20 years of missteps in Afghanistan Reuters through

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Military troopers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 discipline artillery, fireplace a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar ahead fireplace base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Idrees Ali, Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – America’s longest battle is nearing its finish, with a loss to the enemy it defeated in Afghanistan almost 20 years in the past, shock that the federal government and army it supported collapsed so shortly and chaotic eleventh-hour evacuation operations.

And now, the twentieth anniversary of the Sept. 11 assaults on New York and Washington will likely be marked with the Taliban again in energy.

“This hasn’t been a 20-year battle. It’s been one-year wars fought 20 occasions,” mentioned a U.S. army official to convey the frustration with short-term considering, a number of missteps and a scarcity of consistency over 4 administrations.

Interviews with almost a dozen present and former U.S. officers and consultants highlighted the failures that crippled U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan that noticed Washington spend greater than $1 trillion and greater than 2,400 American service members and tens of hundreds of Afghans die, lots of them civilians.

Two Republican and two Democratic administrations struggled to combat corruption and human rights abuses even whereas acquiescing to a lot of them as they sought to nurture democracy and rule of regulation, construct a robust Afghan army and maintain war-weary People engaged.

They promoted a robust central authorities in a rustic the place for hundreds of years the tribes loved native autonomy. Their drug eradication packages additional antagonized folks within the Taliban’s rural strongholds who depend on opium poppy cultivation to outlive.

Intelligence shortcomings additionally weighed, together with final week when U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration anticipated it could take just a few months for the Taliban to enter Kabul. They took only a few days.

There have been some plain successes.

America and its companions helped enhance numerous lives in one of many world’s poorest nations, advancing the rights of ladies and ladies, supporting unbiased media, and constructing faculties, hospitals and roads.

All of that’s now underneath menace.


President George W. Bush declared a “battle on terror” and toppled the Taliban authorities in Kabul who had hosted al Qaeda militants chargeable for the 2001 hijacked aircraft assaults. The technique labored. For some time. The Taliban had been routed and al Qaeda despatched fleeing.

However former officers and consultants mentioned that as a substitute of working to safe Afghanistan in opposition to a resurgence of the Taliban, the Bush administration diverted sources, personnel and time to invading Iraq on the misguided declare that Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian authorities had illicit weapons of mass destruction packages.

“America did grow to be distracted by the battle in Iraq for a number of years,” mentioned Lisa Curtis, a former CIA analyst and regional skilled who served within the Bush and Trump presidencies and now could be a senior fellow on the Middle for a New American Safety.

“It was the suitable factor to do to overthrow the Taliban … Sadly, shortly after we routed the Taliban, then extra consideration started going towards the battle in Iraq,” Curtis mentioned.

Present and former officers say the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq left its Afghanistan technique adrift.

“Had been we really making an attempt to assist construct and reform this nation (Afghanistan) or are we simply making an attempt to get out?” mentioned Jonathan Schroden, an skilled on the CNA coverage institute, who served as an adviser to U.S. Central Command.

When President Barack Obama got here into workplace in 2009, the blended messaging continued.

He was seeking to cut back U.S. forces in Afghanistan however agreed to a surge in a bid to strain the Taliban into peace talks. In a speech at West Level in November 2009, he mentioned he would ship an extra 30,000 troops, however added that “after 18 months, our troops will start to return residence.”

In looking for to placate his home viewers, Obama successfully instructed the Taliban that they might wait out america.


As a presidential nominee, Obama referred to as Afghanistan the “good battle,” contrasting it with the army catastrophe in Iraq.

U.S. troop ranges swelled to over 90,000 by 2010, as did the funding.

Within the determined and fixed want for a steady authorities, america labored with Afghans who had affect however had been enmeshed in corruption and human rights abuses.

Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador who served as deputy U.N. consultant for Afghanistan, mentioned U.S. counter-insurgency doctrine burdened the necessity for a “native associate.”

That led america, the United Nations, and different nations to legitimize successive Afghan governments, successfully accepting pervasive corruption whilst they promoted anti-corruption efforts.

That coverage, he mentioned, is illustrated by the blessings Washington, different nations, and the United Nations conferred on the 2009, 2014 and 2019 presidential elections regardless of realizing of huge fraud and different irregularities.

“We do not have the instrument equipment to root out endemic corruption in societies,” a former senior authorities official instructed Reuters, on situation of anonymity.

Corruption contaminated the Afghan army as nicely, for which america allotted $88 billion over 20 years.

For instance, america by no means absolutely overcame the issue of “ghost troopers,” non-existent troops listed on rosters by crooked commanders who took their pay.

So whereas the Afghan safety forces have 300,000 troops on paper, the precise quantity is far decrease. A 2016 report by a U.S. authorities watchdog discovered that in Helmand province alone, about 40 to 50 p.c of the safety forces didn’t exist.


Present and former U.S. officers say that the Taliban wouldn’t have received had successive U.S. administrations acted to finish the sanctuary and different assist that Pakistan and its Inter-Companies Intelligence (ISI) company gave the insurgents.

“With out Pakistan, the Taliban would merely be a nuisance,” mentioned Christine Truthful, a Georgetown College skilled on the Pakistani army. “They’d not be a reliable combating power.”

Islamabad repeatedly has denied backing the Taliban as a part of what consultants say is a technique to safe an allied authorities in Afghanistan to blunt India’s affect.


President Donald Trump got here into workplace in 2017 pledging to finish what he referred to as “ridiculous infinite wars.”

Partly, Trump’s calculus was that People merely didn’t care sufficient about Afghanistan to spend billions of {dollars} yearly as American troops died.

It led to a take care of the Taliban in February 2020 for a whole withdrawal of U.S. troops if the insurgents met sure circumstances. The Afghan authorities was lower out of the talks.

John Bolton, a veteran of the Bush and Trump presidencies, instructed Reuters that the settlement was Trump’s greatest blunder and that Biden ought to have re-evaluated it.

Biden, nonetheless, proceeded with a whole withdrawal in opposition to the recommendation of U.S. army leaders and with out checking out a backlog of particular visa functions from Afghans in danger as a result of they labored for the U.S. authorities, resulting in a chaotic evacuation operation.

He had grown skeptical of the army effort in Afghanistan after a 2009 journey to Kabul that satisfied him that america was trapped in an unwinnable battle.

A U.S. official instructed Reuters on situation of anonymity that inside polling confirmed that the majority People supported a withdrawal, making Biden comfy in his determination.

An Ipsos ballot in April confirmed {that a} majority of People supported Biden.

What stays unclear is how People will view Biden’s determination after TV photographs of U.S. army helicopters evacuating the U.S. embassy and Afghans swarming the airport, determined to depart.

Biden insisted Kabul can be no repeat of the notorious U.S. evacuation from Saigon in 1975.

“There’s going to be no circumstance the place you see folks being lifted off the roof of an embassy of america in Afghanistan,” Biden mentioned in July.