After 20 years in Afghanistan, the United States has pulled out of the country after the fall of Kabul to Taliban forces, and continued pressure from the militant group gaining ground and victories in the region, on the 15th of August 2021.
Described as happening at a pace that stunned and worried top U.S. officials, the Afghan president, Ashaf Ghani, fled, followed not long after by the U.S and various embassies.
Starting with an effort to evacuate embassy staff and immigrants with special immigrant visas, the U.S. embassy posted a statement the 12th of August strongly advising any United States citizen currently in the country to “leave Afghanistan immediately using available commercial flight options.”
Following a week-long offensive, routing the Afghan Security forces in various regions of the country along the way, the Taliban chose to wait outside the city, hoping for a “peaceful transfer of the city,” according to Suhail Shaheen, talking to the English branch of Al-Jazeera. Pressed further, he affirmed the intent of the Taliban to secure an unconditional surrender of power by central government officials.
Helicopters flew to nearby embassies, and armored SUVs left nearby posts as the militant group then also took over the nearby city of Jalalabad.
In the days that followed, President Biden rebuked criticism in a speech lasting just under 30 minutes, and asserted the pullout was a success, stating further that this was the end of the times in which the United States uses military force to “remake other countries.”
Going on, he said “When I hear we could have, should have continued the so-called low-grade effort in Afghanistan, at low risk to our service members, at low cost, I don’t think enough people understand how much we’ve asked of the 1 percent of this country who put that uniform on.”
This speech came just days after an apparent suicide bomber attacked the Abbey Gate of the Kabul airport, killing 11 U.S. Marines, a Navy Corpsman, along with injuring a thirteenth service member, whose branch of service is at present unknown, who succumbed to his injuries later.
Representing the first attack on U.S. forces since a “green-on-blue” insider attack (a term used by NATO to denote an attack on NATO or Coalition service members by Afghan Security forces) back in February 2020, this attack also killed upwards of 70 civilians, 28 of whom were Taliban members. Taliban later told Al-Jazeera that the attacks were perpetrated by ISIL, who also committed another bombing nearby at a hotel, as well as a affiliated gunman firing upon crowds and service members after the bombing, who was reported to be an ISIS member by a ranking official on the scene, Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie Jr., with ISIS themselves later claiming responsibility for the attack.
Speaking that night, President Biden insisted the United States will seek retribution for the attacks, saying “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,”
Ironically, the United States may have help in that regard from the Taliban themselves, and this has some form of precedent in the form of the Doha Agreement. Signed early last year, establishing conditions for U.S. withdrawal from the area, namely that the Taliban must prevent al-Qaeda from operating in the area. In addition, the Taliban and ISIS, and its offshoots, have had major conflict in the past, with a relationship resembling more that of enemies than allies.
In reaction, several members on both sides of the aisle expressed their ire at President Bidens’ handling of the withdrawal, with a former CIA Director comparing it to President John F. Kennedys’ handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion, as well as several prominent Republicans calling for the resignation or impeachment of President Biden, including former ambassador Nikki Haley, Senator Josh Hawley and Representative Ronny Jackson, among others.
Democrats were none too pleased, either, with Senator Mark Kelly from Arizona criticizing a perceived lack of preparedness for a situation in which the Afghan government and military forces were reticent to fight the Taliban. Being more liberal with the blame, Senator Jack Reed, chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said that former President Donald Trump was also to share in the blame, citing the deal he cut last year with the Taliban, the Doha Agreement mentioned previously. Not one to stop there, however, Senator Reed also laid blame at the feet of the President saying it was “failures of intelligence, diplomacy and a lack of imagination as we transitioned military forces from the country.”
In the time to come, we can only guess at possible permutations of what could happen next.