After 20 years of fighting, American military involvement in Afghanistan came to an end as the US Embassy in Afghanistan was abandoned, the American flag removed, and people mobbed the Kabul Airport in desperate attempts to flee. Despite the overwhelming advantages of the U.S.-trained and -maintained Afghan security forces, the Taliban resurged and prevailed. Šumit Ganguly, a professor and foreign policy expert at Indiana University, says while the collapse of both the elected government and the Afghan security forces within months of President Joe Biden’s decision to terminate American military involvement seems puzzling, three reasons explain the situation. First, Ganguly says, after routing the Taliban in 2001, the George W. Bush administration decided to invade Iraq in 2003, necessitating a significant drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan and enabling a weakened Taliban to regroup and reconstitute itself. Second, Ganguly says, the Bush administration failed to hold Pakistan to account, allowing the Taliban to find invaluable sanctuaries in Pakistan’s western borderlands and resurrect itself there. And third, Ganguly says, no American administration carefully scrutinized the activities of the Hamid Karzai or Ashraf Ghani regimes in Afghanistan, which were believed to be widely corrupt, inept and largely lacking in legitimacy. As long as the U.S. military were fighting alongside Afghan security forces and the US Air Force could deliver airstrikes on Taliban positions, Ganguly says, the fragile Afghanistan government could stagger along from month to month. The buckling of Afghan security forces in the face of the Taliban’s assaults and the Taliban’s return to power are not a surprise, Ganguly says, but rather, the result of a series of flawed choices that brought matters to a tragic pass.
Indiana University political scientist Abdulkader Sinno, a longtime researcher of Afghanistan’s conflicts, says that until its demise in mid-August 2021, the Afghan government in Kabul had some of the most corrupt state institutions on Earth. The regime established by the U.S. and its allies was profoundly dysfunctional, Sinno says, rampant with extortion and bribery. As a consequence, he says, the lives of Afghans have been profoundly affected. At least 100,000 Afghan civilians were killed or injured, many gravely wounded. Life expectancy in Afghanistan today is a mere 48 years. And the war has forced Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, deeper into poverty, Sinno says, while enriching drug barons and regime-linked warlords. Millions of Afghans are now displaced refugees who lack the basics for minimal survival. Those Afghans who took advantage of economic and educational opportunities made available by Western aid agencies and worked for foreign militaries and organizations are now some of the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan, as the Taliban may consider them to be traitors. The situation of women and girls also remains dire, Sinno says, especially in rural areas where not only did women and girls not receive quality aid or education, they also had to contend with extreme poverty, threats of violence and the insecurity of war. Ironically, Sinno says, after 20 years, the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan in a state very similar to when it invaded, with the Taliban in strict control. While it may be possible that resistance to Taliban rule will develop in Afghanistan, Sinno says, such civil war will only bring more exploitation, heart-wrenching poverty, death and suffering.