Herat was the first town you reached when you entered Afghanistan along the Hippie Trail from Iran. When I drove into Herat, in 1969, in my shiny new bright red VW camper van, to a prominent Afghani I looked like someone other than a disheveled, penniless, unwashed hippie staggering out out an old school bus, the only westerners they had ever seen. In every town I went in Afghanistan, starting with Herat, the prominent men of the town invited me to meet with them-- to eat, to chat, to smoke some hash. The next stop after Herat on the road-- back then there was only one road-- was Kandahar, the second biggest city in the country.
That's where I learned that Afghanistan wasn't a country the way we think of a country. The king, one of the prominent citizens told me while I sat around smoking hash with a dozen other prominent citizens, was the king of Kabul. He wasn't the king of Kandahar. I experienced that sentiment almost everywhere I went in the country, but it was most pronounced in Kandahar. Later Kandahar became the spiritual home of the Taliban. Last night when Yarolslav Trofimov, writing for the Wall Street Journal, reported that "the Taliban pressed their rapid advance across Afghanistan with the capture of Kandahar," he was really just expressing the inevitable, something I hope to God American war planners already understood was going to happen.
We keep hearing how Afghanistan, the most institutionally corrupt place on a corrupt planet, has a trained military force of over 300,000. Is that so? There is no effective Afghan army, at least in part because the U.S. dollars that pay them is siphoned away into the pockets of government officials and the 300,000 don't get much, if anything-- not even rations or ammunition. Why should they fight? For most of them, there isn't any reason to.
After 20 years of war, much of what the U.S. sought to accomplish in Afghanistan crumbled in just one week. The insurgent movement controlled none of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals until it seized the remote city of Zaranj just a week earlier, Aug. 6.
During that advance, Afghan security forces, meant to number 350,000 men, often surrendered without a fight, with soldiers giving up American-bought weaponry and taking advantage of Taliban promises of amnesty. Politicians in the U.S.-backed government in Kabul continued to squabble, with some senior officials quietly slipping abroad, at a time when unity was required the most.
By Friday night, when the first American units began to arrive to secure the airport to evacuate the bulk of U.S. diplomatic personnel, the mood in Kabul was mostly of resignation that the nation’s capital, like so many provincial cities, would soon come under the Taliban’s sway, too.
Last night, I listened to a moving NPR interview with Afghanistan's acting education minister, Rangina Hamidi, an American-educated woman with a powerful sense of idealism who did not decide to leave the country when she could have last week. I imagine-- and she alluded to it-- that she'll be dead in a short time. The Taliban will never allow women like Hamidi to live. If you want to know what Afghanistan is headed for, think about Pol Pot's Cambodia, where intellectuals (something that could be in part defined as anyone seen carrying a book or magazine-- or anyone with glasses) was murdered.
Who lost Afghanistan is a stupid partisan question that will, no doubt, be an election issue for morons. Whose fault was American policy in Afghanistan might be a better question. And I know the answer. The fault lays entirely with 3 men-- 3 men for whom the buck stopped-- George W Bush, Barack Obama* and Donald Trump. Not Biden, the other 3, who perpetuated the senseless-- actually, insane-- war for 2 decades. All 3 should be dragged to the Hague in chains to face trial as war criminals and never see the sky again. The U.S.-- like the Russians before them-- had to right to every occupy Afghanistan. It was a tragic and pointless mistake that killed untold thousands of Afghanis.
Last night and this morning Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Fahim Abed and Sharif Hassan, noted for the NY Times that "The surrenders seem to be happening as fast as the Taliban can travel." People may not like them, but they have an air of legitimacy compared to the U.S. puppet government in Kabul which has no legitimacy whatsoever.
The swift offensive has resulted in mass surrenders, captured helicopters and millions of dollars of American-supplied equipment paraded by the Taliban on grainy cellphone videos. In some cities, heavy fighting had been underway for weeks on their outskirts, but the Taliban ultimately overtook their defensive lines and then walked in with little or no resistance.
This implosion comes despite the United States having poured more than $83 billion in weapons, equipment and training into the country’s security forces over two decades.
Building the Afghan security apparatus was one of the key parts of the Obama administration’s strategy as it sought to find a way to hand over security and leave nearly a decade ago. These efforts produced an army modeled in the image of the United States’ military, an Afghan institution that was supposed to outlast the American war.
...How the Afghan military came to disintegrate first became apparent not last week but months ago in an accumulation of losses that started even before President Biden’s announcement that the United States would withdraw by Sept. 11.
It began with individual outposts in rural areas where starving and ammunition-depleted soldiers and police units were surrounded by Taliban fighters and promised safe passage if they surrendered and left behind their equipment, slowly giving the insurgents more and more control of roads, then entire districts. As positions collapsed, the complaint was almost always the same: There was no air support or they had run out of supplies and food.
But even before that, the systemic weaknesses of the Afghan security forces-- which on paper numbered somewhere around 300,000 people, but in recent days have totaled around just one-sixth of that, according to U.S. officials-- were apparent. These shortfalls can be traced to numerous issues that sprung from the West’s insistence on building a fully modern military with all the logistical and supply complexities one requires, and which has proved unsustainable without the United States and its NATO allies.
Soldiers and policemen have expressed ever-deeper resentment of the Afghan leadership. Officials often turned a blind eye to what was happening, knowing full well that the Afghan forces’ real manpower count was far lower than what was on the books, skewed by corruption and secrecy that they quietly accepted.
And when the Taliban started building momentum after the United States’ announcement of withdrawal, it only increased the belief that fighting in the security forces-- fighting for President Ashraf Ghani’s government-- wasn’t worth dying for. In interview after interview, soldiers and police officers described moments of despair and feelings of abandonment.
...The second city to fall this week was Sheberghan in Afghanistan’s north, a capital that was supposed to be defended by a formidable force under the command of Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, an infamous warlord and a former Afghan vice president who has survived the past 40 years of war by cutting deals and switching sides.
On Friday, another prominent Afghan warlord and former governor, Mohammad Ismail Khan, who had resisted Taliban attacks in western Afghanistan for weeks and rallied many to his cause to push back the insurgent offensive, surrendered to the insurgents.
“We are drowning in corruption,” said Abdul Haleem, 38, a police officer on the Kandahar frontline earlier this month. His special operations unit was at half strength-- 15 out of 30 people-- and several of his comrades who remained on the front were there because their villages had been captured.
“How are we supposed to defeat the Taliban with this amount of ammunition?” he said. The heavy machine gun, for which his unit had very few bullets, broke later that night.
As of Thursday, it was unclear if Mr. Haleem was still alive and what remained of his comrades.
As the Taliban carry out an almost uninterrupted sweep of the country, their strength has been in question. Official estimates have long sat at somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 fighters. Now that number is even murkier as international forces and their intelligence capabilities withdraw.
Some U.S. officials say the Taliban numbers have swelled because of an influx of foreign fighters and an aggressive conscription campaign in captured territory. Other experts say the Taliban have taken a bulk of their strength from Pakistan.
Yet even amid what could be a complete surrender by the Afghan government and its forces, there are troops still fighting.
More often than not, as is the case in any conflict since the beginning of time, the soldiers and police are fighting for each other, and for the lower-ranking leaders who inspire them to fight despite what hell lies ahead.
I remember, in 2010, having an argument with a friend of mine in Congress-- one of the most progressive members. The Democratic Party grassroots was demanding an end to the war. Obama and his allies-- like my congressional friend-- thought they could change the country... make it safe for democracy and for women. They were out of their fucking minds-- completely 100% clueless. I told every member of Congress I could talk to as much. They didn't believe me or care about my opinion. Now we're going to get the Central Asia version of the Killing Fields and it's going to be horrible. I hope Rangina Hamidi and her family get out.
* This probably seems gratuitous but I want to quote a few words from Matt Taibbi's latest screed on Obama, for whom I voted in 2008 (eyes wide open, having watched his mediocre record in the Senate) but not in 2012. "Obviously, getting rich and not giving a shit anymore is the birthright of every American. But this wasn’t supposed to be in the script for Obama, whose remarkable heel turn has been obscured by the Trump years, which incidentally were at least partly his fault. The history books and the still-starstruck press will let him skate on this, but they shouldn’t. Obama was set up to be the greatest of American heroes, but proved to be a common swindler and one of the great political liars of all time-- he fooled us all. Moreover, his remarkably vacuous post-presidency is proving true everything Trump said in 2016 about the grasping Washington politicians whose only motives are personal enrichment, and who’d do anything, even attend his wedding, for a buck. Trump’s point was that he, Trump, was already swinishly rich, while politicians have only one thing to sell to get the upper class status they crave: us. Obama did that. He sold us out, and it’s time to start talking about the role he played in bringing about the hopeless cynical mess that is modern America." Not to mention-- since so few Americans ever do-- Afghanistan, as in the people of."