As the last US plane took off from the Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday night, the Taliban celebrated the end of the 20-years of occupation. The Taliban then took control of the airport just before dawn as victorious gunfire resonated across Kabul. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid congratulated the Afghans for ‘complete independence’ saying the historic victory belonged to all of the Afghans. Mujahid reiterated the Taliban’s desire to have good diplomatic relations with the United States and the rest of the world.
Under-siege US President Joe Biden once again defended his decision to comply with the August 31, deadline for withdrawal amid bipartisan narrative toward his handling of Afghanistan. Biden said now it was up to the Taliban to fulfil their commitment to allow safe passage to those who wish to leave Afghanistan.
The hurried airlift by the US and its allies over the past two weeks evacuated over 123,000 people from Kabul; however, tens of thousands of at-risk Afghans were left behind. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says under 200 Americans are still in Afghanistan. Commander of the US Central Command General Frank McKenzie they could not get everybody out and staying 10 more days would not have changed anything.
In the wake of the US exit, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said that this is “a moment of decision and opportunity” for the Afghans as they are the ones who will now choose their path in full sovereignty. This is some astute humility, unlike the former US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta who said that the US military will eventually return to Afghanistan. Panetta – who served under former US President Barrack Obama – said that the Afghan withdrawal leaves the US in a ‘very dangerous and difficult situation.’ Elsewhere, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called to impeach Biden if he ended the war by 31 August saying Biden should use the “full force” of the US military to delay the withdrawal. Graham and Panetta’s jingoism is nothing in comparison to the former National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster who believes that the Afghan War has “ended in self-defeat.”
Last week, McMaster said that it was time to reverse course and continue the fight against the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS. The Washington Post reports that in 2017, McMaster argued in favour of “possibly sending tens of thousands of additional troops” instead of executing former US President Donald Trump’s primary goal to get out of Afghanistan.
Eventually in August 2017, under pressure from the then-Defence Secretary James Mattis and McMaster, Trump ordered sent 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. No one knows what would have happened if the US had exited Afghanistan in 2017 but looking back, it seems that a hurried withdrawal and the embarrassing capitulation of the Afghan government and its Armed Forces may have been avoided.
Putting all of this in context, it stands to reason when Mujahid said that the American defeat in Afghanistan was a “big lesson for other invaders and for our future generation.” If the US failed to ‘crush’ the Taliban after its longest and costliest war and left the Taliban more powerful than they ever were, then in Mujahid’s words the Taliban victory is, quite certainly, a “lesson for the world.”
A little humility in the face of this unprecedented humiliation will certainly be the pragmatic thing to do.