In this picture taken on Aug. 1, 2021, Afghan National Army commando forces walk along a road amid ongoing fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces in the Enjil district of Herat province. (Hoshang Hashimi – AFP / Getty Images)
By C. Douglas Golden August 17, 2021 at 3:26pm
On July 8, President Joe Biden was asked by a reporter at a media briefing whether he thought it was inevitable that the Taliban would take over Afghanistan once American troops withdrew.
“No, it is not,” he said, according to a White House transcript.
“Because you — 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,” he added. “It is not inevitable.”
He went on to say he trusted “the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and … more competent in terms of conducting war” and “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
A little more than one month after that, the Taliban overran everything and now owns the whole country.
What’s so sad is that, no matter how well-trained or well-equipped the Afghan military was, or how much money we spent making sure they had that advantage, a decision made by the Biden administration to quickly withdraw all U.S. air power from the country, including private contractors, likely doomed the Afghan military to failure at the hands of the Taliban.
“Afghan government forces could lose the single most important military advantage they have over the Taliban — air power — when private contractors and U.S. troops leave the country in coming weeks,” NBC News reported in June.
“The Afghan security forces rely heavily on U.S.-funded contractors to repair and maintain their fleet of aircraft and armored vehicles and a whole array of other equipment. But the roughly 18,000 contractors are due to depart within weeks, along with most of the U.S. military contingent, as part of Washington’s agreement with the Taliban to withdraw all ‘foreign’ troops.”
“Without the contractors’ help, Afghan forces will no longer be able to keep dozens of fighter planes, cargo aircraft, U.S.-made helicopters and drones flying for more than a few more months, according to military experts and a recent Defense Department inspector general’s report.”
Is Joe Biden responsible for the loss of Afghanistan?
As The Wall Street Journal noted in a Saturday report, the Afghan military was molded by the United States in its image.
“The U.S. military, the world’s most advanced, relies heavily on combining ground operations with air power, using aircraft to resupply outposts, strike targets, ferry the wounded, and collect reconnaissance and intelligence,” the report said.
“In the wake of President Biden’s withdrawal decision, the U.S. pulled its air support, intelligence and contractors servicing Afghanistan’s planes and helicopters. That meant the Afghan military simply couldn’t operate anymore.”
“The same happened with another failed American effort, the South Vietnamese army in the 1970s, said retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, who commanded the U.S.-led coalition’s mission to train Afghan forces in 2011-2013,” the report continued.
“There is always a tendency to use the model you know, which is your own model,” Gen. Bolger told the Journal.
“When you build an army like that, and it’s meant to be a partner with a sophisticated force like the Americans, you can’t pull the Americans out all of a sudden, because then they lose the day-to-day assistance that they need.”
Without the close air support, the Afghan military was missing a key component.
“We’re talking about the more or less grounding of the Afghan air force,” Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told NBC News.
Bowman, a former Army officer, Black Hawk helicopter pilot and Afghanistan veteran, said air power was the decisive factor in the Afghan military’s edge over the Taliban.
“If we don’t help them maintain those aircraft, then the Afghan security forces will be deprived of that advantage, and that could have a decisive impact on the battlefield and ultimately on the state of the Afghan government,” he said.
What’s worse, the U.S. government encouraged the Afghan government to replace Russian helicopters with American-made ones.
“Although the Afghan security forces depend on U.S.-funded contractors to repair most of their gear, the Afghans do not require U.S. help to maintain their Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters,” NBC News reported.
“U.S. government officials and Congress encouraged the Kabul government to replace the Russian choppers with U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and Little Bird MD-530 helicopters, but the Afghans still fly a significant number of Russian helicopters.”
“In the absence of contract maintenance support, within some number of months you will have an Afghan air force that has pretty significantly reduced capability — i.e., you can’t fly — and an Afghan army that can’t move,” Jonathan Schroden, special operations program director for the Center for Naval Analyses, told the outlet.
Sadly, Politico reported last Friday, the Afghan air force wasn’t at full strength at the end, even though it was flying some bombing missions.
“But there is only so much a relative handful of propeller-driven planes and aging attack helicopters with few spare parts can accomplish, and the air force has struggled to respond to the multiple battles raging across the country,” the outlet reported.
“The poor performance of the Afghan air force has in turn spurred ground troops to flee, said a former senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan who wished to remain anonymous.”
“They realized after fighting two to three days, being hit in various locations all around the country, that the Afghan air force would not deliver reinforcements, resupplies, air medevac, or close air support,” the ex-commander said.
“I warned of this months ago, especially when we withdrew our maintenance contractors who kept the sophisticated U.S.-provided systems operational.”
But Joe Biden wasn’t listening. Now, Afghanistan belongs to the Taliban — and that’s thanks to small, stupid decisions that had a very big impact.