Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
15 August 2021

The Afghan government’s collapse is a humiliation for the United States and Joe Biden

The US president’s insistence that the Taliban would not retake Afghanistan was disastrously complacent. 

By Ido Vock

Twenty years after a US-led invasion toppled Taliban rule, the militant group is once again in control of Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani appears on the brink of resigning and ceding power to a Taliban-led interim government as talks between the government and the group get underway. The collapse of the Afghan government follows days of stunning Taliban advances across the country, as city after city fell to the group, often facing little or no resistance from Afghanistan’s much larger US-trained army. Militants now encircle Kabul, though they have promised not to take the city by force.

The speed of the government’s collapse has exceeded all expectations. On 12 August, the US media cited an intelligence assessment that Kabul might fall within 90 days. In the event, it was closer to 90 hours.

On 8 July, US President Joe Biden, defending his policy of withdrawing all remaining troops from Afghanistan, said: “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

In the same remarks, Biden added: “The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.”

Images of a Chinook dual-rotor helicopter landing on the roof of the US embassy in Kabul, certain to be splashed across the front pages of the world media on Monday, have put paid to that confidence.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

The US, having not even completed its withdrawal, now faces questions about how its programme of arming and training the Afghan security forces of around 300,000 – which includes the Afghan army, Air Force and police – compared to just 80,000 Taliban fighters, resulted in resistance so weak that it defied even the most pessimistic intelligence assessments. The US has spent about $88bn training the Afghan security forces over two decades.

Content from our partners
The cost-of-living crisis is hitting small businesses – Liz Truss must act
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs

The Biden administration will also be asked whether the withdrawal of a historically low number of troops – only around 3,500, which is down from a peak of around 110,000 in 2011 – was worth the collapse of the Afghan state. US allies which had been in Afghanistan will question whether they were right to follow America’s lead and withdraw their troops too.

Millions of Afghans now find themselves living under Taliban rule. They now face the unenviable prospect of discovering for themselves whether the group’s recent propaganda, which asserts that it has changed on issues such as women’s rights, reflects reality.

Many will not wait to find out. They will flee, making a refugee crisis likely. A report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, released earlier this month, found that 900,000 Afghans had been displaced by the war in the country – a number which is likely to have grown significantly following the Taliban’s lightning advance. Many will require humanitarian aid within Afghanistan; some will flee abroad, to the neighbouring countries of Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics. Some may attempt to get to Europe.

Biden had long promised an end to America’s “forever war”. Few, even mere days ago, expected the US presence in Afghanistan to end quite so ignominiously.

[See also: The Supreme Court ruling ushers in a new era of American darkness – New Statesman]