Hello, everyone. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It was a pretty awful week for the people of Afghanistan. A few months ago, the Biden administration announced it would withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11. The precise timing struck many of us as odd, if not downright offensive. It would have been one thing if we were leaving because we’d driven out the Taliban and al-Qaeda and helped the Afghans build a stable government. But we hadn’t. So it seemed cruel to the memories of those who died—whether on 9/11 itself or in the war that resulted—to mark the 20th anniversary of that horrific day as a final retreat from those who helped perpetuate it.
Now, however, it seems like the anniversary of 9/11 could be even bleaker. The Biden administration eventually moved up the deadline, to August 31. Troops have been departing for a few weeks now. And, as you’ve no doubt noticed, it’s the moment that the Taliban has been waiting for. As of Friday, jihadists had taken over 16 of Afghanistans’ 34 provincial capitals, including Herat and Kandahar, two of the three largest cities in the country. A military analysis says that the capital of Kabul “could become isolated in 30 to 60 days and could fall to the militant group in 90 days.”
Much of our content this week—on the website, in our newsletters, and on our podcasts—has been devoted to this important and frustrating topic. A recurring theme is that it didn’t have to be this way. We detail the intelligence and diplomatic failures that got us here and critique the Biden administration’s statements that are at odds with the situation on the ground. Let’s get right to it.
There are few voices with more authority on the war on terror than Thomas Joscelyn, author of Vital Interests. He’s a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, he’s testified before Congress more than 20 times, and in 2017 he and Steve led the effort to have the CIA declassify thousands of documents seized in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. In his newsletter on Friday, he addressed the Biden administration’s claim that the Afghan military had sufficient manpower and resources to hold the Taliban at bay. “The U.S. military has repeatedly reported—again, on paper—that there are hundreds of thousands of Afghans ready to defend their country. While U.S. generals have expressed reservations at times, they’ve also portrayed the ANDSF as a much more capable force—one that certainly wouldn’t be routed within just a few short months. It was all a mirage. Wars aren’t fought on paper.“