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RFE/RL Gandhara

U.S. Policy Under Fire As Taliban Seizes Control In Afghanistan

By RFE/RL August 16, 2021

The sudden seizure of Kabul by Taliban militants after they made rapid advances across the country has triggered sharp criticism of the U.S. policy in Afghanistan, with Washington being held responsible for ultimately failing to build a democratic government capable of withstanding the insurgents despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and providing two decades of military support.

Leading figures in U.S. President Joe Biden's administration have acknowledged they were caught off guard with the utter speed of the collapse of Afghan security forces ahead of the planned U.S. military withdrawal by the beginning of September.

Biden, who is to make his first public comments on the fall of Kabul at 15:45 in Washington on August 16, has spent months downplaying the prospect of the Taliban taking control.

He now faces rising criticism, especially from Republicans in Congress, with critics saying that the United States' reputation as a global power had been badly tarnished.

Criticism has been pouring in from the international community as well, not least from Washington's allies who were involved in the NATO mission in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, whose military was for years involved in combat operations against the Taliban, said the West's intervention was a job only half-done. The former British Army officer maintained the 20-year intervention by U.S.-led forces "wasn't a waste," but he accused Western powers of being short-sighted in policy matters.

"If it's a failure, it's a failure of the international community to not realize that you don't fix things overnight," he told the BBC, citing "a failure to recognize that military might on its own" could not completely resolve the situation in Afghanistan.

"Half the mission on its own...was entirely successful," he said, pointing to the removal of the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the death of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, which he said made the world safer.

But "that doesn't mean that the next 20 years are going to be the same," Wallace added, echoing concerns about the impact of the hard-line group's resurgence on world security.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at an August 16 meeting with her CDU-CSU party leadership, said that NATO's decision to pull out after almost two decades of deployment was "ultimately made by the Americans," and that "domestic political reasons" were partly to blame. Germany must urgently evacuate up to 10,000 people from Afghanistan for whom it has responsibility, Merkel said.

CDU leader Armin Laschet, who is the party's candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor in September elections, called the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan the "biggest debacle" that NATO has suffered since its founding in 1949.

Meanwhile Russia, which unlike Western countries that scrambled to get their diplomats out of the country decided to keep its embassy in Kabul open, though on a reduced staffing level, said on August 16 that the situation in Kabul "is stabilizing."

Russia's Foreign Ministry in Moscow confirmed it had "established working contacts with representatives of the new authorities," while Ambassador to Kabul Dmitry Zhirnov is scheduled to meet with the Taliban on August 17.

The Kremlin has in recent years reached out to the Taliban and hosted its representatives in Moscow several times, most recently last month.

Much has changed in the two decades after the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban, and some analysts have expressed concern that gains in areas such as women's rights and the rights of the Hazaras minority group, will quickly disappear.

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview on NBC's Today show on August 16 that while the situation on the ground in Afghanistan deteriorated faster than anticipated, Biden is prepared to "marshal the international community" on human rights in Afghanistan.

"He cares passionately about these human rights questions, and we will stay focused on them in the period ahead," Sullivan said.

"But that was not a reason for the United States to enter a third decade of war in the middle of an internal conflict in another country," he added.

At home, Biden may feel even more heat as Republicans seize on the issue saying it raises security fears inside the United States.

"We are going to go back to a pre-9/11 state. A breeding ground for terrorism," Representative Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas) told CNN on August 15.

Former U.S. national-security adviser H.R. McMaster slammed his country's failure to realize the Taliban would swiftly take control of Afghanistan, calling it "willful ignorance."

A deal brokered by former President Donald Trump's administration in February 2020 weakened the Afghan government and security forces and strengthened the insurgents, said McMaster, who was sacked by Trump in March 2018.

"We stood idly by and we turned a blind eye. This was utterly predictable," he told Britain's Times Radio.

John Bolton, who replaced McMaster as national-security adviser before also being relieved from his post by Trump, said the U.S. troop withdrawal made the United States look like "suckers" in Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, the BBC, and AP


Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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