According to an article by Susannah George in the Washington Post, the lightning speed takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban forces—which captured all 17 of the regional capitals and the national capital of Kabul in about nine days with astonishing ease—was a result of “cease fire” deals, which amounted to bribes, negotiated after former president Trump’s administration came to an agreement with the Taliban in February 2020. When U.S. officials excluded the Afghan government from the deal, soldiers believed that it was only a question of time until they were on their own and cut deals to switch sides. When Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s deal, the process sped up.
Thank you HCR (and good morning all) for this sensible assessment, which is one of the few voices of reason in the morass of faux concern and melodramatic hand wringing going on, especially in the community of pols that have resisted with every fiber of their being the idea that the people who aided us in Iraq and Afghanistan should get automatic green cards and come the US if they so choose.
This is a convenient whip with which to beat Biden. When the disgusting and do-nothing Josh Hawley starts mouthing off I know that the Ghastly Ones have no intention of dealing honestly with any of this. And the chutzpah of Pompeo whining about Biden just makes me want to slap him silly. NONE of these f***ers give a s*** about the women of Afghanistan. But here's the thing: NEITHER DID THE AFGHANI GOVERNMENT. NEITHER DID THE LOCAL AFGHANI COUNCILS. The Afghanis had 20 years of us propping up one corrupt regime after another to get their own job done. If they had wanted to neutralize the Taliban, they would have done so. If they had wanted to actually structure a government and infrastructure that supported women and girls, that provided social services throughout the country, that employed people and educated them, they would have done so. But as always, the so-called "elites" who have a lot of experience with flattering western leaders and pocketing most of the treasure flowing into their countries profited from this and did nothing.
I am just a normal person who watches and listens and reads. I said to myself 19 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 3 years ago, last year, last month: As soon as we no longer are propping up the incompetent boobs in Kabul the Taliban will come back and take over and no one will stop them because no one WANTS TO STOP THEM except a few educated people and some women (not all women because, as we know, educating women was not really a priority for the Afghan government; they trotted out that old saw only when they had a female western politician in town). So here is my question: WHY THE FUCK DO ALL OF THESE SO-CALLED EXPERTS CLAIM THAT THEY WERE SHOCKED--SHOCKED I SAY--THAT IT HAPPENED SO FAST? I think that this is mendacity on a stick. They all knew. They had to have known. But as always, western pols delude themselves because it flatters their massive egos to do so.
I don't blame Biden: he is not responsible for this particular mess. But I do blame the entire western political establishment (including Biden in this) for the unforgivable pretense of competence they present when it comes to dealing with cultures that are clearly not. like. ours. And yes: I am disgusted. And angry. And I apologize to all of you for the caps but I live alone and my dog gets worried when I start screaming at the radio.
The fact that the previous administration excluded the Afghan government from negotiations with the Taliban sent a clear, unambiguous message that the US had no faith in that government's ability to govern, and would not support that government once the US military departed the country. The handwriting was on the wall for anyone to see, especially every member of the Afghan army, half of whom were likely Taliban infiltrators anyway. (The other half enlisted to get the best pair of shoes they ever had.) The political "leadership" skipping out so quickly was another clear indication of what was ahead.
Blaming Biden for any of this is absurd. He's the first president to act responsibly in Afghanistan. He knew our exit would be a mess, he knew the kind of political heat he would face, and he acted anyway. That is leadership.
This is one of the best pieces I've read on Afghanistan. And those last two paragraphs show the hypocrisy that exists in America and especially with the Republican Party.
I hope they investigate and find out why Biden was not allowed access to information once he won the election, so that he could prepare for his Presidency. That was always fishy, but with the insurrection and now how Trump and Pompeo’s Deal with the Tailiban turned into such a terrible situation for Biden it makes it even more important for what went on to be revealed.
Thank you Heather.
The last paragraph of your letter is what I find both curious and revealing. These are the same players who are willing to deny our own citizens rights, yet can't get infront of a camera fast enough to talk about how Biden's decision will impact the rights of another Country.
I have my concerns about how this will all play out. After listening to Biden, I could see a clearer path.
Yet the hypocrisy from the GOP and some Democrats is biting .
Be safe, be well.
I keep wondering about how the US using our might to spread democracy is different from/the same as, missionaries spreading Christianity. And how we now view the methods around spreading Christianity as being barbaric, presumptive, brutal and wrong. But that’s not how it was viewed back when Christianity was considered the only way and viewed with less suspicion than it is viewed now. And I wonder how our invasions in order to spread our ideology will be viewed by history. Please understand, I’m all for democracy. But why do we assume that’s a universal sentiment? Also, just a note. We’ve spent a lot of time noting how horrible it is that other countries are invading us and trying to affect our governance. And yet, that is exactly what we do.
People attacking Biden for not standing up against terrorists and for "democracy" in Afghanistan are the same people supporting "insurrectionists" who attacked our government on January 6th. They are also attacking democracy in states throughout our nation.
"It strikes me that some of the same people currently expressing concern over the fate of Afghanistan’s women and girls work quite happily with Saudi Arabia, which has its own repressive government, and have voted against reauthorizing our own Violence Against Women Act."
Dr. Richardson, the above sentence is one of the most well written and humorous sentences I have ever read. I will smile the rest of the day as I send that sentence to my (few) Republican friends.
Thank you, Dr. R, for presenting a more-than-meets-the-eye perspective of the current situation in Afghanistan. It remains to be seen whether our lawmakers will support efforts to evacuate our Afghan friends or turn a blind eye.
I received this email from AOC this morning: "If you or someone you know is a U.S. citizen in Afghanistan that wants to leave the country, have them fill out this form:
If you or someone you know has an approved petition for a Special Immigrant Visa, email NVCSIV@state.gov or call 1-603-334-0828."
Here are other links she posted in her email:
"If you or someone you know worked as a contractor with U.S. forces, non-governmental organizations, or the media in Afghanistan, you can find information on the P-2 safe passage admissions program here.
"If you are in the United States and wish to help people fleeing Afghanistan, you can sign up here to volunteer for airport pickup, apartment setups, and/or meals for Afghans with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service."
The American Tragedy is that America's #1 industry is war. No one wins.
As one commentator wrote, Afghanistan was never a nation. It is a loose collection of nomadic tribes that were enclosed in a border that the British arbitrarily drew on a map many generations ago.
Dear Prof. HCR,
To my mind, this is your best letter to date. It reveals the depth of your assessment and insight into the essence of history-in-the-making. You are more than an historian, you are a true scholar who does not conclude without asking the right questions. I was so hoping that you would address President Biden's speech and I thank you for that -- it was just what the doctor ordered: a prescription that asks us to think before railing at all that has taken place.
"It strikes me that some of the same people currently expressing concern over the fate of Afghanistan’s women and girls work quite happily with Saudi Arabia, which has its own repressive government, and have voted against reauthorizing our own Violence Against Women Act. Some of the same people worrying about the slowness of our evacuation of our Afghan allies voted just last month against providing more visas for them, and others seemed to worry very little about our utter abandonment of our Kurdish allies when we withdrew from northern Syria in 2019. And those worrying about democracy in Afghanistan seem to be largely unconcerned about protecting voting rights here at home."
I needed your direction. As always, my thanks!
Bravo, Professor. No event in history ever happens in a vacuum. Your even-handed assessment is welcome and much needed. Long after all the finger pointing and partisan accusations die down, historians will be examining the various threads to understand what actually happened in Afghanistan, and in America.
This is a mess created by the Republican Party decades ago. Blaming Biden and the democrats is just the latest smear by the Republicans. They cry fake tears over the “loss of democracy “ and fear for women in Afganistán when they are busy destroying the right to vote in the US and have never cared a fig about women in the US. The stench of rot from the Republican Party is overwhelming. We need to put our house in order before spending the lives and honor of our young men and women in the military at risk abroad. History will uncover and expose the decades of Republican lies and dishonor. My usual joke about historical “misadventures” is that hundreds of thousands of Ph.D. Dissertations that will lie unread in the archives will be written about - name the event. This disaster may rank as one of the worst case of hubris by politicians who know nothing but act as if they are god. We watch and listen to the so-called Republican leadership in the Senate destroy our constitutional system and now scream how the disaster in Afganistán is entirely the doing of the Biden administration ignoring the fact that their own party and their own fingers are stuck firmly in this mess that they helped create. It makes my head spin and breaks my heart.
Thanks to HRC for picking up on the WAPO's story on how the Taliban "pursuaded" locals to forgo fighting. Strangely, the NYT has failed to notice this. Which brings us to the central historical point of all this. The history of imperialism, quite generally, has been marked by a refusal to learn anything more about the peoples being dominated than is needed to dominate them; rather, sham "knowledge" in the form of racism substituted for deliberate ignorance. Sadly, the history of American imperialism has proven to be utterly unexceptional - American exceptionalism to the contrary notwithstanding. As in the Philippines, as in Vietnam, so now in Afghanistan: the "serious people" knew little or nothing about the people in the countryside they were supposedly "helping" to govern, precisely because they were trapped in classical imperialist modes of thinking and acting and thought such "low level" knowledge to be unneccessary. NGOs have had such knowledge in Afghanistan for decades, but appear never to have been consulted, let alone taken seriously, in policy-making circles. The price is being paid now, just as it was paid in Vietnam. What astounds me is the utter inability or unwillingness of the policy establishment to learn anything at all in such cases. Yet again, the history of American foreign policy, like the history of imperialism in general, appears to be, put kindly, a history of international misunderstanding, put more bluntly, a history of substituing willful ignorance or the pretense of knowledge for actual knowledge.
Good morning all, I was glad to see us leave Afghanistan, but saddened by the mess that is left behind. Afghanistan has been a no win situation for centuries for any outside country that attempted to interfere with their internal struggles. I read The Daily Poster as well and I am including that in my text. It is not a piece removed from the conflict but observations and quotes from our people who served there.
Content warning: This story includes accounts of graphic violence
As the United States leaves Afghanistan after 20 years of war, a chaotic scene is unfolding with the Taliban reasserting control over the country in mere days as the state’s government and military collapsed.
It’s hard to know what comes next. Thousands of Afghans are begging to be airlifted out of the country, pleading with American officials at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to put them in planes and get them to safety. The situation in the country is increasingly dangerous and may have already changed by the time you read this.
One refrain from pro-war critics of the withdrawal is that the absence of U.S. and other foreign soldiers in the country will lead to increased death and violence. But after 20 years of bloodshed, with tens of thousands of civilians dead, it's hard to stomach the assertion that the continued presence of coalition forces in the country would lead to anything other than more brutality for the Afghan people.
I talked to three U.S. veterans of the war about their experiences in the country and whether or not their presence made things better. Nate Bethea, who served in Paktika province from February 2009- to March 2010, told me that coalition presence made things worse, and the military attempts to make up for the upheaval fell flat.
“When people died accidentally and it was the fault of the coalition, we’d make condolence payments of around $1,000 to $2,000, depending on if it was the breadwinner or like a spouse or child,” Bethea said. “And people thought, ‘Okay, this is fine, we paid them out’ — but you killed their fucking family. How could they not hate you forever?”
“The War Effectively Had No Real Purpose”
Bethea, 36, said that his time in the country quickly convinced him the mission was destined to fail.
“My impression when I got there was that the war effectively had no real purpose, because in my experience, the foreign troop presence was the single largest driver of the insurgency,” Bethea told me.
The ongoing battles between the coalition soldiers and insurgents cost civilian lives and fueled anger against the foreign troops, whose presence provided a clear target for attacks by the Taliban and other groups. According to Bethea, occupation led to death and destruction, mostly through collateral damage.
During his tour, Bethea said he witnessed people killed in the crossfire in numerous ways, including “families hit by stray bullets, cars shot up at checkpoints by mistake, houses strafed or bombed by mistake, families killed by IEDs [improvised explosive devices] intended for coalition vehicles, people in… public areas hurt or killed by IEDs or mortars, children killed by large military vehicles in traffic accidents, collisions with military vehicles and civilian vehicles,” and more.
That bred resentment and anger, said Bethea, which in turn led to more violence and resistance — adding to the instability of a government that wasn’t serving the people and was clearly destined to fail the minute the U.S. wasn’t there to back it up.
“An Impossible Cause”
For Jason Kirrell, 42, there was never a chance for a different outcome. The war effort was doomed from the outset.
“Afghanistan was a beautiful country, but nothing we did would make much of a long-term difference,” Kirrell told me. “And for the war in general, it was not, like, a lost cause, because lost implies we could have done something different to succeed, but an impossible cause.”
Kirrell was in Afghanistan from June 2010 to April 2011. He told me that the war’s relentless grind, the complete lack of accountability for wrongdoing by soldiers, and the general instability exacerbated by the invasion made the situation for the Afghan people absolute hell.
“I saw civilians blown up,” Kirrell said. “I know we used grape huts [where] farmers used to store their harvests for target practice. I was in a mortar unit and we used them to practice dropping rounds on. I can’t imagine having an outside force come in and use your workplace as a target range [engenders] much love and respect.”
As the war dragged on, things only got worse, said Kirrell. The Afghans had zero trust in the occupation forces, who rotated out with such regularity that there was no way to build relationships. Soldiers had total control over the population. Their boredom and lack of inhibitions made for disturbing situations.
“I had to talk guys out of just shooting farmers because they thought it would be fun,” Kirrell told me. “They literally didn’t care by that point.”
“It Really Feels So Pointless”
Tyler — who did not want to give his last name — is a 31-year-old veteran whose eight years in the military included a stint in Afghanistan from February 2012 to November 2012. He believed in the mission at the time, Tyler told me, but looking back on his experiences today, he’s of a different mind.
“I was 22 at the time and I vividly remember watching 9/11 in junior high, so I went in with enthusiasm and patriotic feelings, but in the years since I’ve gotten more frustrated, not only with my time there but with the ‘War on Terror’ as a whole,” Tyler said. “It really feels so pointless, and like a huge waste of time, money, lives, and grief. I hate what we as a nation have done to the people of Afghanistan.”
During his tour, Tyler witnessed horrific incidents that served to calcify local resistance to the occupation. A firefight with insurgents culminated in a call for air support that got the coordinates wrong, bombing an apartment building full of civilians instead. The consequences of the mistake, he said, damaged the relationship with local officials.
“I’m not sure how many civilian casualties there were, but I do remember explicitly that the provincial police chief’s wife and daughter were among the ones that were killed,” Tyler said. “This obviously made tensions between us and the police very tight for the remainder of my time there.”
Another disturbing incident made the human cost of the war apparent to the young soldier. An investigation into an explosion in a nearby city brought the soldiers to the burned-out wreckage of a car.
“We approached the wreckage and found a woman covered in blood and burns who was holding something in her arms that was red and black as she was trying to pull another body out of the car,” Tyler said.
The object in her arms was a child.
“The black was the charring on her body, and the red was the blood and where her skin had peeled off,” Tyler told me. “She pushed her into my chest and I grabbed the body and set it down on the ground so that the medics could aid her. Her torso was ripped open, I could see her ribs and collar bone, as well as what looked like multiple organs. She likely died instantly — I hope she did, anyways.”
“I’m Glad That We Have Left”
All three veterans are now looking at the collapse of the Afghan government with anger and sadness. This outcome was predictable, said Kirrell.
“The U.S. tried to build Afghanistan from the top down, and the Taliban went bottom up,” Kirrell said. “One way clearly worked better than the other.”
“Afghanistan isn’t Germany or Japan after World War II,” he added.
Tyler agreed. He told me that the entire approach to putting together the Afghan army was wrong from the beginning.
“There was no training of Afghan forces that could have been done to get them to fight like American forces,” Tyler said. “And there was no way that local tribal leaders were gonna trust us when we kept rotating in and out every year and they kept having to deal with new Americans.”
Today, as control of the country turns over to the Taliban, Tyler is relieved that the U.S. is leaving — though he wishes the departure had been better planned.
“I’m glad that we have left, I just wish we’d had an actual plan in doing so. We were there for 20 years, and the best we could do was to pack everything up in the middle of the night and hand the keys off to the locals and say good luck,” Tyler said.
That’s par for the course in how the country’s people have been treated, Bethea said.
“If there’s any one thread throughout this whole venture, in my opinion, it is our limitless contempt for the Afghan people, who are some of the poorest and most victimized people on this entire planet,” Bethea said.