Monday Reads: Goodnight KabulPosted: August 16, 2021
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
Well, this is a sight I thought I’d never see again, but then, back in 2001, I really expected a complete failure in the Afghanistan theatre eventually. We join some of the greatest armies of their time in that failure. History never teaches much to chickenhawks like Dick Cheney, who dodged the draft with five deferments. Unlike Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld actually had a three-year stint in the military about when I was born. He was a navy pilot and instructor. Rumsfeld was basically the failed architect of the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan and recently died, so he doesn’t have to see the fall of Kabul unless in his particular hell realm they have CNN on an endless loop.
I was at university when Saigon fell. Like everything else about the Vietnam war, it was televised during your mealtimes. I asked my ex-husband if this meant I could finally burn his draft card. He held onto it for a while before I finally took it and incinerated it in a fired-up grill.
The dulcet tones of “White Christmas” that crackled over Armed Forces Radio airwaves on April 29, 1975, failed to spread cheer across sunbaked Saigon. Instead, the broadcast of the holiday standard after the announcement that “the temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising” instilled fear and panic in all who recognized the coded signal to begin an immediate evacuation of all Americans from Vietnam.
Although the United States had withdrawn its combat forces from Vietnam after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, approximately 5,000 Americans—including diplomats, marine guards, contractors and Central Intelligence Agency employees—remained. President Richard Nixon had secretly promised South Vietnam that the United States would “respond with full force” if North Vietnam violated the peace treaty. However, after the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign, the North Vietnamese Army felt emboldened to launch a major offensive in March 1975.
“From Hanoi’s point of view, the turmoil leading up to and including Nixon’s resignation was an opportunity to take advantage of a distracted United States,” says Tom Clavin, co-author of Last Men Out: The True Story of America’s Heroic Final Hours in Vietnam. “North Vietnam never intended to abide by the 1973 agreement—its ultimate mission was to unify the country—but the political crisis in America allowed them to move up their timetable.”
The Bodega on the corner is run by a family around my age. There is a grandmother and a grandson. I’ve never really asked the grandmother or the parents about Vietnam, but I know they are part of the large diaspora of South Vietnamese that landed here. My French teacher was in Saigon when it fell. I’ve seen his photos and listened to his stories, although I’m not really sure how he and his Vietnamese bride got out of there. It’s actually getting difficult to find Vietnamese Veterans these days who will share their stories. But they’re out there still.
What will we say about the Fall of Kabul 45 years from now? I’ll not be around for that, but my children and grandchildren will, climate change willing. The Taliban swept through the country and took Kabul on Sunday. From the New York Times: “Kabul’s Sudden Fall to Taliban Ends U.S. Era in Afghanistan. A takeover of the entire country was all but absolute as the Afghan government collapsed and the U.S. rushed through a frenzied evacuation.”
Taliban fighters poured into the Afghan capital on Sunday amid scenes of panic and chaos, bringing a swift and shocking close to the Afghan government and the 20-year American era in the country.
President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan fled the country, and a council of Afghan officials, including former President Hamid Karzai, said they would open negotiations with the Taliban over the shape of the insurgency’s takeover. By day’s end, the insurgents had all but officially sealed their control of the entire country.
The speed and violence of the Taliban sweep through the countryside and cities the previous week caught the American military and government flat-footed. Hastily arranged American military helicopter flights evacuated the sprawling American Embassy compound in Kabul, ferrying American diplomats and Afghan Embassy workers to the Kabul military airport. At the civilian airport next door, Afghans wept as they begged airline workers to put their families on outbound commercial flights even as most were grounded in favor of military aircraft.
Amid occasional bursts of gunfire, the whump of American Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters overhead drowned out the thrum of traffic as the frenzied evacuation effort unfolded. Below, Kabul’s streets were jammed with vehicles as panic set off a race to leave the city.
Two decades after American troops invaded Afghanistan to root out Qaeda terrorists who attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, the American nation-building experiment was in ruins — undercut by misguided and often contradictory policies and by a relentless insurgency whose staying power had been profoundly underestimated by U.S. military planners.
More than 2,400 American troops gave their lives and thousands more were wounded in an effort to build a democratic Afghan government. Tens of thousands of civilians died in the fighting, and thousands more were displaced from their homes. In recent days alone, thousands fled to Kabul as the Taliban advanced through other cities at breakneck speed.
This entire 20-year ordeal didn’t have to happen. Much like I still can’t figure out what the hell the point of the Vietnam “conflict’ was about. This New York Times Analysis offers some insight: ” Taliban Sweep in Afghanistan Follows Years of U.S. Miscalculations. An Afghan military that did not believe in itself and a U.S. effort that Mr. Biden, and most Americans, no longer believed in brought an ignoble end to America’s longest war.”
President Biden’s top advisers concede they were stunned by the rapid collapse of the Afghan army in the face of an aggressive, well-planned offensive by the Taliban that now threatens Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.
The past 20 years show they should not have been.
If there is a consistent theme over two decades of war in Afghanistan, it is the overestimation of the results of the $83 billion the United States has spent since 2001 training and equipping the Afghan security forces and an underestimation of the brutal, wily strategy of the Taliban. The Pentagon had issued dire warnings to Mr. Biden even before he took office about the potential for the Taliban to overrun the Afghan army, but intelligence estimates, now shown to have badly missed the mark, assessed it might happen in 18 months, not weeks.
Commanders did know that the afflictions of the Afghan forces had never been cured: the deep corruption, the failure by the government to pay many Afghan soldiers and police officers for months, the defections, the soldiers sent to the front without adequate food and water, let alone arms. In the past several days, the Afghan forces have steadily collapsed as they battled to defend ever shrinking territory, losing Mazar-i-Sharif, the country’s economic engine, to the Taliban on Saturday.
Mr. Biden’s aides say that the persistence of those problems reinforced his belief that the United States could not prop up the Afghan government and military in perpetuity. In Oval Office meetings this spring, he told aides that staying another year, or even five, would not make a substantial difference and was not worth the risks.
In the end, an Afghan force that did not believe in itself and a U.S. effort that Mr. Biden, and most Americans, no longer believed would alter the course of events combined to bring an ignoble close to America’s longest war. The United States kept forces in Afghanistan far longer than the British did in the 19th century, and twice as long as the Soviets — with roughly the same results.
No matter how much you call it ‘nation-building,’ it still winds up to be colonization. That part of the world has had its history full of that. Please read this thread. I unrolled it here. It documents–in 7 tweets with sources–why it should’ve never happened.
So, there will be a lot more happening, and I’m sure the discussion will be brisk. Please add anything interesting you’ve read on seen or your thoughts, please!
What’s on your reading and blogging list?