About that “failure” of an Afghanistan evacuation

Rarely do the media takes and reality diverge so much, but damn do they here.  Excellent piece from Drum.  I love that he provides answers to the ignorant and bad faith questions many were asking.  No, this was not perfect– what is?!– but, honestly, about as good as we could possibly do, given the circumstances..  Amazing the degree to which people are just willing to ignore the circumstances.  Anyway…

The Kabul evacuation is winding down and it looks like the final numbers will be in the neighborhood of 20,000 Americans rescued and 100,000 Afghans—all in the space of two weeks. I wonder how many people understand just how extraordinary that is in historical context? Certainly the United States has never pulled off anything close to that size, and very few other countries have either.

And you hardly have to be a Biden stan to understand that there are pretty easy answers to most of the criticisms that have been raised.

  • We were suffering almost no casualties, so why didn’t we just stay in Afghanistan? Because things were peaceful only due to the Taliban cease-fire. If we had stayed, the Taliban would have started fighting again and US casualties would have escalated.
  • Why were weapons left behind? Because those weapons had been given to the Afghan army as part of the turnover. [emphases mine]
  • Why was Bagram air base closed? Because we only needed one airport and the military decided that Kabul was a better choice.
  • Why was there so much chaos? It’s easy to see how it looked that way if you were caught in the middle of it, but there wasn’t, really. There were thousands of Afghans who wanted to flee the country and they all surrounded the airport hoping for evacuation. There’s nothing anyone could have done about that, and for the most part the crowds were handled well and processed as efficiently as anyone could have hoped for.
  • Why did it take so long to approve visas for Afghans who qualified for evacuation? It didn’t. We approved visas for 100,000 Afghans in two weeks! And to the extent that this was slower than it could have been, it’s because the Trump administration deliberately sabotaged the process before they left office.
  • Why didn’t we rescue everyone? As always, there are limits to American power. The Taliban controls Kabul, and rescuing literally everyone who wanted to get out was never remotely feasible.
  • Why didn’t we start evacuation earlier? Because we couldn’t. As long as the Afghan government was in power, we had to support them. Starting a mass evacuation would have been an obvious signal that we thought they were doomed.
  • Why didn’t we know that the Taliban would take over so quickly? That’s a very good question, and it was certainly a failure on our part. On the other hand, literally everyone made the same mistake. There wasn’t a single analyst or reporter on the ground who thought the Taliban would take control of Kabul in less than a month.

Nothing is perfect. Obviously there were security breakdowns on Monday the 16th. The suicide bombing on the 26th was an enormous tragedy. The future of Afghanistan under the Taliban is likely to be a violent and miserable one for a lot of people. There’s no need for defenders of the evacuation to pretend that literally no mistakes were made.

That said, if you can look past partisanship; and neocon defensiveness; and individual stories of grief and hardship; and huge crowds on the ground that inevitably gave the impression of chaos—if you can look past all that to the bare facts on the ground, the evacuation of Kabul should go down as one of the shining moments of the US military. That hardly compensates for 20 years of bungling, but taken on its own it was a magnificent effort.

 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to About that “failure” of an Afghanistan evacuation

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Hear, Hear!

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