President Biden, who as of this writing has not publicly addressed the coup in Afghanistan, should be privately asking for resignations at CIA, the Department of State, and the DoD. His administration’s inept decisions destabilized the region, diminished America’s strategic influence, and created a mockery of the blood and treasure invested by the United States.
To be clear, nearly a trillion dollars of U.S. investment was wiped out in a week, as major cities under the defense of the Afghan National Army (ANA) fell to the Taliban with hardly a shot fired.
I served in Afghanistan as the company commander of the explosive ordnance disposal unit at Kandahar in 2004. During my time in Afghanistan, I worked with ANA soldiers frequently. The difficult truth is that many of them were undisciplined, lacking in leadership, and unreliable. While this was more than 15 years ago, attitude shifts like this are difficult to achieve, and cannot be bought with money or equipment. Afghan soldiers must be willing to fight for their own freedom. This weekend proved what I long suspected — that America was blindly arming and financing this army without metrics to ensure accountability, leadership, and an end game that left the ANA capable of defending their own country.
It is inconceivable that U.S. leadership was not prepared for this likely outcome of the transition — that the ANA would refuse to fight. Any company grade officer who experienced meaningful interaction with ANA soldiers understood that a refusal to fight in this scenario was a real possibility. Some, like me, thought that it would be the ANA’s most likely course of action. Amazingly, this reality was overlooked by senior U.S. officials, and, on Sunday. the scramble to shift blame was on.
Biden’s secretary of state tried to channel the Iraqi propagandist Baghdad Bob, describing the evacuation of his embassy as “orderly.” In reality, Americans were shuttled to the Kabul airport by helicopter, while others began destroying classified materials in the embassy. Document destruction is a prescribed procedure in desperate situations, and there is nothing “orderly” about destroying classified materials because your position is about to be overrun.
While Biden’s diplomats in Foggy Bottom were mischaracterizing this debacle, across the river at the Pentagon the secretary of defense was in full Monday morning quarterback mode. Lloyd Austin, who should have known the character of the ANA solders and leaders that we were dealing with, lamented the lack of ANA “willpower” while laying the blame for this catastrophe at their feet. It is a rare sight in America to see a former general officer proffer such a flaccid, defeatist attitude in the face of a military challenge. Secretary Austin projected an image of American weakness at a time when geopolitical enemies are looking for ways to undermine our influence in the world.
Back in D.C., the White House was silent during these most critical weekend hours — Biden was at the presidential retreat in the Maryland foothills as all of this was going down, unwilling to speak to the press or issue any statement to reassure the American people and our allies that he was in control of the situation. Because he wasn’t.
This leadership vacuum was not wasted by the enemy, as Taliban leaders seized the PR narrative — floating a new name for the country, declaring an end to the war in Afghanistan, and commenting on the security situation (or lack thereof) in Kabul. One fighter interviewed by an international journalist was held in Guantanamo Bay for eight years. These are the people getting air-time while American leaders offer pathetic excuses for a failed mission — the most important mission of their entire careers.
While Biden’s suits play 52-card pickup with American foreign policy, the clean-up crew will once again be young men and women from Middle America who made that solemn promise to “obey the orders of the president of the United States and the officers appointed over me.” Let’s demand those leaders be worthy of our soldiers’ sacrifice.
Benjamin Lyng lives in Castle Pines Village with his wife Michelle and their children. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal as explosive ordnance disposal company commander in Afghanistan.