By Tom Squitieri
WASHINGTON – Joe Biden had a clear vision what needed to do in Afghanistan when he spoke to reporters during his visit to Kabul in January 2002.
“Let’s make it clear,” Biden said then. “I am not talking about peacekeepers. I’m not talking about blue helmets. I’m talking about people who shoot to kill people. I’m talking about a bunch of people who are bad-asses who will come in here with guns and understand that they don’t have to check with anybody before they return fire. Quite frankly, absent that, I for one, don’t see any shot for this country in the near term.”
The rules of the U.S engagement never quite permitted that approach. Whether that is one of many reasons for the U.S leaving in what many say is humiliation and betrayal will be part of the post-hash debate of the most recent superpower to be beaten in the land of the Hindu Kush.
What is clear is that Biden —in 2002 and beyond — knew the one reality of the Great Game of Afghanistan: outsiders may seem to win early and say “check” many times, but they never get to checkmate.
Thus, what started almost 20 years ago with people jumping from falling, burning towers to end their lives is ending with people clinging to rising fuselages to save their lives. Both wound up falling to deaths.
“The real failure lies with the U.S. officials who have lied repeatedly about the alleged progress being made in building an effective government and military,” Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said.
“Particularly shameful are those who pretend that the U.S. could have stayed the course in Afghanistan without cost,” he said. “The option, as President Biden rightfully noted, was to either surge U.S. forces again or withdraw from Afghanistan’s civil war. The former would have meant indefinite and increased deployments of U.S. forces to fight for people who were not willing to fight for the government we imagined for them.”
In fact, it was a Potemkin government that was easy prey for the wily Taliban. They used the time given to them in the agreement with the Trump administration to stock up on arms, find the weakest links in the Afghan army and buy them off and prepare for the next move on the chess board.
Pakistan chortles quietly that its 20-year support of the Taliban has resulted in this; they should be wary of where the frenzy Islamists look next. Terrorist groups will find it easier to breathe and grow again in the mountains of Afghanistan. Russia and China and Iran will try the next moves in the Great Game.
Asked yesterday if “the quick fall of Kabul, was that a failure of intelligence?” Major General Hank Taylor of the Joint Staff, the Director of Current Operations, said “I can’t answer that.”
Asked if there are any U.S. actions being taken to prevent equipment from falling into the hands of the Taliban by destroying it or anything else, Taylor responded. “I don’t have the answer to that question.”
Pentagon press spokesperson John Kirby recently said we all would know “in six to eight months” if the Afghan political and military leadership were up to the task of dealing with the Taliban. He had the numbers correct — 6 to 8 — but the timeline was days and not months. There has not been such a pancaking of a military since France in 1940.
During the second Pentagon press conference Monday, a miffed Kirby pushed back at the incessant questions from the media. “I think, you know, Monday morning quarterbacking here now, I mean, isn’t I don’t think a helpful exercise,” he said.
However it was long past Monday morning when the questions were asked — many of the same asked for weeks. It was already 4:20 p.m. EST in Washington as the press briefing continued — and once again it was 1999 in Kabul.