If the most visceral image from the fall of Saigon was a helicopter taking off, then in Kabul it was the scenes of utter chaos at the airport - the small patch of territory the US still controls.
The speed of the Taliban advance clearly came as a surprise to the Americans. One wonders why, given the amount of intelligence to which they have access.
Its failure in nation-building is now complete. The Afghan state, continuously crippled by corruption, whose armed forces unable to rely on US airpower and other military assistance simply evaporated. As many Afghans suggest, it is not that the Taliban is especially strong but that the government was weak.
Assembling and then supporting the Afghan army was a centrepiece of the US’s exit strategy. It now lies in tatters, as the country’s military simply disintegrated in the face of Taliban advancements. Indeed, many of the weapons the US spent billions supplying the Afghan army are now in the hands of a terrifyingly brutal force.
“Inexcusable” and “heart-breaking” are some of the words being deployed on all sides. Minister Ben Wallace, a former soldier, struggled in tears this morning, admitting our ability to stop new terror forces gathering strength there will be sub-optimal. “The West has done what it’s done,” was as much as he could muster.
Former US national security adviser, John Bolton, went as far as to say the west looks like “suckers”. As our defence editor writes, “What next for Afghanistan
? Don’t expect help from Biden.”
During the 20-year engagement, the US lost 2,448 military personnel and many more lives of US contractors. Yet despite the cost in blood and treasure, and the humiliating end, President Biden may not suffer an immediate political cost. Much of the US public has long lost interest in Afghanistan
But assaults on US forces abroad, or even an attack on the homeland, would leave him vulnerable to the charge of incompetence. And then there are veterans of the Afghan war both here and in the US and Afghanistan
— what must they now be thinking?
Trump signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020, but it is Biden that must take responsibility for many of the last few days’ events, to which he appears to be a naive by-stander.
The UK Government appears equally flat-footed. The Foreign Secretary was on holiday. Even the Prime Minister recalling Parliament feels like an admission that doing anything is better than doing nothing.
We simply cannot abandon the Afghans who assisted Western and government forces — men and women who will now be fearing for their lives. Providing them with safe refuge in Britain is not only our moral duty — without it, we cannot expect others to help us in future conflicts.
Many of us looked in in horror as the Taliban took Kabul and hoisted its flag above the presidential palace. Yet we did so from the safety of Britain. For ordinary Afghans, the reality is far graver.