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'Utterly disastrous cut-and-run': What the US media has to say about Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan

Conservative media as well as left-leaning critics in the US have taken aim at the abruptness of the US withdrawal.
Updated 16 Aug, 2021 09:36pm

Long before the official withdrawal date of the United States from Afghanistan, August 31, the Taliban sit in the presidential palace in Kabul following their rapid advances in rest of the country, effectively now in control after being ousted by US forces in 2001.

Conservative media as well as left-leaning critics in the US have taken aim at the abruptness of the US withdrawal announced by President Joe Biden and what they call poor execution of the end to a 20-year war which cost the country $2 trillion and nearly 2,500 US lives.

Republican rivals predictably attacked Biden but he also faced the most critical coverage of his presidency, with television networks juxtaposing images of Afghanistan's collapse with his remarks a little more than a month ago that “the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely".

Here, Dawn.com has rounded up some of the articles published in US media regarding Biden, Afghanistan and what this 'debacle' could mean for his legacy.

Opinion: Disaster in Afghanistan will follow us home

The New York Times

"Biden’s heedlessness, on the cusp of a sweeping Taliban blitzkrieg that on Sunday saw them enter Kabul, will define his administration’s first great fiasco. It won’t matter that he is carrying through on the shambolic withdrawal agreement negotiated last year by the Trump administration, with the eager support of Trump’s isolationist base, and through the diplomatic efforts of Trump’s lickspittle secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

This is happening on Biden’s watch, at Biden’s insistence, against the advice of his senior military advisers and with Biden’s firm assurance to the American people that what has just come to pass wouldn’t come to pass. Past presidents might have had a senior adviser resign in the wake of such a debacle, as Les Aspin, then the secretary of defense, did after the 1993 Black Hawk Down episode in Somalia.

This time, Biden owns the moment. He also owns the consequences. We should begin to anticipate them now."

Opinion: Twenty years of Afghanistan mistakes, but this preventable disaster is on Biden

Washington Post

"The words that Biden uses to describe the delta variant — a 'largely preventable tragedy that will get worse before it gets better' — apply to his handling of Afghanistan. Former defense secretary Robert Gates once said that Biden 'has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades'. He has certainly been calamitously, tragically, wrong about Afghanistan.

Biden cannot claim ignorance of what was to come. He was amply warned by the US intelligence community. I am no seer (and goodness knows, like Biden, I have been wrong about plenty), but immediately upon hearing of Biden’s withdrawal plan I wrote a column whose headline was: “Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal could be the first step to a Taliban takeover.

The only thing I did not anticipate — no one did — was how rapidly the unraveling would occur. Even last Monday, the US military was warning that it would be 30 to 90 days before Kabul fell. Now, six days later, it has fallen, and Biden will spend the rest of his presidency grappling with the tragic consequences of this preventable disaster."

Analysis: Biden's botched Afghan exit is a disaster at home and abroad long in the making

CNN

"Biden now finds himself carrying the political can for two decades of the missteps of others — after adding his own errors. He will be accused of rushing the US exit to create a favorable political narrative as the President who got US troops home before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in 2001 — plotted by al Qaeda from Afghanistan — and ahead of next year's midterm congressional elections.

At the same time, Biden was doing exactly what most Americans, exhausted by long years of foreign quagmires and confused as to why US troops were still in Afghanistan 20 years after 9/11, wanted. There was no national support for escalating the war. To check the Taliban advance, the President would have had to deploy thousands more US troops and to wage new combat without public support. That and his own long-term skepticism about the war left his own withdrawal decision almost inevitable. But the strength of the Taliban advance caught the White House flat footed.

Try as Secretary of State Antony Blinken did on Sunday talk shows, there is no way to spin events of the last few days as anything but a domestic political, and geopolitical, wreck."

Opinion: Biden’s Afghan withdrawal achieved nothing but disaster

Bloomberg

"A poorly planned, deadline-driven withdrawal — which was rapidly leaving Afghan forces without the close air support that could rescue them in extremis, the contractors that kept their air force flying, the logistical support that kept their units supplied, and the psychological backstop of having America behind them — denied the government a reasonable chance to adjust.

There’s also a larger point that advocates of withdrawal are missing: What has happened in the last few weeks shows just how valuable the US deployment in Afghanistan was. At a regrettable but, from a strategic perspective, manageable cost in money and US lives — fewer than 25 deaths per year since 2015, and steadily declining over time — that deployment was the critical factor preventing a long, grinding conflict from turning into the nightmare that is unfolding today. Given the price of removing US troops from Afghanistan, perhaps keeping them there would have been a relative bargain."

Editorial: This Afghan rout is entirely on Joe Biden

New York Post

"The White House can pretend that diplomacy might somehow save the Afghan government, but its real sentiments rest in President Biden’s words while campaigning last year, when he said he’d have 'zero responsibility' for what happened after he pulled US troops out.

We didn’t disagree with Biden’s move to remove the last US ground forces, just as Donald Trump promised as well when he was in office. That’s plainly what most Americans wanted, too. Afghanistan had become an endless war.

But any pullout had to have a plan. Not an utterly disastrous cut-and-run, with virtually no provision for the Afghans who worked with us all these years."

This 2008 file photo shows Afghan President Hamid Karzai talk with then-US senator Joe Biden during a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. — AFP
This 2008 file photo shows Afghan President Hamid Karzai talk with then-US senator Joe Biden during a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. — AFP

Analysis: How America failed in Afghanistan

The New Yorker

"The pathway of the collapse was predicted and predictable. This has happened in Afghan political and military history a couple of times before. But there was a speed and momentum of people recalculating where their interests lay, and switching sides, and capitulating without violence that I don’t think the Biden Administration had expected when it announced its timetable in the spring.

The counter-argument to the Biden Administration’s policy is not going to be forever war and the defeat of the Taliban; it is going to be a critique of the haste with which it pulled the plug on what was not a large deployment, and one that was not incurring a lot of casualties."

Opinion: Afghan lives ruined or lost will be part of Biden’s legacy

Washington Post

"Mr Biden surveys the impending disaster and absolves himself of any responsibility. It’s up to Afghan leaders, he said Tuesday, to come together. 'They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.'

The truth is they had been fighting, but the United States trained them to do it with support from US advisers and contractors. Suddenly this support is gone. The Biden administration says it will take care of people who worked directly for the United States and face the most danger of Taliban violence and reprisal. This is the right thing to do. In a real sense, though, this country assumed at least partial responsibility for all Afghans. Leaving them now means walking away from that responsibility. Afghan lives ruined or lost will belong to Mr Biden’s legacy just as surely as any US dollars and lives his decision may save."

Opinion: Biden could have stopped the Taliban. He chose not to.

The New York Times

"Both the US and Afghan governments are now scrambling to mitigate the effects of Mr Biden’s specific decisions. Amid the chaos, there is an important lesson to be learned: Whether announced by tweet or speech, decisions made without concrete plans or robust implementation strategies are wrong — regardless of which president or party spearheads them.

Afghans are paying the price of Mr Biden’s decision today as the Taliban seizes cities, assassinates officials and begins reimposing its oppressive ideology on a people who have long fought to be free of it.

The United States will likely also continue to pay for its actions in Afghanistan. There’s a real danger that militant groups will reconstitute themselves and once again pose a significant threat to the American homeland. With America’s allies left in the lurch, prospective partners will think twice before offering up their support in future conflicts.

They know that this is not how a global leader acts. And most important, so do we."

Opinion: The debacle in Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal

"Many Afghan troops are fighting bravely, but they lack the air support that has been their main military advantage. Mr Biden blundered in withdrawing all US air power from the country, including private contractors who assist the Afghan air force in maintaining helicopters and planes. The contractors are now literally having to assist via Zoom calls, while the US military flies too few sorties from the Persian Gulf region to slow the Taliban.

The White House has failed to understand what’s happening, with leaks saying the Administration is surprised by the Taliban assault. Surprised? The military warned Mr Biden and so did US intelligence. The Taliban began this offensive on May 1, two weeks after Mr Biden announced his withdrawal, aiming for the symbolic date of Sept. 11."

Opinion: Withdrawing from Afghanistan makes sense, but Biden's execution is a disaster

USA Today

"As a combat veteran, President Biden’s disastrous withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan alarms me.

Withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan is not wrong – it’s long overdue. In 2014, after 13 years, we ended our combat mission. It should have ended years earlier, after we defeated the Taliban elements that harbored those responsible for 9/11.

After years of arrogant nation-building efforts, President Trump’s 2020 ceasefire agreement with the Taliban finally set the right course. We’ve lost thousands of American lives and spent nearly $200 billion helping the Afghan government build an army to defend their country against the Taliban. Now is the time for the Afghan army to do just that."

This 2011 file photo shows then-US vice president Joe Biden speak with US soldiers at a US base in Afghanistan's Maidan Shar Wardak province. — AFP
This 2011 file photo shows then-US vice president Joe Biden speak with US soldiers at a US base in Afghanistan's Maidan Shar Wardak province. — AFP

Opinion: Biden's stain: US flees Kabul

Axios

"It's a stunning failure for the West, and embarrassment for Biden. And it's a traumatic turn for US veterans who sacrificed in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, the 20,000+ wounded in action, and survivors of the more than 2,300 US military personnel who were killed.

Richard Fontaine, head of the Center for a New American Security and former foreign policy adviser to Senator John McCain, told Axios: 'It's striking that, with 20 years to think it over, the United States withdrew its forces without a plan for the aftermath.'

Analysis: As the Taliban gains ground in Afghanistan, this is Biden's cold-eyed judgment of American interests

CNN

"History doesn't always repeat itself. Those who warn a Taliban return will eventually threaten the US could be drawing the wrong lessons. Terror groups that seek to attack the US could base themselves in any number of failed states. And can the President justify committing more lives to a failure that seeds blame through four presidential administrations? US and allied forces won the Afghan war in weeks in 2001 — then spent the next 19 years losing the peace.

'These things happened, they were glorious and they changed the world,' Wilson is quoted as saying at the end of the Hanks movie Charlie Wilson's War, in a reference to the Soviet defeat that seems prophetic today. 'Then we f**ked up the endgame.'"

Analysis: Biden administration scrambled as its orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan unraveled

Washington Post

"The urgency bordering on panic laid bare how the president’s strategy for ending the 20-year US military effort — leaving Afghan forces to hold off the Taliban for months as negotiators redoubled efforts to hammer out a peace deal — has undergone a rapid dismantling.

The lightning collapse is rooted in misplaced assumptions — including a failure to account for how the US departure would catalyze a crisis of confidence in Afghan leaders and security forces, enabling the Taliban blitz — from the moment Biden announced the withdrawal this spring. It is equally the product of two decades of miscalculations about transforming Afghanistan and overly optimistic assessments of progress that have plagued the war from its start."

Editorial: A rescue plan for Afghanistan

The Wall Street Journal

"What an awful, tragic irony. President Biden in April chose Sept. 11 as the deadline for US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. Now it’s possible that, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban that once protected Osama bin Laden and that the US ousted from power could again rule in Kabul.

Mr Biden would like to absolve himself of responsibility for this looming defeat, but he cannot. He could have withdrawn US forces in a careful way based on conditions and a plan to shore up Afghan forces or midwife an alliance between regional tribal warlords and the government in Kabul. The President did none of that.

Instead his mid-April decision to withdraw, on the eve of the summer fighting season, triggered the May 1 start of the Taliban offensive. The rapid withdrawal timetable meant US forces would be preoccupied with that task rather than assisting Afghan forces. His decision to abandon multiple military bases, and withdraw all air power, has denied the Afghan army crucial support it relied on."

Analysis: Taliban sweep in Afghanistan follows years of US miscalculations

The New York Times

"To critics of the decision, the president underestimated the importance of even a modest presence, and the execution of the withdrawal made the problem far worse.

“We set them up for failure,” said David H. Petraeus, the retired general who commanded the international forces in Afghanistan from 2010 until he was appointed CIA director the next year. Mr Biden’s team, he argued, 'did not recognize the risk incurred by the swift withdrawal' of intelligence and reconnaissance drones and close air support, as well as the withdrawal of thousands of contractors who kept the Afghan air force flying — all in the middle of a particularly intense fighting season.

The result was that Afghan forces on the ground would “fight for a few days, and then realize there are no reinforcements” on the way, he said. The 'psychological impact was devastating'."


The header image shows then-US vice president Joe Biden meeting US troops in Afghanistan's Maidan Wardak province on January 11, 2011. — Reuters