The Fall of Kabul….in Six Points

The latest fall of that city and it’s sort-of-nation. A good read from Jonathan Schroden at War on the Rocks, details the six factors that led to the fall of the Ghani regime, laid out by the May 2022 Interim Report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Bookend excerpts below, but I recommend the full read for anyone who is interested in the topic….or who has trafficked in political narratives for partisan gamesmanship.

The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on Aug. 15 of last year cemented the complete collapse of Afghanistan’s security forces, which the United States and its partners built over twenty years at a cost of nearly $90 billion. Last week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction placed primary blame for that collapse on the shoulders of the United States, saying that the “single most important factor” behind it “was the U.S. decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan through signing the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020 under [President Donald Trump], followed by President [Joe] Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April 2021.”

This finding aligns with views espoused by some U.S. military leaders, such as the former commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie. He similarly traced the collapse of Afghanistan’s security forces to the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement. But this runs squarely against statements by Biden, who placed the blame on Afghan security forces themselves, saying, “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”


This report — and others that will follow, such as those from the Afghanistan War Commission — have the ability to drive that accountability. But to do that effectively, their framing is critical. The special inspector general and his team deserve credit for the work that went into this report. But its identification of the U.S. withdrawal decision as the “single most important factor” behind the Afghan security forces’ collapse enables the blame for that disaster to be placed singularly on Trump and Biden instead of forcing us to grapple with the more complicated reality that a whole web of people and institutions were responsible.

The answer to “who is to blame” for what happened with Afghanistan’s security forces is complex. Framing six factors as equally important avoids oversimplifying that complexity and is more likely to enable the type of accountability we really need: not just of presidents, but of critical leaders and institutions at all levels. As the special inspector general concludes, “Unless the U.S. government understands and accounts for what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how it went wrong in Afghanistan, it will likely repeat the same mistakes in the next conflict.” On that at least, the special inspector general is absolutely correct.

5 thoughts on “The Fall of Kabul….in Six Points

  1. If you’re a betting man, then I would advise you to bet on the fact that the US will never learn anything from any of its mistakes, ever. We don’t do learning things in America; never have.

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    • Absolutely. But there’s still utility in AAR’ing our misadventures. By and large, we’ll continue to engage in foreign policy disasters, but there’s an outside chance that future senior leaders take away some lessons learned.

      And at least the Pol/Mil wonks have something to read.

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    • I certainly agree with you on that point and it’s comforting to be able to look back into the archives and point to an AAR that warned about the folly of such n’ such that no one read before we dived off the board into an empty pool. Here’s what I find interesting — that when the deer in the headlights phase passes, as it must, the deer is always long retired and no longer accountable to anyone.

      I haven’t read the SIGUR documents. There are two reasons for this. First, I have no way to distinguish between IG brilliance and bullshit. Second, my confidence in the integrity of the U.S. government is a negative integer. But here is something I’ll bet you will never find in any of these reports vis-à-vis AFG: The Saudis were, and remain behind the unpleasantness in Pakistan, the entire novella, from 9/11 to the civil war in Syria, to the fiasco in Benghazi, and the creation of ISIS. IMO, we were fighting the wrong people. Alfie Afghan never harmed the United States. We might fix the Middle East once and for all by nuking Mecca during Ramadan and making it look like China did it. But in order for us to be able to pull off a clandestine operation like that, we’ll probably need five or ten kids from Mrs. Murphy’s kindergarten class.

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      • I love the deer analogy, very apt!

        I’ve come to trust the SIGAR reports, possibly because they’ve been consistently scathing in their analysis of all things AFG.

        Of the lack of Saudi indictment, I agree. It’s amazing that we’ve been so cucked to KSA for so many years.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think the IG went far enough on that report. Oh, to be sure it’s a concise synopsis of the military effort… and indeed the overall “fault” or failure rides with the U.S. But I think what is lacking in reports like this is the lack of exploration into what kept the war funded through Congress. Sure, it’s easy to just blame the M-IC donating PAC money to keep the war going so the blood profits keep flowing.. but that ain’t it at all. Nor is it some conspiratorial effort on the part of the MSM. Congress responds to pressure and given we (still) live in a democratic republic they need votes to stay in office. PAC money doesn’t assure enough votes to win (although no question money can make a difference). Pretty much it’s what the public feels in the moment. Our experience in Afghanistan is the poster child for mission creep.. like it was in Vietnam If that 90 billion is the magic number on what was spent over there.. then to me the question is more about the impetus for Congress to have approved all that money through the years. In other words.. why is it do we never hear from some “inspector general” report BEFORE some conflict meets its disastrous end so we can try and remedy the issues?

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