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Afghanistan: blow to the image of the United States 20 years after 9/11 and with the memory of Vietnam

When President Joe Biden announced months ago that “the time had come to end America’s longest war,” he set a more than symbolic date for the total withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan: September 11.

Just when 20 years have passed since the 2001 terrorist attack that unleashed the prolonged war in that country. It seemed like an auspicious idea to bring the soldiers home and stop spending billions of dollars on that conflict.

It didn’t seem so easy. At the time, some experts warned that the hasty withdrawal of US forces could generate a fierce advance by the Taliban on Afghan ground and even a rise in international terrorism.

Biden, however, went ahead with the withdrawal of troops And his strategy now unleashed an earthquake with unpredictable consequences: this Sunday everything returned to zero, with the Taliban entering the Afghan capital in triumph and taking the presidential palace, while the head of state fled the country and diplomats accelerated their departure.

With the image of helicopters rushing out of Kabul with US diplomats and citizens rushing out of a decades-long war, with thousands of victims and billions of dollars spent, the ghost of Vietnam began to fly over the United States.

Rajan Menon, professor of Political Science at the City College of New York and an expert on American International Security told Clarion that “the scenes of people who worked with the United States desperately crowding the airport They bring back memories of leaving Vietnam. “

“Building a stable (and ideally democratic) post-Taliban Afghanistan was a twenty-year, multi-billion dollar effort that has failed. The Taliban are in the driver’s seat today, ”he added.

Jacqueline L. Hazelton, professor of strategy and policy at the US Naval War College, told Clarion that “the current situation in Afghanistan returns to the point to which we were 20 years ago. The western effort to reform, liberalize and turn the country into a modern and centralized state will never be achieved. “

Hazelton added that “it is similar to Vietnam in that in both wars the United States had political goals for another government that they could never achieve. It is also similar in that the United States had good intentions that were really impossible to fulfill”.

Biden’s advisers asserted to The New York Times they were embarrassed by the rapid collapse of Afghan forces in the capital and the well-planned offensive of the Taliban. The Pentagon knew of the Taliban’s potential to defeat the Afghan army, but the military never imagined they would do so in just weeks.

The army

The training and supplies of the Afghan army, in which $ 83 billion have been invested since 2001, was clearly overestimated. “They have a trained air force,” something the Taliban don’t have, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday. “They have modern equipment, they have the benefit of having trained with us for 20 years, it is time that they use those advantages ”.

But it did not happen. With a feeling of abandonment by the US. and without clear Afghan leadership, they offered little resistance and failed to come up with a plan to defend the cities.

When Biden arrived at the White House in late January, he was already convinced of the total withdrawal, but in the Pentagon they tried to convince him to leave a small counterterrorism force on the ground for a few more years.

They pointed out that the Taliban had grown stronger during Donald Trump’s administration to the point that in two or three years Al Qaeda it could go back to base in Afghanistan. A panel of retired senior generals also publicly recommended that he not establish retirement dates but rather a withdrawal according to the situation on the ground.

Biden replied: How much can a small number of US troops do if Kabul was attacked? The president told his military advisers that he was convinced that it did not matter what the United States did because Afghanistan was headed for another civil war, a conflict the White House did not want to plunge into.

Expert Menon notes: “The president, rightly in my opinion, concluded that the objectives that could not be achieved after 20 years effort could not be achieved by staying a few more years. The political elite can criticize him, but I think his decision has broad public support. “

Hazelton adds another fact: “While the western war against the Taliban in Afghanistan was in vain in terms of its overall governance objective, it contributed to changes that they mean a lot to people “.

And it details: “The improvement of medical care and literacy and that Educated women helped other women flee violent families and to become leaders in government and civil spheres. These changes at the individual level, at the level of life for Afghans and their individual economies, are what make today’s events so much more bitter.

The fears

Karl Kaltenthaler, director of the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies at the University of Akron was not so pessimistic. “The 20 years war was not entirely in vain“, said to Clarion.

“While removing and keeping the Taliban from power was a goal of America’s military efforts, the primary goal was to protect the US and its allies from Al Qaeda terrorism “, Explain.

“​Al Qaeda was largely destroyed in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Of course, there is concern that al Qaeda may, once again, develop a growing presence in Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban that can threaten the national security of the United States, “he said.

Regarding how the crisis in Afghanistan could impact on Biden’s image, Kaltenthaler said: “The president faces great pressure politics for what seems like a shameful end to the US presence in Afghanistan. There will be many questions about what went wrong. Biden’s supporters will say this was inevitable and opponents will blame him. “

The expert highlights that the United States has not yet removed all its people from Afghanistan. “There are diplomats and others have not been able to leave. In fact, the United States is sending troops now to ensure that Americans are safely removed from the country. If Americans are taken hostage or killed by the Taliban, that will hurt Biden very badly. “

But one thing is for sure, he points out: “The images of US helicopters in Saigon and Kabul seem strikingly similar and they will politically persecute President Biden ”.

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