As the Taliban close in on Kabul, newspapers in the United States are drawing parallels with the failure of the war in Vietnam and the fall of Saigon in 1975. They blame President Joe Biden for a poorly prepared exit from Afghanistan.*
Six months, three months, one month. In less than a week, as Afghan cities fell into the hands of the Taliban, American national security experts, both civilian and military, revised their scenarios multiple times. The fall of the capital Kabul was considered one possibility among many. It now appears almost unavoidable and for some, it is only a question of days.*
As if to confirm matters, on Thursday, Aug. 12, the Pentagon announced the return of 3,000 soldiers to Kabul to reinforce the 650 troops who are still present. This was not done to defend the Afghan capital and the government of elected President Ashraf Ghani, but instead to organize the departure of U.S. nationals from the country, some of the United States’ diplomatic personnel (There are 1,400 Americans at the embassy alone) and the families of local collaborators.
According to The New York Times, American emissaries are negotiating with Afghan Islamists to spare the American embassy when they move into the capital city.*
The Specter of Saigon
Inevitably, newspapers in the United States have conjured up the specter of the fall of Saigon to the Vietnamese Communists in 1975 and the evacuation of the Americans in absolute chaos. The same newspapers are not sparing Joe Biden, a target for the most acerbic criticism since he entered the White House.
The American president did not wish to question the agreement reached in February 2020 between the Trump administration and the Taliban. That agreement allowed the United States to begin withdrawing its troops after 20 years of war — its longest — shielded from the threat of any Islamist ambush.
By setting the date of Aug. 31 for the departure of the last American soldier, Biden has effectively given the signal for the Taliban offensive. Faced with the rout of the Afghan army and scattered resistance from warlords, Biden called on Tuesday, Aug. 10 for the Afghan leaders to “come together” in the face of the fundamentalists: “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
“The truth is they have been fighting, but the United States trained them to do it with support from U.S. advisers and contractors. Suddenly this support is gone,” The Washington Post argued in an Aug. 12 editorial the scathing headline: “Afghan lives ruined or lost will be part of Biden’s legacy.”
’A Huge Disaster’
In a commentary published in The New York Times, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute was also harshly critical, saying, that with “more time and better preparation … Biden could have stopped the Taliban. He chose not to.”
In Congress, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell drove the nail in, declaring that “Afghanistan is heading toward a massive, predictable and avoidable catastrophe,” letting himself off the hook a little too easily, as he led this high chamber, this temple of foreign policy, for a decade. Biden’s failure is, before him, the failure of the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations.
*Editor’s note: The Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan on Monday, Aug. 16, forcing the full evacuation of American personnel and others from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.