WTF is going on with Afghanistan?

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WTF is going on with Afghanistan?
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Hillari Lombard breaks down the situation in Afghanistan. What happened, how we got here, what it means for the US, Afghanistan, and the world. She also responds to listener questions and answers the questions you want to know, but might be afraid to ask!

Episode Links are available below

Hey guys, welcome to moderate party, a political podcast for moderate centrists and independence. I’m your host, HillarI Lombard. And today we’re going to be talking about the only thing that anybody is talking about Afghanistan today’s episode is going to be a little bit different than normal. I’m going to spend the first half of the episode breaking down the current situation in Afghanistan and what led us there. And the second half of the episode is going to be spent answering listener questions. You guys had a lot of great questions on this topic, so I’m going to be just knocking out a couple of.

I’m not an expert on Afghanistan and I don’t pretend to be all. I can give you the facts as I understand them and the opinions that those facts inform. However, I am making a special effort on this episode to include even more links than usual to reporting studies, essays, primary sources, and I mean, anything else that helped inform this episode, those links will be posted on moderateparty podcast.com/episodes. Just click on the link for this episode and you can check them all out. I highly encourage you to read through them and come to your own conclusions about the situation. All right, let’s get started.

Afghanistan shot to the top of the news cycle. Last week, after the Taliban roared through the country, ultimately seizing the capital and contributing to former Afghan president Ashraf, Ghani, abandoning his people and fleeing the country, which effectively surrendered Afghanistan to the Taliban. All of this happened in 10 days, 10 days.

That’s all that it took to undo 20 years of us military. Ain’t that a kick in the teeth to make matters worse yesterday, a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport killed 13 us servicemen. It’s a lot to unpack and it’s hard to keep things straight. So I just thought that today’s episode could be dedicated to sorting it out, uh, in order to understand the situation that we’re in now. I think it’s really important to understand how we got here. So let’s do a quick, dirty and digestible recap of recent history.

Okay. The Afghanistan saga begins on one of the worst days in American history a day. I like many of you will never forget September.

 

Within a matter of weeks, we knew our enemies name Al-Qaeda and we knew that the Taliban were the ones that had harbored them. After that President Bush introduced the American people to a new type of war.

Our initial efforts in Afghanistan were incredibly successful. And within a couple of months we had established a new government and the Taliban were running. At that point, we were confident enough to say.

That was 19 years ago and we’re still there. So what the hell happened? Well, in 2003, our military attention had been completely diverted to Iraq. We declare an end to major combat operations in Afghanistan. We begin an era of nation building. What follows is a honeymoon period for democracy in Afghanistan.

They get a new president, a new constitution, and a lot of us. But unfortunately by 2006, the honeymoon is over the Taliban’s resurfacing. We’re seeing more and more collateral killings and our allies are losing energy for the war on terror

So, unfortunately, five years after we announced an end to major combat missions, President Obama takes office and recommit to the war effort doubling down on nationbuilding

there’s a lot of buzz for the shift in U S strategy. The U S feels shiny and new. The Obama administration has a new strategy for ending the war. They switch up military leadership. They stabilized Pakistan and Afghanistan, and they bring the total troop presence to a hundred thousand people after years of surging and 10 years after 9/11, Obama finally delivers the news that our nation has been waiting for.

But that’s not what happens in 2016. Trump takes office and reverses course on Afghanis.

That’s a casual list, right? Like that shouldn’t be hard knocking out those things. No big deal. We just actually needed a coach to come in with some tough love and tell us how to win. I’m obviously kidding. And in fairness to Trump, if you listen to that speech, I’ve linked in the episode notes, it’s actually not a bad speech.

He says a lot of good things. He talks about how we can begin to hate Muslim people within our own country. Just because of what’s going on in Afghanistan. He talks about how this is not going to be a quick process. He talks about how we can go back in time and make better decisions. I mean, he says a lot of good stuff.

The problem is that when it comes to Afghanistan, Pretty words are not enough, especially not if we’ve heard them all before.

Okay. Trump mixes up our approach and we dropped the most powerful non-nuclear bomb that we have have on ISIS militants in Afghanistan. We literally call this thing. The mother of all bombs. After that cobbled, the capital of Afghanistan experienced a suicide bombings on a scale, never seen before.

And the Taliban surge Soon, they control their contest more than a third of the country. They carry out a bold series of attacks and Kobul the kill more than 115 people amid a broader upsurge in violence. And the attacks come as the Trump administration is implementing that plan and deploying troops to rural Afghanistan.

They’re advising Afghan brigades and launching airstrikes against opium labs, all trying to decimate the Taliban’s military resources and their finance. But it’s not working. We are now 16 years into a war and things are escalating all over again which brings us to 2020 in February of 2020. The U S makes a terrible mistake. The Trump administration signs a peace deal with the Taliban. It is a doozy. As far as bad deals go. This is as bad as blockbuster choosing not to buy Netflix when they had the chance. Here’s how it breaks down. The Taliban says that they will release 1000 prisoners and they said that they would not protect.

Al-Queda awesome. And they agree to participate in peace talks with the Afghan government. Okay. Not bad. Well, it is bad if you consider that the us in return is going to give up a lot more. The deal laid out an explicit timetable for the United States and NATO to pull their forces. Exactly what Trump said he would not do in the first a hundred days or so.

We agreed to reduce our troops from 14,000 to 8,600 and leave five military bases over the next nine months. We say that we’re going to evacuate the rest. In addition to withdrawing our troops and the troops of our allies. We also say that we’re going to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners,

uh, which came as a real shock to the Afghan government. The people that were holding those prisoners and the people that had not been included in these peace talks. But anyway, the terms of this deal are terrible. The us agreed to give something for nothing, but it gets worse intelligence indicated time and time again, that the Taliban were not holding up their end of the bargain They backed out of peace talks with the Afghan government, which was the condition of the agreement

the Taliban pulling out of peace talks was a shock to no one because president Trump took away their need to negotiate. Trump’s former defense secretary, mark Esper accused Trump of undermining the agree. By repeatedly urging the U S troops to leave, even though the Taliban wasn’t meeting the terms of the negotiated agreement. Trump actively sabotage the peace talks by repeatedly tweeting his intention to withdraw all troops by May 1st, if you’re the Taliban and you know that the us is going to withdraw no matter what you do, why would you negotiate? Why would you be on your best behavior if you’re already getting what you want, but we ignored that.

We ignored that they weren’t holding up their end of the bargain and we kept their fighters. Anyway! We kept releasing their fighters and sending our soldiers home. And this is an important point because we knew, we knew that they weren’t holding their end of the bargain and we kept withdrawing.

Anyway, why would we do that? Because it wasn’t a peace agreement. It was a surrender. We were surrendering Afghanistan to the Taliban.

here’s a quote from Trump’s former national security advisor, HR McMaster. “Our secretary of state,” Mike Pompeo at the time,” has signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban. This collapsed goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves. That’s the ugly truth of this deal.

It never mattered if they held up their end of the agreement because we weren’t negotiating peace. We were surrendering. We were leaving no matter what, but America doesn’t surrender. That’s the dark side of American exceptionalism. We don’t surrender. We don’t lose. It would be political suicide to say that that’s what we were doing, even though it was the truth.

So instead we sign a lopsided deal with no intention of following through and try to. As a victory for diplomacy instead of a military surrender.

I want to take it quick sidebar here, because this is something that has left a really bad taste in my mouth. As we look at how the Biden administration is handling things in Afghanistan. Currently, the media is so obsessed with framing this around America’s defeat or our humiliation. Like the most important thing about the situation is whether we won or lost.

I just can’t understand how that could be, what you want to write about or what you want to talk about or how you could see that our victory or our defeat, our humiliation, or our pride as the most important thing in this situation. And I mean, it’s everywhere. Like if you think about that clip, I just shared with you of Trump.

He’s talking about victory. He’s saying that the American people are weary of war without victory, not weary of war, but we’re tired of not winning. That’s disgusting. And I mean, now with everything happening in Afghanistan, you see it all over the news, all over Twitter podcasts and even in conversations.

And I’m hearing this from a lot of people that I respect people. I trust people. I listen to smart people, kind, people, people, I like.

If you’re watching scared people literally try to hold on to the wheel of an airplane because they want to get out of this country so badly. If you’re reading about women, unsure about whether or not they can be seen in public, if you’re watching that. And your biggest takeaway is that is the humiliation of the United States of America.

Then you’re missing. Man you are really, you’re really missing it.

And I hate that. Okay. I’m sorry. That was, that was a little rant, but I needed to get it off of my chest. So history lesson.

okay. So Trump signs the worst deal since blockbuster and Netflix. And I think an important piece of context for that agreement. Is that it happened in the midst of, of Trump’s downward spiral on Coronavirus. Think about it. He’s up for reelection. He needs an accomplishment to be able to talk about and being the first president to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, to bring peace in the middle east.

That’s the accomplishment. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. And if you think I’m being too harsh, consider this when everything started going south with Afghanistan. The GOP actually removed the page on their website, that praised Trump’s agreement. Do you think that they would do that if the deal was good?

So when president Biden takes office, he doesn’t really have a lot of good options. At this point, we have less than 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is more powerful than they’ve been in decades, frankly, we’re outnumbered Trump’s peace agreement released twice as many Taliban fighters. Us soldiers in the country, not to mention how many fighters they recruited over the last few years.

And now president Biden is staring down the barrel of a hard choice. He has to choose to send more troops and escalate the war with the Taliban, committing us to potentially another decade of war or move forward with our withdrawal. He chose withdrawal, which brings us to this month U S troops began to withdraw. The Taliban started surging. They were stomping across Afghanistan at unprecedented speed this is one of those blistering facts about our withdrawal.

Is that everything we had tried to build for 20 years just collapsed 20 years of intervention, support funding, military. It didn’t make a difference. It only took 10 days for Afghanistan to fall,

which raises the obvious question. How did this all fall apart so quickly? Well, it honestly wasn’t that sturdy to begin with. The us spent the bulk of the last 20 years nation building largely from scratch the U S backed government established a new president, a new constitution, even democracy as a concept was relatively.

Sounds great. Right? Who wouldn’t want to trade the Taliban’s tyranny for democracy? It sounds like a no brainer, but like most things in the middle east, it is not that simple. One of the popular narratives that you’ll hear from Afghanistan is that the U S tried valiantly to bring democracy to Afghanistan and they just weren’t ready for it, but it isn’t necessarily true.

Sarah. Shay’s a reporter that covered the Taliban for NPR point. That at first, the Afghan people did welcome us. They this as exemplars of democracy and the rule of law, but we fell short. We lost credible with the Afghan people. When we propped up a new government that was ripe with corruption and treated its citizens almost as poorly as the town, the Afghan people saw all of that happening and they saw us do nothing.

In fact, we actually did worse than doing nothing because we rewarded it. We continued to bankroll the corrupt government, even when we were smacked in the face with their corruption, the U S just turned a blind eye and the Afghan people suffered. So when the Taliban came back and they were ready to die for their cause the Afghan people had to decide whether or not they wanted to die for a corrupt government, the treated them badly.

And that choice gets a lot easier to make.

and that choice gets a lot easier to make. When the government itself won’t stand up to the Taliban. The president fled the governors resigned, they handed Afghanistan over. So why would the people or the military stay and defend them if they won’t defend them?

The Taliban also had an advantage that the us and the government, the Taliban also had an advantage that the United States and the government that we supported could not overcome the Taliban, embody an idea. So fundamental to Afghan culture, that it protected them from total defeat. They embody resistance to occupation, no matter.

no matter what our motivations were, no matter what we wanted to achieve, no matter how much money we invested into Afghanistan, none of that could ever overcome the fact that we were invaders and the Afghan government was bankrolled by a foreign power. Its leaders didn’t represent the localities that they lorded over.

It’s funny in a sad way because the Taliban is similar to America in this way. We both embody and we’re built around an idea and V for vendetta taught us that ideas are Bulletproof because of this. The Taliban could never be totally snuffed out. Consider this in 2015, the Afghan Institute, the Afghan Institute for strategic studies, surveyed members of the Afghan security forces and found that only 11%.

Said that they signed up to actually fight the Taliban most joined for money or to serve their country two things that they did not want to die for. Conversely, a much larger percentage of people, conversely, a much larger percentage of new Taliban recruits did sign up to fight the United States. So when the Taliban comes knocking the Afghan government and security forces handed it over, they didn’t want to die for something that they did not believe.

And this is the piece of Biden’s argument for withdrawal that I find most compelling.

The one thing that I will say to the Afghan security forces credit is that reporting suggest the United States training. To fight almost exclusively with the assumption of us provided air support. Without that air support, their training was null and void. Unfortunately, all roads lead to the same place on Afghanistan, whether you agree or not, the us is pulling out, we’re leaving.

That’s what’s happening. Our withdrawal could be generalist. Our withdrawal could be generously described as a fuck up and the epicenter of that fuck up is the Kobul airport We’re thousands of people are trying desperately to flee the country, but they can’t. Many of those people are allies of the United States who fear for their lives.

Under Taliban control. Some are women, some are children. Some of these people have visas. Some are still waiting to get them. Others are still trying to get to the airport. Getting to the airport, requires somebody to travel through miles of Taliban controlled, terrible. In rural parts of Afghanistan and the Taliban is much more ruthless in the rural areas.

Some of these people might make it there, but many probably won’t, it’s a freaking horror show. And many of those people, the Afghans who put their lives in danger to help us have been waiting for years to get their visas. It’s not like they didn’t apply on time. And some of that was deliberate. The Biden administration inherited a significant backlog.

Of special visa applicants, more than 17,000 due in part to policies enacted under the Trump administration to slow down the review process for our allies in Afghanistan that worked to help us. So thousands of them could be forsaken.

So thousands of them could be forsaken by the U S government through no fault of their own. This is the greatest sin of the whole thing, in my opinion, is that it wasn’t, it wasn’t our decision to leave, but instead how we chose to leave and the promises that we continue to break, but don’t listen to me, listen to the people that understand that most.

I don’t really know how anybody can listen to our veterans. Remain unaffected,

especially when you hear them talking about how they’re taking it upon themselves as individuals or in groups to get our Afghan allies out groups are popping up all across the country, trying everything, every method available to get our allies out because four presidents, four different administrations.

Our troops are acting with honor, even if our government didn’t

every method available to get our allies out because four presidents, four different administrations didn’t our troops are acting with honor, even if our government won’t. And once again, we are asking for more from the group that has already given them. And with that, we’re going to take a quick break.

When we come back, we have a segment called no stupid questions where I’m going to answer some listener questions about the situation in Afghanistan, stay tuned.

And now back to our show.

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