Low morale, no support and bad politics: why the Afghan army collapsed

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Just six weeks ago, Joe Biden seemed to believe that the 300,000 soldiers of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces had the training, equipment, and capabilities to prevent the Taliban from taking over the country after the United States withdrew.

The US president stated in early July: “The possibility of the Taliban ruling everything and owning the entire country is extremely unlikely.” He confirmed his determination to complete the withdrawal of the US troops by August 31. “We have provided all the tools to our Afghan partners-let me emphasize all the tools, training and equipment of any modern army.”

However, despite the excellent weapons and training of the Afghan army, the Taliban fighters still Lightning offensive This allows them to occupy more than two-thirds of Afghanistan’s territory and reach suburbs Kabul, the capital, usually has little resistance.

Although the United States and its allies spent billions of dollars on their training and equipment, the Afghan army simply disappeared and retreated or retreated to their bases.In some cases, they left behind advanced weapons for confiscation by motorcyclists riding Kalashnikov Islamic militia.

Former Western military officials and independent academics stated that the collapse of the Afghan armed forces reflects the general disillusionment, long-term corruption and public disillusionment of President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Mismanagement within the militaryAnd there is a complete lack of confidence among the military, believing that they can defeat the Taliban without the support of US military and intelligence.

The handover ceremony of the US military to the Afghan National Army in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, in May. © The Press Office of the Ministry of Defense of Afghanistan via the Associated Press

“The problem with the army is not the lack of training or weapons. The most important thing in war is politics,” said former British military officer Mike Martin, who authored a book about the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. An intimate war.

Martin said that Ghani is a World Bank technocrat. He wrote a book on rebuilding a failed country before he was elected president in 2014. He lacked the political skills to make many different ethnic groups in the country loyal to the ideals of the country’s cause.

A map showing the Taliban's march to seize control of Afghanistan

When faced with a The U.S. is about to withdrawThe more traditional ethnic, tribal, and even family ties of many Afghans obscure any loyalty to the nascent Afghan army, enabling provincial Taliban commanders to conduct virtual negotiations. Peaceful surrender Many troops.

“The Taliban’s political privileges can strip away part of the government because the government does not adequately take care of its voters-tribes, clans, militias and races. This is the fundamental problem,” Martin said. “The army commander just surrendered Return to amnesty, The Taliban approved them and let them go home. “

The agreement reached by former U.S. President Donald Trump with the Taliban in February 2020, coupled with Biden’s determination to abide by the agreement without careful planning Military transition plan, Inspired the Taliban and hit the morale of the Afghan armed forces, just as the country is about to start the fighting season. This usually runs from April to October, before leaving most of the country in winter.

Ariawal Adili, country director of the Afghan Analyst Network, said that the Afghan army is deeply disturbed by the sudden withdrawal of American logistics and air support. Many Afghans, including Ghani, never expected this.

“[Afghan forces] It relied heavily on the air support provided by the US military and the logistical support provided by the US contractor, which no longer exists,” he said.

U.S. and Afghan forces

The Afghan army is disturbed by the speed of the U.S. withdrawal of logistics and air support © Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Former U.S. State Department official and current senior official at the Stimson Center in Washington, Elizabeth Srekerd said that the rapid advance of the Taliban and the peaceful surrender of some troops encouraged many others to follow suit.

“It has an unavoidable atmosphere,” she said. “If you are in one of the capital cities that still exist, you have to ask yourself,’Why am I struggling and what is my chance of success?’ What we see is [Afghan troops] Recognize the writing on the wall and take measures to protect your own interests instead of fighting. “

A former senior U.S. military official said that the departure of more than 15,000 contractors who had helped U.S.-provided aircraft and helicopters fly in the past has dealt a particularly severe blow to the Afghan Air Force.

“its [the air force’s] Operational readiness is decreasing because it is working across the country to deal with different desperate situations,” the official said. “Once the troops realize that no one is coming to rescue. .. They will run away, run away or surrender. “

Not all Afghan troops gave up without resistance. Special forces commandos fought hard in some cities (such as Lashkar Gah) and maintained confrontation with the Taliban until they were withdrawn. But they are too few to withstand national shocks.

At the same time, the military is also plagued by corruption issues, such as “Ghost Soldier‘They exist on paper but are not real-allowing others to collect their wages.

Despite the official 300,000 Afghan army, Srekerd said, “To be fair, the number in reality is much smaller.”

But another reason for the collapse was the Ghani government’s denial that Biden would indeed withdraw the last batch of US troops and its military contractors from Afghanistan this year—and the resulting failure to prepare.

“Gani and the people around him can’t believe that the Americans abandoned them in this way,” said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani analyst who is the author of several books on Central and South Asia. “There is a hope that the worse the situation, the more obvious they must stay.”

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