Two years after botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan: grim echoes

By Imran Khalid | Gwadar Pro Sep 1, 2023

Editor's Note: The writer is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.

Exactly two years ago, as the echoes of fireworks illuminated the Kabul night on August 30, 2021, the curtain fell on a poignant chapter in Afghan history. The United States, after its incursion in October 2001, concluded two decades of misadventure in Afghanistan. This botched departure marked the culmination of a complex narrative, one that witnessed profound shifts and reverberations, ultimately inviting introspection about the repercussions of a military venture that spanned generations.

The protracted and tumultuous US engagement in Afghanistan, spanning from 2001 to 2021, has left an indelible and sadly anticipated outcome. The widespread devastation that befell Afghanistan and the unrelenting instability that continues to plague the region in the aftermath of the American disengagement bears an unsettling resemblance to the dire consequences witnessed during the 1970s withdrawal from Southeast Asia. Eerily echoing history, this latest episode underscores the tragic pattern of interventions that engender fractured nations and enduring turmoil, as seen in the wake of the protracted conflict that marred Southeast Asia for nearly two decades.

The repercussions of the US exit from Afghanistan paint a grim picture of a nation grappling with shattered fragments. The arduous journey to recovery is marred not only by the colossal toll in lives and infrastructure exacted by American actions but also by a calculated and sinister campaign orchestrated from Washington by freezing nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank and stopping shipments of cash to the Taliban-led government.

The Afghan populace's pursuit of a fresh start, self-determination, and resource reclamation is stymied by deliberate machinations, casting a shadow over their aspiration for autonomous progress. The legacy of lingering control disrupts the trajectory of a people yearning to reclaim agency over their destiny and resources. The US military's incursion into Afghanistan exacted a harrowing toll, claiming some 43,000 civilian lives and leaving countless wounded. This saga is compounded by a stark reality: those who commanded US forces evaded accountability for the staggering civilian casualties, casting a distressing shadow over justice and responsibility.

Ironically, in the first week of April, the Biden administration publicly released a 12-page report, drawn from top-secret State Department and Pentagon reviews sent to the Congress which blatantly exposed the incompetence and complete failure of the American paraphernalia during the withdrawal of the American forces from Afghanistan in August 2021. In this report, little responsibility was taken for the actions taken by President Biden, and instead, the blame was shifted onto the Trump administration for chaotic and messy withdrawal of US assets from Afghanistan. The report claimed that “President Biden’s choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor.”

In the scathing review, the Biden administration lambasted its predecessor, the Trump administration, for its insufficient preparations in implementing the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the Taliban. Trump reacted very harshly by counter-accusing the Biden administration of playing “a new disinformation game” to distract from “their grossly incompetent surrender in Afghanistan.” On his social media site, he alleged, “Biden is responsible, no one else!”

The report exposed two major flaws in the handling of the whole episode of US withdrawal: Firstly, there was a notable inadequacy in the assessment of the Taliban’s military capabilities by the US intelligence agencies. Secondly, there was a lack of effective planning and coordination between the State Department and the Pentagon. As per the report, the intelligence community's assessments of the Afghan forces' ability to counter potential Taliban attacks were overly incorrect.

The summary report noted the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community in May 2021 that "Kabul would probably not come under serious pressure until late 2021 after U.S. troops departed." To add fuel to this faulty assessment of the intelligence apparatus, a further lack of interagency coordination and incoherent direction from the White House resulted in one of the worst and chaotic US evacuation operations in American history. Though the report claims that it had taken candid and extensive consultations with all the stakeholders, including NATO members, before finalizing the exit plan, but the botched evacuation drill that was witnessed in the last two weeks of August 2021 tells a different story – an amalgam of incompetence, confusion and irresponsibility.

At the same time, US actions in Afghanistan have resulted in civilian casualties and decimation of already fragile infrastructure. Following the Taliban's ousting and American intrusion in 2001, the “promised reconstruction" proved a facade. Washington's ambitions devolved into a billion-dollar conduit for vested interests.

A tragic testament to ill-conceived endeavors, leaving Afghans reeling from both violence and misguided aid. The aftermath of the US presence in Afghanistan is a tale of destruction, masked reconstruction, and enduring instability. The nation's fabric, socially, politically, and economically, remains torn by the legacy of American intervention. Extremist factions such as "Islamic State" (ISIS) and East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), nurtured by US-backed strife, continue to sow chaos, thwarting unity and foreign investments vital for recovery in a country caught amidst proxy wars and separatist agendas. Two years after the messy US withdrawal, Afghan suffering persists via concealed conduits. Orchestrated by proxies, the US is trying to regain its grip on Afghanistan.

US strategies persist by withholding vital Afghan Central Bank assets and exacerbating their plight - a calculated denial of resources imperative for recovery. The legacy of corruption, intricately woven through two decades of occupation, further taints the flow of remaining funds. This orchestrated maneuvering has aggravated instability, undermining prospects for external aid and amplifying the narrative of opportunistic disruption that the US perpetuated through its reckless war.

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