Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | Afghanistan falls; our credibility ebbs

Written by on August 17, 2021

In his hasty removal of American forces from Afghanistan, President Biden utterly and destructively botched the withdrawal.  The consequences are horrifically and irreparably devastating, raising serious questions about the intelligence and planning used to execute Biden’s rash operation.

There’s one question Coloradans must ask above all others, however: What did our resident Senate Intelligence Committee member, Sen. Michael Bennet, know and when did he know it? 

When the international coalition led by the United States invaded Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, I was an 11-year-old sixth-grader.  Now, 20 years older, I’m witnessing my country finally withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

For my entire cognizant life — cognizant of the outer world around me, that is — America has been at war in the Middle East, in Afghanistan specifically.  I can nary remember the world before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and U.S. invasions overseas, both of which have dramatically shaped my life and my generation. 

The oldest of my Millennial Generation were the youngest to sign up for military service after 9/11.  Today, that burden is borne by the younger Generation Z — many born after 2001.  I have cousins and friends who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Given all this, I deeply understand — and share — the profound desire to “just get out.”  It’s always seemed like we’ll be stuck in a Middle Eastern quagmire, destined to always have Americans fighting in harm’s way for other countries.  How many lives and taxpayer dollars must we ceaselessly throw at foreign theaters?

Few people I know oppose withdrawal.  Most criticisms of Biden’s abject failure aren’t about the drawdown itself; they’re about the execution of it.

Biden empowered the Taliban to conquer city after city unimpeded, straight to the capital of Kabul.  They patrol the streets with multitudes of American assault weapons, Blackhawk helicopters, trucks and other military assets.  Their enforcers are reportedly going door-to-door hunting and killing Afghanis who collaborated with the United States, forcing women and girls into slavery.

The humanitarian disaster is nothing short of shocking.  Biden’s blunder is so bad that 2,500 troops became 7,000 – 7,000 troops brought back in to protect American diplomats and civilians, allies and Afghani partners after everything fell to the Taliban. 

During the last decade of the Cold War, Keith Nobles was a contractor to the military intelligence community.  “They did such an incredibly poor job of withdrawing — you can’t even fathom that they left the Taliban our military equipment,” he told me.  “They did nothing to impede the Taliban’s advance.  Nothing.  They did nothing to buck up the Afghan government or the Afghan military.  Of all the options Biden had on the table, Biden chose none of them.  He chose to do nothing.”

Nobles recalls the lessons of America’s failure ending the Vietnam War in 1975, arguing that Kabul is indeed the Saigon of the 21st century.  “The terrifying humanitarian fallout from Saigon and Kabul mark generational low points in American foreign policy and confidence,” he contends, “both of which will take considerable time, deliberate effort and vastly improved leadership to recover.”

An expert on Middle Eastern affairs, former U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, Sam H. Zakhem, has long opposed nation-building in the Middle East, including Afghanistan, and vocally opposed the Iraq War.  He agrees with Nobles’ broad conclusions.

“Mr. Biden alone is responsible for the horrible decision to withdraw without any commitment from the Taliban for an orderly and acceptable transition of power,” Zakhem argues.  “Unfortunately, this fiasco of Biden’s foreign policy hurts our credibility worldwide, especially with our allies in the Middle East.”

Biden insisted “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”  Fair enough.

Except that’s not what happened. 

Afghani security forces endured some 70,000 casualties since 2014 because they took on most of the fighting.  America’s role has been to provide essential services to Afghani security forces — services our military is uniquely capable of doing.  As retired Gen. Jack Keane argued Monday on Fox News, the U.S. indicated to Afghan security forces that they could no longer count on American intelligence and air support.  The stalemate we long helped ensure was gone.

“The Afghans cannot defeat the Taliban…but the Taliban cannot also defeat the Afghan government,” Keane said.  “That imperfect stalemate and status quo has enabled us to protect the American people.”  With American military and intel support gone, Afghani forces were ill-equipped to protect themselves.

It’s the same reason our European partners are aghast at our sudden withdrawal.  Biden has left our allies high and dry without America’s superior capabilities.

Biden conceded Monday, “This did unfold more quickly than we anticipated.”  That’s an understatement.  Biden defense and state department officials were pressed if this was a failure of intelligence or planning.  They couldn’t answer.

For his part, Michael Bennet has merely called to “safely and quickly evacuate U.S. citizens and our Afghani allies.”  Not enough.  Given his unique perch on the Intelligence Committee, he must tell Coloradans what he knew about Afghanistan and when he knew it.  If Bennet is unaware of what led to this astonishing foreign policy failure, he must push for answers — publicly and vigorously.  Anything less is callous indifference.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s August 17 column at Colorado Politics, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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