‘Saigon on Steroids’: The Desperate Rush to Flee Afghanistan
The WSJ comments ‘Saigon on Steroids’: The Desperate Rush to Flee Afghanistan
“It’s crazy. It is out of control now,” said Shoaib, an Afghan interpreter who had talked his way through several checkpoints.
The chaos at Kabul airport was the dizzying final act of a lightning Taliban offensive that saw the militants seize the last of the remaining cities under government control, culminating with the country’s capital.
Anatol Lieven, a Politico writer who has covered the wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya and the southern Caucasus explains Why Afghan Forces So Quickly Laid Down Their Arms.
In the winter of 1989, as a journalist for the Times of London, I accompanied a group of mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province. At one point, a fortified military post became visible on the other side of a valley. As we got closer, the flag flying above it also became visible — the flag of the Afghan Communist state, which the mujahedeen were fighting to overthrow.
“Isn’t that a government post?” I asked my interpreter. “Yes,” he replied. “Can’t they see us?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “Shouldn’t we hide?” I squeaked. “No, no, don’t worry,” he replied reassuringly. “We have an arrangement.”
This dense web of relationships and negotiated arrangements between forces on opposite sides is often opaque to outsiders. Over the past 20 years, U.S. military and intelligence services have generally either not understood or chosen to ignore this dynamic as they sought to paint an optimistic picture of American efforts to build a strong, loyal Afghan army.
The central feature of the past several weeks in Afghanistan has not been fighting. It has been negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan forces, sometimes brokered by local elders.
In Afghanistan, kinship and tribal connections often take precedence over formal political loyalties, or at least create neutral spaces where people from opposite sides can meet and talk. Over the years, I have spoken with tribal leaders from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region who have regularly presided over meetings of tribal notables, including commanders on opposite sides.
One of the key things discussed at such meetings is business, and the business very often involves heroin.
These arrangements also serve practical purposes. It is often not possible for guerrilla forces to hold any significant number of prisoners of war. Small numbers might be held for ransom, but most ordinary soldiers are let go, enlisted in the guerrillas’ own ranks or killed.
We can draw a clear line between this lack of understanding and the horrible degree of surprise at the events of the past several days. America didn’t predict this sudden collapse, but it could have and should have — an unfortunately fitting coda to a war effort that has been undermined from the start by a failure to study Afghan realities.
Biden will address the nation later today.
Once again, this war was not winnable. Hell, after 20 years, US intelligence did not even learn Afghan customs.
Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden all failed in that regard.
No Win Position
On April 17, I commented Biden Has a No-Win Position in Afghanistan No Matter What He Does
- If we stay in, the interventionists will seek more troops for as long as it takes, undoubtedly at least another 100 years.
- If we leave and Kubul falls the interventionists will say "see I told you so."
- If we leave and nothing happens, expect Republicans to praise Trump for setting a withdrawal date of May 2021 rather than Biden for actually pulling the troops.
At least Biden got us out, assuming he stupidly goes not get us back in.
Here's How to Stay in Afghanistan Forever: Listen to the WSJ Editorial Board
Lesson of the Day
The overriding lesson of the day is don't put US troops where they do not belong on nearly endless missions in the first place.
Bush started it, then Obama and Trump kept us there in a war that could not be won.
Along the way, the mission morphed from getting Bin Laden to nation building without any administration having a clue about Afghan tribal customs.
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