President Biden’s Afghanistan exit ended with another national humiliation, with perhaps yet more on the way.
After promising less than two weeks ago to stay until every American had been evacuated, Biden left with roughly 200 American citizens still in Afghanistan, according to the administration’s own accounting.
We will learn more in the days ahead about the number and who these Americans are. Secretary of State Antony Blinken portrayed them as largely dual citizens conflicted about whether to leave, whereas Clarissa Ward of CNN reported, for instance, on a Texas family that was blocked by the Taliban from getting to the airport over the last two weeks.
After disastrously underestimating the gathering Taliban offensive and drawing down troops before getting out civilians and diplomats, the administration allowed itself to get bottled up at the Kabul airport, dependent on the Taliban for security. Rather than acting to restore our leverage, by retaking Bagram Air Base or another airfield, the White House rushed to bug out by the August 31 deadline that the Taliban insisted on.
The sheer number of evacuees — more than 115,000 — is impressive, but so long as Americans who wanted to get out were left behind, the operation is shamefully incomplete. Indeed, leaving Americans behind is a low point in the nation’s diplomatic and military history, and a rank failure of the most basic obligation of a government to take care of its own.
There hasn’t been any official estimate of how many green-card holders we also abandoned, and vulnerable Afghan allies still in the country number in the tens of thousands. Media reports suggest that the Taliban, which went out of their way to block these Afghans from getting to the airport, are already hunting them down. Many Afghans who trusted our staying power and word — and their families — will meet gruesome ends.
The administration says that it will continue to work to get Americans, legal permanent residents, and our Afghan allies out. Perhaps the Taliban will abide by their promises to allow free passage of those wanting to leave, but this isn’t a gamble we should be taking, and presumably no officials in the administration would want to take it with their own lives or those of their families.
Even if the Taliban play nice, they will surely seek to extract diplomatic and financial concessions from a quasi-hostage situation. And whatever leverage we had the day before yesterday is now vastly diminished.
Administration officials talk about our sway over the Taliban as if they hadn’t just won the war and forced us into a hasty, ignominious exit. It is bizarre that weeks into this crisis, no U.S. official has spoken harshly of the Taliban. Instead, it’s all hopefulness about the group turning over a new leaf. Blinken noted the Taliban’s commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base, even though the Taliban have been in violation of their commitment to separate from al-Qaeda since the time they made it. Special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted that “Afghans face a moment of decision & opportunity” and “their country’s future is in their hands” — a perverse way to describe a people who have just fallen into the grips of remorseless killers and totalitarians.
It didn’t have to be this way. Biden could have maintained a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan that kept the Taliban from taking over the country (they hadn’t even captured Kandahar as of about three weeks ago), or, failing that, he could have fashioned a minimally competent withdrawal that didn’t put us at the mercy of the Taliban. He did neither. He took an unsatisfactory stalemate and made it a complete rout. He botched our exit, materially harmed our national security, precipitated a humanitarian catastrophe, and betrayed our countrymen and allies.
He has not only made us less safe, he has dishonored us, and that can never be forgotten or forgiven.