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Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete

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Biden's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete

Nine days after the fall of Kabul, a colleague sent me an email about someone who “wants to talk about a story that is not being reported”. Hours later, I spoke to a colonel who was working on the Kabul airlift. He had done several tours in Afghanistan since 2002, and an Afghan translator who had repeatedly risked her life for his unit made it through Taliban checkpoints to the airport. But she and her family couldn’t get a seat on an airplane. “I can’t get it out,” he complained. “I finally got them on the wire and I don’t want them to die there.”

The sudden capture of the Afghan capital by the Taliban on August 15 threw the Biden government and much of Washington’s national security apparatus into chaos. Instead of walling up journalists and helpers, as was often the case in the past, officers and diplomats sought information and help. In a way I hadn’t seen since September 11, 2001, when I covered the New York bailouts and then the US invasion of Afghanistan for the Times, government officials seemed openly disoriented and expressed shock and anger about their own government, and a deep sense of shame. Another military officer asked me to publicly attack US immigration officers for failing to process specific immigrant visa applications for about 20,000 Afghan interpreters who had worked with US forces. “These are extraordinary times,” said the officer. “He called for extraordinary measures. They failed. I hope you think about it. “

On Monday, the last flight of American troops left Kabul, completing a twenty-year mission and fulfilling Joe Biden’s promise to withdraw all US forces by the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In a statement, Biden announced the evacuation of more than one hundred and twenty thousand people from Kabul, most of them Afghan citizens. For months, refugee organizations and the military had urged the government to begin evacuating Afghans who had supported US efforts. The White House disagreed, concerned that such a move would signal a lack of confidence in the Afghan government. As a result, the operation, which was limited to a few weeks, was unnecessarily rushed and poorly planned. An estimated two hundred thousand Afghans who were unable to get out now face retaliation from the Taliban. For many critics inside and outside the government, the conflict appears to end as it began – with individual brave acts carried out amid a chaotic, politically-driven reaction by the US government. “We are heroic as individuals,” said a former national security officer. “We are not becoming heroic as a nation.”

The withdrawal of US troops will largely put an end to the hectic efforts of numerous military veterans, aid workers and journalists to save Afghan lives. In the past two weeks, WhatsApp and Signal channels with tips on Taliban checkpoints, crowds and, above all, which airport gates were open, have broken out. A phone call, text message, or email to the right person can save lives. At one point, Jane Ferguson, a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, who reports in Kabul and also writes for The New Yorker, was delivering instructions when she was trying to lead a family to a UK base near the airport. “You have to push forward,” she wrote. “The back gate is closed.” Later, as the family struggled through the crowd, she added, “I know it seems scary, but this is the quietest one in days.”

In the race against the US deadline, Ferguson eventually brought two dozen Afghans to the British base. She watched thousands of others try. Those with ties to U.S. passport holders have sometimes made it. But the vast majority didn’t. “There is no system. The system collapsed, ”she said. “It’s hard to describe how completely ad hoc it was. It put me and my colleagues in this bizarre position to have this strange, misplaced power. ”A clergyman in New York tried to help evacuate dozen of Afghan women, including a university worker and a member of parliament. Artists in New York tried to evacuate Afghan musicians. A high school teacher at an American school in Taiwan attempted to evacuate seven young executives and their families. Working with others, the teacher was able to get three of the seven families out. “Just three weeks ago they were holding a conference to practice their conflict resolution and negotiation skills,” said the teacher, who did not want to be named. “They were the future of what was possible for Afghanistan.”

After twenty years, the vast majority of Americans understandably want to leave Afghanistan. America lost 2,461 soldiers Thursday, including thirteen at Kabul airport, and spent more than $ 2 trillion on a new form of warfare that dragged on because it affected so few Americans – an entirely voluntary military that less than one percent of the US population is actually involved in fighting. Washington waged war on two and four year cycles; Political goals were often set to make politicians appear tough in the campaign against terrorism. Meanwhile, the on-site effort was haunted by dizzying contradictions. American-backed leaders in Afghanistan engaged in corruption and empowered warlords, while some three hundred thousand Afghans joined the army and police to fight the Taliban. 66,000 of them died. The Taliban themselves suffered enormous losses and lost fifty-one thousand in battle. Worst of all, 47,000 Afghan civilians have died, many of whom have been killed in bombings and other attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State in recent years. “In Afghanistan there was no overarching strategy for what we wanted to do,” a former CIA station chief told me. “If you look at US policy since 9/11, it has been completely confused.”

The Taliban are expected to quickly reverse any gains made. Afghanistan has seen dramatic improvements in literacy and health care since 2001, with the proportion of young girls attending school increasing from twelve percent to fifty percent. Last year the Afghan parliament had a higher percentage of women than the US Congress. Most noticeably, a generation of Afghans, particularly in the country’s cities, has embraced technology, social media, and modernity. “It really changed the lives of a generation,” said Brad Blitz, professor of international politics at University College London. In the past two weeks he and a team of London-based academics have attempted to evacuate three hundred and fifty Afghan researchers. They managed to bring 25 people, including some family members of the researchers, to Poland. Hours after arriving, some Afghan children ventured into the reception area and ate poisonous forest mushrooms. They had to be hospitalized and two of them were in critical condition. “This is just another example of the chaotic situation Afghans find themselves in,” Blitz said.

The former CIA station chief expressed his despair. “It is hard to believe that we have abandoned the Afghans so overwhelmingly,” he said. “We created this society, whether you like it or not. We encouraged women to go to school and work. Now they are being taken as war brides. ”At some point he began to interview me. Twelve years ago, when I reported for the Times in Afghanistan, I was kidnapped with two Afghan colleagues outside Kabul by members of the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction, and held in remote tribal areas in Pakistan for seven months. The leader of the Haqqani network is now the Afghan capital’s security chief. “The guy who kidnapped you is now the head of security in Kabul,” he said. “Is he going to be a nice guy? I don’t think so. ”I share his pessimism. During my imprisonment, I saw the Haqqanis as a criminal gang posing as a devout religious movement. They referred to themselves as the true followers of Islam, but showed an amazing ability to be dishonest and greedy. Paranoid and delusional, they insisted that the September 11, 2001 attacks were hatched by American and Israeli intelligence agencies to create an excuse for the US to enslave Muslims. They said the US would forcibly convert large numbers of Muslims to Christianity. American and NATO soldiers, they believed, made Afghan women work as prostitutes on military bases.

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