Afghanistan withdrawal, 1 year later: Taliban takeover of Kabul that President Biden never saw coming

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A year ago today, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban swept into the Afghan capital of Kabul following the collapse of the country’s elected government. The last member of the U.S. military left 15 days later, capping almost 20 tumultuous years of American involvement in the central Asian country. 

It started after the Taliban harbored al Qaeda and its leader Usama bin Laden – the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The withdrawal, meanwhile, fulfilled President Biden’s announcement in April last year that all American forces and personnel would leave Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Having recaptured territories throughout Afghanistan, the Taliban’s re-taking of Kabul was rapid and, according to many observers, not surprising.

“It was entirely predictable that the Taliban would take control of the country after the U.S. withdrew, despite claims from U.S. officials to the contrary,” Bill Roggio, an Afghanistan expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Fox News Digital. “I stated publicly in the spring that the Afghan government would be lucky to make it past the summer. I studied the Taliban’s pattern of military operations and how it exploited the Afghan government and military’s weaknesses. Without U.S. support, collapse was inevitable.” 

TALIBAN TAKE OVER AFGHANISTAN: WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT’S NEXT

Taliban fighters take control of the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, Aug. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi, File)

Roggio, editor of the acclaimed Long War Journal, recently published maps showing just how quickly the Taliban moved in and took over the country following Biden’s announcement.

“I believe that the U.S. could have withdrawn from Afghanistan and left a viable Afghan government behind, even if it wasn’t able to have governed the entire country.” Roggio added. “The withdrawal, as executed by the Biden administration, completely pulled the rug out from the Afghan government and military.”  

He said Afghan decision makers never believed the U.S. would leave with such haste.

“The U.S. needed to execute a slow withdrawal and help the Afghan military develop the capabilities to support itself over time,” Roggio said. “The Afghan government would have had to have made hard choices, like abandoning the defense of the south and much of the east. Biden’s withdrawal never gave the Afghan government and military a fighting chance.” 

In his speech announcing the withdrawal plans, Biden said he’d inherited the Trump administration’s withdrawal deal, but despite some reservations, he said he would honor it.

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“It is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself, but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something,” Biden said. “So, in keeping with that agreement and with our national interests, the United States will begin our final withdrawal – begin it on May 1 of this year.” 

Biden, who, it seems, didn’t foresee the August collapse of the Afghan government as a result of the American withdrawal, pledged: “We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately and safely. And we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners, who now have more forces in Afghanistan than we do.”  

President Joe Biden speaks from the White House on April 14, 2021, about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden speaks from the White House on April 14, 2021, about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Yet, for some Afghans, it was not the Biden administration that alone should be blamed for the Taliban’s return to power.

“I feel we were thrown to the Taliban by U.S.A. Why? Why?” asked former Afghanistan special forces commando Amiri Khan, who used a pseudonym to protect his identity.

He was also critical of the deal negotiated by President Trump and his Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who was responsible for negotiating the withdrawal terms with the Taliban. 

“I was not shocked with the collapse of the regime, but I was angry with the U.S.A. for such a bad endgame with the allies in Afghanistan,” the commando, who fought alongside United States special forces against the Taliban, told Fox News Digital. He added that he believed the plan was always to hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban. 

“We did not surrender,” added Khan, who, when word spread of the Taliban taking over Kabul, says he was at his base in Kunar in the east of the country. “I’m now in a neighboring country and, if needed, I may rejoin resistance against this insane Taliban regime.” 

20,000 AFGHAN COMMANDOS LEFT BEHIND, LAWMAKERS AND VETERANS URGE BIDEN TO RESCUE THEM

National security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking at last month’s Aspen Security Forum, said watching the images of the withdrawal were “painful” and “difficult.” 

“One year later, I think the president feels that the decision that he made was the right decision for the American people and the right decision for how we can position ourselves to be the best and most effective contributor to the global public good across a range of issues involving a range of geographies,” Sullivan said.

Less clear are the prospects for those Afghans who had worked with the U.S. on the ground during the hasty withdrawal.

Afghan National Army soldiers perform a live firing exercise at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

Afghan National Army soldiers perform a live firing exercise at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

Another former Afghan special forces commando told Fox News Digital that he also felt let down by the Americans. Withholding his name for security reasons, he described his reaction upon hearing the Taliban had entered Kabul while he was at the Presidential Palace.

“Seeing the panic on the face of every government official – everyone was in the state of shock,” he said, explaining the news broke for him at around 1 p.m. He said he called a friend who told him the Taliban were in the capital. 

“Personally I was ready to defend and fight till the last bullet and breath,” the commando continued. “But my colleagues told me not to fight because we [had been] left abandoned by our leaders and the United States, and [we had] no other way but to surrender.”

The commando and a few colleagues took some steps to see if resistance was being mounted but discovered nothing.

“Somehow, we regrouped in a particular location near the ministry of defense,” he said. “We called all the generals and seniors, but no one answered our phone calls. We left our armored vehicle and guns on the roadside and went underground to take cover. Personally, I was hiding in some other place for a long time, until I got some assurance to come out.” He added jarringly: “In my opinion the United States has lost the moral [high ground] here.” 

US ALLIES STILL WAITING TO LEAVE AFGHANISTAN ONE YEAR AFTER BOTCHED WITHDRAWAL

Veteran Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai, who has covered Afghanistan since 1994, said what transpired was inevitable, explaining he had written about a Taliban takeover as far back as 2006. 

“The Taliban takeover has been a huge setback for my life and career,” he explained. “Kabul was my favorite city. I just bought a piece of land to build a house but, with the return of the Taliban, it will never happen in my life.” 

Yousafzai, who works with Western media outlets, told Fox News Digital he tweeted 14 days before the Taliban entered Kabul that the Islamist group would take over before the 9/11 anniversary. He added that he was forced to take it down as Afghans got angry with him, saying his post would demoralize Afghan forces. Now, he says, the Taliban have taken Afghanistan backward. 

“I wish I could be hopeful for Afghans, but I’m not,” he lamented. “The Taliban’s strict policies have turned the country and people of my country to a humanitarian disaster. People can’t feed their kids.” 

The 15 days following the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul were chaotic as American forces effected their evacuation. Some observers likened it to the fall of Saigon at the close of the Vietnam War. In the days that followed the Taliban takeover, thousands fled the country, with many left behind to fend for themselves in Kabul. 

Commenting on the chaos that followed, a senior Republican congressional staffer told Fox News Digital, “Biden set a political deadline that had nothing to do with facts on the ground in Afghanistan, and he turned what should have been a careful battlefield withdrawal into a generational military catastrophe.” 

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Speaking on background, the senior Republican congressional staffer noted how America’s adversaries interpreted the precipitous withdrawal overseen by Biden.

“There’s a direct line from his decision [on withdrawing from Afghanistan], to the wars and terrorism we’re seeing today – from Russian aggression in Ukraine, to China’s maneuvers against Taiwan, to Iran’s assassins flooding into the U.S.,” the staffer told Fox News Digital. “Administration officials don’t even try to deny that when they talk to the Hill. Some have even admitted it in testimony.” 

For the FDD’s Bill Roggio, President Biden’s decision was a disastrous one that came at a very high cost. “The manner that the withdrawal was executed was immoral and indefensible. Biden abandoned a major non-NATO ally that fought at our side for 20 years. The Afghans were cast aside without a thought and thrown under the bus in the process.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.