Nothing Was Gained From 20 Years in Afghanistan
President Joe Biden hit the right points in his speech on the Afghanistan debacle. He acknowledged the failure of the country’s western-backed government, the limited options after 20 years of occupation, and the need for Americans to withdraw and let events take their course. It was a realistic speech, almost enough to make us forget the years he spent promoting military intervention in Afghanistan and his role as vice president when the Obama administration concealed evidence that the war was unwinnable—evidence that should have prepared him for the Afghan government’s inevitable implosion. Yes, he learned hard lessons about the costs of intervention, but others pay the price.
“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,” Biden told the world on Monday. “We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong — incredibly well equipped — a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies.”
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future,” he added.
This is all entirely true, and it is long past time that a U.S. president acknowledged these unpleasant facts. The previous three administrations knew this moment was coming and did their level best to hide hard reality from the American people.
“A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable,” the newspaper reported in 2019. Implicated in the report were the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Biden, of course, was vice president under Obama.
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who headed up White House efforts in Afghanistan during both the Bush and Obama administrations, admits in the documents.
But American officials should have known better. In 2015, the U.S. Army War College Press published The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold, and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan arguing that the U.S. was as doomed to fail in Afghanistan as in Iraq and South Vietnam because “all three countries were artificial colonial relics with no pervasive sense of national identity.” Author
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