UH 60 Black Hawk helicopter
UH 60 Black Hawk helicopteriStock

International and even US critics have been lashing out at Joe Biden’s administration since hundreds of millions of people around the world saw images of Afghan citizens falling from a US plane that was scheduled to leave Kabul airport with more than 640 people on board who wanted to flee after the Taliban took control of the capital.

Most of this criticism focuses on the “management” of the US exit scene from Afghanistan. The Taliban’s rapid control of the capital, Kabul, spoiled US plans for an orderly and timely exit (prior to the anniversary of 9/11), when the departure of the last US soldier was supposed to be a celebratory occasion from the White House’s perspective.

But things did not go as planned and turned into a full-blown crisis that President Biden’s team had to deal with. The US does not deny knowledge of possible Taliban control of Afghanistan. They claim it was central to their calculations.

President Biden does not want to stop or delay the movement’s advance into Afghan territory. That would have required sending more US troops into Afghanistan. But he sought to focus on achieving important US national security objectives.

In fact, the US failed to assess the competence and professionalism of the Afghan army. They may have been the victims of a major deception in this regard, not only with respect to the performance of the Afghan army, but also with respect to their closest Afghan ally, the deposed President Ashraf Ghani.

He fled with remarkable speed and at a very sensitive time, and this was not expected by Washington, which believed that Taliban control of the government was a matter of time and that they would face some resistance and fighting from the Afghan army.

But that didn’t happen, reflecting a major failure of US intelligence and confirming that the Taliban arranged everything in advance on the basis of their full knowledge of Afghan affairs and past experience in government, aided, of course, by widespread corruption, bribery, multiple loyalties, or perhaps the absence of loyalties among Afghan leaders and officials.

The Washington Post reports on Taliban bribes to Afghan officials and soldiers since last year to turn in their weapons. These “deals” were made in the form of ceasefire agreements.

Within a year and a half, the Taliban managed to expand this system from residential areas to the level of regional authorities and administrative provinces. These bribes showed their results in the surrender of government forces so very quickly.

“Some just wanted the money,” the newspaper quoted an Afghan intelligence official as saying, but others sided with the Taliban after signing a deal between Washington and the movement in Doha. Many were certain that the Taliban would inevitably return to power and decided to secure a place on the “winning side.”

Everyone knew about the US withdrawal plan, then. But the problem that has marked US foreign policy lies in the mismanagement of the landscape, becoming the worst failure of US foreign policy in decades, according to many experts and analysts.

The scene of the great Kabul airport breakout was reminiscent of the 1975 withdrawal of US troops from Saigon in Vietnam, prompting leaders of the US Republican Party to question whether US intelligence agencies had misjudged the situation.

Was the president misled by his intelligence agencies, or did he know the truth about what was going to happen and mislead the American people? There is no doubt that Biden’s internal crisis could get much worse as the New York Times reports that US intelligence warned of an imminent collapse of the Afghan army.

Was the president misled by his intelligence agencies, or did he know the truth about what was going to happen and mislead the American people?
By July, Afghan intelligence reports had become pessimistic about the ability of Afghan security forces to counter Taliban advances and the government’s ability to maintain its authority and prevent the fall of Kabul, the newspaper reported, citing sources.

On July 8, President Biden downplayed the seriousness of the fall of the Afghan government, according to the newspaper. He also ruled out any “chaotic evacuation of Americans” from Afghanistan, as happened at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Such information could put the White House in a critical position in the coming period.

President Biden argues to his critics that the departure of US troops from Afghanistan was timely.

Speaking recently, he made several points, not all of which are about the interpretation or justification of the exit scenario, but rather about the reasons for the exit, which he said are essentially a matter of agreement between Democrats and Republicans. He said he did not regret the decision to withdraw the troops.

The goal of the US operation in Afghanistan was to prevent terrorist attacks on the country. Goal achieved. US troops must not die in a war that Afghan forces do not want to fight, he said.

He noted the surrender of the Afghan leadership, their flight and the collapse of the US-backed army that got “everything” it needed but lacked the will to win. Biden’s speech suggests that he is having trouble convincing his American critics that the withdrawal plan was done properly.

This puts him in the crosshairs of his rivals and opponents inside and outside the US. It is not about the enormous cost of the military intervention that ended in this manner. More than 2,300 US troops have been killed and more than 20,000 wounded in a two-decade war that ended with the sight of US planes stranded on the ground at Kabul airport.

But what reassures the White House is that the poll numbers continue to support the decision to withdraw US troops, regardless of the criticism that has accompanied the exit and Biden's personal popularity plummet.

Objectively, President Biden misread the final situation in Afghanistan. But this failure has continued for the past two decades.

Previous US administrations have been unable to assess the outcome of US intervention in Afghanistan on the basis of US strategic interests. Everyone chose to avoid the consequences of this decision until the bill for this intervention reached approximately $3 trillion, according to US reports. However, many analysts say that by now, the small US force in Afghanistan was able to maintain a situation where Afghans, especially women, had more civil rights, and American casualties were almost non-existent.

This is not just about Afghanistan, but about the position and status of the US in the existing world order. The repetition of such situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world is seen by some as an indication of the erosion of US global influence and the decline of its ability to remain the world’s only superpower. Such statements are no longer analytical assumptions.

There is evidence to consider, including the shaken confidence of US allies in their operational, intelligence and military capabilities.

“We were very confident that there were well-trained armed forces in Afghanistan, and just a few days ago I received reports from the Americans that they could defend Kabul for months,” said Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich International Security Conference, one of the largest international conferences discussing security policy.

“Everything has collapsed like a house of cards,” he added. It is a complete failure and a total defeat in the assessments of the military situation. It also reflects how much confidence in American capabilities has been shaken for its allies.

I think it goes beyond the Biden administration’s mistakes or the intelligence failure to assess the situation. That’s going to be the subject of extensive US study in the coming period. But what has happened is the most serious warning of the decline and erosion of American influence in the world.

Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.