore our military, and devise and execute a cogent foreign policy.