Freedom's Sentinel - 2015-2021
Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) ended on December 31, 2014 and transitioned to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) on January 1, 2015. US forces carried out two complementary missions under the military operation known as OFS: counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda, its affiliates, and ISIL-K in Afghanistan; and support for NATO’s Resolute Support capacity-building effort.
On 29 February 2020 Donald J. Trump committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel. Known as the Doha agreement, it required the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners to withdraw all military forces by 01 May 2021. Trump’s go it alone, rush to the exits mentality, led to a deal where the Taliban emerged as the key benefactor. The United States, its allies and partners, won very little from the Trump deal.
The entire international presence that had been the foundation in Afghanistan for almost two decades, would be gone by May 1st. In exchange, the Taliban agreed not to attack the United States or it allies and promised not to allow “other individuals or groups, including al Qaeda to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” The only really verifiable condition of this Trump agreement was that the Taliban would not attack the United States or its allies. The remaining conditions were unenforceable promises and very difficult to certify.
A United Nations report from fall 2020 concluded that the relationship between al Qaeda and the Taliban had not been substantively changed by the February 2020 agreement between the Taliban and the United States. The UN Assessment noted alarmingly that “al Qaeda has been operating covertly in Afghanistan while still maintaining close relations with the Taliban” and that the group is in their words: “quietly gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under their protection.”
As former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani noted, “Allowing the Taliban to refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate, even in parentheses, allows them to build the narrative that they forced the U.S. to negotiate an exit from Afghanistan just as the mujahideen [fighters] had forced the Soviets out. If the administration is eager to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, it would have done better to announce a no-deal exit than allowing the Taliban such a huge propaganda victory.”
Additionally, the deal was completed exclusively between the Trump Administration and the Taliban. There was no involvement of the Afghan Government, reversing the long standing position of the United States, which prioritized an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process.”
Further, there was no visible involvement of the NATO allies who went into Afghanistan after the US was attacked on September 11th, 2001 — when Article 5 of the NATO charter was invoked for the first time. As the Afghan Study Group noted, a group led by General Dunford and former Senator Ayotte, “Our NATO allies in particular have been steadfast in their support and have shared the sacrifice; over a thousand coalition troops have been killed since 2001.” The Trump administration negotiated their exit without their say.
Without logistical capability, without a tactically capable army, with few exceptions, the ability of the government of Afghanistan and military of Afghanistan to resist the Taliban was highly questionable. The Americans were never able to change the “checkpoint mentality” of the Afghan forces. Their focus on static positions, as much for appearance as for tactical advantage, persisted, making them extremely vulnerable to a more agile Taliban. Moreover, two decades later, the Afghan forces still had no organic logistical capabilities. An assessment by the Department of Defense from June 2020 noted, “all components of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, will… continue to rely over the long term on contracted logistic support, and on the United States for the vast majority of the funding needed to sustain combat operations.”
Biden said 08 July 2021 "the United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States.... We went for two reasons: one, to bring Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, as I said at the time. The second reason was to eliminate al Qaeda’s capacity to deal with more attacks on the United States from that territory. We accomplished both of those objectives — period.... That job had been over for some time. ... We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country."
Biden argued that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was not inevitable since " the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable.... I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more more competent in terms of conducting war.... There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy ... of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable. "
By September 11, 2021, the United States would have completed its withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. Simultaneously, the government evacuated thousands of Afghan visa applicants whose lives are at risk because of the work they did for American forces fighting the Taliban.
David Sedney, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia and former president of the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, said the Taliban takeover was "eminently avoidable."
"But the United States made a number of huge blunders," Sedney said, adding that " the most important blunder of all" was President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw the small number of US troops that were still in Afghanistan. Sedney said that by September 11, when the US finalizes its troop withdrawal, the Taliban and al-Qaida will be "back in Kabul. Back where we started 20 years ago."
"The US should have stayed there until it had achieved its objectives of preventing Afghanistan from being returned to a base of terrorism. But the US, as it has in many other places, has failed," he said. "We are writing the end to a sad chapter of 20 years of futile American efforts," Sedney said. "I was part of those, and I know we made many mistakes. But the biggest share of the blame goes to President Biden for making this decision."
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs when the surge in Afghanistan took place under then US President Barack Obama, noted the US and allies "underestimated impact of what a corrupt government does" and believes endemic corruption under Afghanistan's two presidents of the last twenty years, Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, explains why Afghans felt more ripped off by their leaders than willing to fight to defend the country.
Afghanistan was undermined by profound corruption. The Afghan Study Group assessed that corruption has “delegitimized the existing government and created grievances that are exploited by the Taliban to gain support and at times, legitimacy.” Corruption is a national security concern that further erodes the ability of the government to build faith and trust.
A crucial factor contributing immensely to the Taliban’s success had been the inability of the United States to eliminate the sanctuary the Taliban was granted in Pakistan. Center for Strategic and International Studies terrorism expert Seth Jones wrote in 2018, “The Taliban[’s]…sanctuary in Pakistan and state support from organizations like [Inter-Services Intelligence or] ISI have been essential to their war effort, and the U.S. failure to undermine this safe haven may be Washington’s most significant mistake” of the war. As the Afghan Study Group notes, these “sanctuaries are essential to the viability of the insurgency.”
Additionally, Pakistan’s ISI aided and abetted the Taliban while opportunistically cooperating with the United States. As Brookings scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown assessed in 2018, “Pakistan provided direct military and intelligence aid… resulting in the deaths of U.S. soldiers, Afghan security personnel, and civilians, plus significant destabilization of Afghanistan.” This support to the Taliban runs counter to Pakistani cooperation with the United States, including allowing the use of air space and other infrastructure for which the United States provided significant funding. As the Afghan Study Group noted, “Pakistan has played both sides of the field.”
More time would not create a government that could defeat the Taliban and effectively govern Afghanistan. As the old Afghan saying goes: “you have all the watches; we have all the time.” Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN noted to lawmakers 15 Auguest 2021, no amount of billions spent can convince someone to fight for their country. “You can’t buy willpower,” he said.
Richard N. Haass wrote that Biden's "claim that human rights are at the center (and not the periphery) of US foreign policy & his decisions in Afghanistan. Either he should have done more there or should stop asserting principles we are unable or unwilling to make good on.”
Ronald Neumann, the former US ambassador to Afghanistan, said: “There’s a difference between the Biden decision to leave, and the Biden execution of the decision. The decision to leave is arguably justifiable. The execution of that decision is a lamentable disaster.”
Former US President Donald Trump said in a statement that it was time for the incumbent US president, Joe Biden, to resign, "for what he has allowed to happen in Afghanistan, along with the tremendous surge in COVID, the Border catastrophe, the destruction of energy Independence, and our crippled economy." Trump said "What Joe Biden has done with Afghanistan is legendary. It will go down as one of the greatest defeats in American history!"
The reaction of Martin Jacques, the author of When China Rules the World, writing the Global Times was typical "The US is confronted with a historic defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban. America's longest war, which began in 2001, is ending in complete humiliation. The Taliban has captured the countryside, every major city and now Kabul has effectively fallen. This is Saigon in 1975 all over again, except the US withdrawal from Vietnam took place in 1972 and its puppet government managed to survive another three years. America's puppet government in Kabul has fallen only four months after the announcement in April that the US would withdraw.... America is now widely seen as a superpower in rapid decline, a pale shadow of what it once was. Its defeat in Afghanistan will have major implications across the world; It brings into question the competence of its political and military leadership, its willingness to engage in further military entanglements, and its reliability and commitment as an ally."
The Pentagon authorised an additional 1,000 troops to help with the evacuation from Kabul, a US official said on 15 August 201, bringing the total number of troops expected in Afghanistan temporarily to 6,000. The additional 1,000 troops would come from the 82nd Airborne Division, which had already been on standby.
Three Afghan citizens were killed 16 August 2021 after falling off a United States C-17 transport aircraft as it took off from the Hamid Karzai Airport. They were among the dozens of Afghan citizens who hung on to the aircraft as it was about to take off from the runway. A swarm of people ran along with the aircraft that was about to take off. However, they fell down as soon as the aircraft took off and the landing gear retracted.
High-resolution satellite footage captured chaotic scenes at Kabul International Airport, with thousands of people trying to reach the country's only exit gate, while others entered the runways to board Western evacuation planes. The satellite images from the American company Maxar Technologie, were captured on Monday, August 16, at 10:36 local time. The military flights, temporarily interrupted on Monday, August 16, due to a security incident, were resumed. Large groups of people, however, continue to storm the entrance gates to the airport and climbed the concrete walls, which are even 20 meters high, to reach the aerodrome. A massive traffic jam can be seen outside the facility, as well as scores of people roaming the tarmac. Armored vehicles can be seen next to the runway, although nothing resembling a security cordon is visible.
A majority of Americans disapproved of Biden's handling of Afghanistan - 48% of Democrats disapprove of the president’s handling of Afghanistan, while almost 40 percent of those polled gave him positive marks. Nearly 89 percent of Republicans disapprove of the job Biden is doing when it comes to Afghanistan, with only 7 percent saying they approve. A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows support for Biden's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is falling rapidly, with nearly half of Americans saying the withdrawal should probably stop if the Taliban regain control of the country. Now, 49 percent of registered voters support the withdrawal, down from 69 percent in April. While Republican support fell from 52 percent to 38 percent, Democratic support also dropped from 84 percent to 69 percent. Still, just 37 percent of voters said they disapprove of the withdrawalwith 45 percent adding they believe the U.S. should probably not or definitely not withdraw if the Taliban regains control of most of Afghanistan.
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