While President Joe Biden tries to withdraw the rest of the U.S. military stationed in Afghanistan by September 11, the Taliban have made rapid gains in taking over the country. While Biden is right to withdraw our troops to avoid further bloodshed, he nonetheless received condemnation from both Democrats and Republicans for the rushed nature of his decision. However, a closer look at the situation reveals that the debacle’s fault lies more in the hands of the U.S. government and its military and what they could have done differently to ensure a more efficient withdrawal.
Part of the reason for Afghanistan’s collapse can be linked to a lack of leadership within their military. During a 2016 visit to a training center in Kandahar, NPR journalists Tom Bowman and Monika Evstatieva discovered that the vast majority of generals operating there lacked basic education skills, which interfered with their ability to use military equipment properly. Although the U.S. military initially praised such generals, the Afghan National Army later replaced them for corruption and incompetence, often with similarly incompetent generals who lacked comparable education skills. Although Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko highlighted these issues in numerous reports, members of Congress appeared to be willfully ignorant in launching oversight hearings into the situation. Considering that our military had substantial knowledge regarding the Afghan Military’s incompetence, it seems that they should have been able to train the Afghani generals significantly better while stationed there.
Additionally, a 2018 Special Instructor General for Afghan Reconstruction report that was submitted to Congress showed a startling amount of funds misuse between 2008 and 2017 towards aiding in Afghanistan’s modernization. The misappropriation of funds included the purchase of 20 aircraft (none of which were operational) for the Afghani Air Force at a total cost of $486 million, 16 of which were later sold as scrap metal for 6¢ a pound. Similarly, the same report also highlighted $4.7 billion spent on stabilization programs by the U.S. government that were classified as “largely unsuccessful in building and reforming government institutions.” Although the SIGAR report stated that “…waste involving using resources carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose does not necessarily involve a violation of the law,” it is still troubling to know that funds that could have helped stabilize Afghanistan’s military and government were wasted frivolously.
Although President Biden does share some blame in the failures of the withdrawal (knowing that he should have had better knowledge of the mishandling of funds from past presidencies), it is generally wrong to assume that he is entirely culpable for the situation. The U.S. forces should have better equipped the Afghan military in training for its generals and towards upgrading its equipment. While the chaos continues to rage as the Taliban’s influence spreads far and wide, one can only hope that a repeat of our country’s failures to maintain better order never repeats itself—in another nation, or even our own.