As a former Pentagon spokesman for four years during the Afghanistan War, I always knew this day could come. Yet the haunting images from Kabul are worse than imagined.
American helicopters evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, eerily reminiscent of the fall of Saigon in 1975. Six hundred and forty Afghans packed into a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo bay escaping Kabul. People falling off the plane mid-air while it ascended over the city.
While there are many lessons learned from Afghanistan’s collapse, here are my top 5:
U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan wasn’t unreasonable, but the execution was a disaster
After 20 years, over 2,400 U.S. military deaths and a couple trillion dollars, it’s hard to argue staying years longer would have fixed Afghanistan. Presidents Obama, Trump and Biden all pledged to end the war. Yet the end came without any realistic planning to avoid disaster. Bagram Airfield should never have been abandoned, and Kabul Airport should have been secured until the last Americans and authorized Afghans departed. Locally launched drones and fighter aircraft could have kept the Taliban back, while boots on the ground could have secured the airport perimeter for a safer and more dignified exit. It should have come during the frigid, snowy winter, not peak fighting season just to meet a political timeline before the 20th 9/11 anniversary.
Afghan National Defense Force was 300,000 strong on paper only
Though U.S. taxpayers spent over $80 billion to train the Afghan military, most of their ranks were in it for a meager paycheck under terrible circumstances. Afghan Special Forces fought hard, but lacked proper logistics, internal air support, ammunition, etc. Twenty-two commandos were executed in the street by the Taliban in June near the Tajikistan border after they surrendered because they ran out of ammo and were left without air support. Hundreds of Afghan troops and police were also being killed by the Taliban each month for years, totaling 66,000. The endless grind wore them down. Most eventually chose flight over fight.
Cultural appropriation at the barrel of a gun
While cultural appropriation at home can get Americans “canceled,” U.S. administrations forced Afghans to “appropriate” our current culture. Though well-intention, they jammed gender study seminars and related scholarships, LGBT rights, etc. on a poverty-stricken, devout Islamic and patriarchal society of 38 million with a 40% literacy rate. Under U.S. protection, an Afghan law mandated the parliament consist of 20% women, based solely on gender. Can anyone imagine if the roles were reversed and a weak Taliban-installed government ruled America for 20 years? Does anyone think once the enforcers withdrew there wouldn’t be a revolt against unpopular foreign cultural norms imposed on our country?
The coming wave of Afghan refugees underscores urgency in education reform
Afghan interpreters, other U.S. government workers and immediate families ought to be vetted for Special Immigrant Visas or resettled to allied countries. The main questions so far are how many and where they’ll be sent. Yet we ought to ask how to stop the anti-American, racist indoctrination that’s taking over our education system and radiating outwards like a societal cancer. Otherwise, radicalization of vulnerable refugee populations will worsen and we’ll see more jihad-inspired terrorist attacks such as those seen in the Boulder supermarket — 10 killed; Orlando Pulse Nightclub – 49 killed; Boston Marathon — 3 killed, 260 wounded; San Bernardino – 14 killed; Chattanooga Navy Reserve and Marine Recruiters – 5 killed. We must defeat critical race theory, block foreign funding to our universities like China’s recent $1 billion and go after their tens of billions in tax free endowments.
Democrats were ruthless against Trump Team, nonchalant towards Taliban
Ironically, some high profile Democrats worked overtime to frame President Trump and his associates as Russian agents who stole the 2016 election, while barely paying attention to the Taliban — despite it murdering thousands of Americans. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told a Congressional committee in 2017 that he briefed media like CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox about Trump-Russia connections — smears eventually debunked as a “collusion hoax” only after derailing a presidency and harming innocent people. Victoria Nuland, an Under Secretary of State, told the Senate about a secret briefing by ex-British spy Christopher Steele at the State Dept. to peddle his now discredited dossier. Jen Psaki, White House spokeswoman, insinuated wrongdoing by Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his 2016 encounters with Russia’s ambassador, without mentioning her own encounter with Russia’s foreign minister in 2014. At least Sessions didn’t wear a furry pink Soviet-era hat with a hammer and sickle logo.
Despite all these awful lessons, U.S. and NATO veterans who served in Afghanistan should be proud. For 20 years, we avoided another 9/11, thanks to them. Though my post-9/11 deployment was to the jungles of the southern Philippines in early 2002 with Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) to help stop the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group, we deeply admired our friends on the front lines battling Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The nation owes them much gratitude.
J.D. Gordon is a former National Security & Foreign Policy Advisor to Republican leaders Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and Herman Cain. Previously, he served as a Pentagon spokesman during the George W. Bush Administration and is a retired Navy Commander.