The Kabul Debacle. Systematic Issues or Leadership Malfeasance?

It is striking that  officially no one  really expected the Afghan  Ahmad Karsai’s regime to survive the pull out of US forces, and with an evacuation date for the US forces firmly set,  it seems inconceivable that one year  later the debacle of Kabul occurred in front  of all the world’s cameras.

The three paragraphs below taken from Anthony Cordesman’s  ( John Hopkins Center for Strategic and International Studies) analysis of the Afghan Military as perceived from the unclassified annual report on Afghanistan, This report is from July 2020.

From the article.

“Here, it is striking that the Department of Defense 1225 report on Enhancing Security and Stability In Afghanistan – issued in June 2020 – makes it clear that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are not ready to stand on their own after U.S. and allied withdrawal – an issue in ways that no U.S. official discussion of the peace process has yet addressed. The Afghan government, the NATO command, and the United States have all steadily classified more and more of the data on Afghan force strength, readiness, and combat capability – but the 1225 Report still makes the limits to the ANDSF all too clear:”

“The full history of the efforts to create effective Afghan forces has yet to be written, but the efforts to build Afghan forces began slowly, were badly underfunded, and were constantly revised. Even the ANA did not have adequate trainers at even the basic training level until 2009-2010, and most were on short one-year tours.

“Many of the U.S. and allied trainers assigned to training had no previous experience in the job until 2009-2010, and for several years, the system reported trainers as being active even if the donor country had only pledged them. Too much emphasis was put on basic and rear area training, and too little focus was put on “train and advise” at the combat unit level.”

How will we ever know the truth of the massive failure of every aspect and competence of our military, foreign service and National command authorities.? There are hints of several minority party congressional probes planned but little can be expected from them as the administration will be in full cover-up status with all the wagons circled and much of the media prepared  to play their parts  as defenders of their chosen political ideology. The political game plan is fairly obvious….delay, divert, obfuscate. The Wuhan virus, the infrastructure circus,  and the every day political turmoil,   are ready made diversions.

What we need and must have is a full fledged and empowered commission  similar to that the 911 commission to dig into this disaster and ascertain the systemic  and personal omissions, sloth, malfeasance, and hubris which allowed this to happen.  It should have subpoena powers and upon conclusion refer culpable individuals for criminal prosecution if warranted. I know this is unlikely. The 911 commission had surfaced many systemic errors but insofar as I know no one  in the intelligence or law enforcement  community   lost their job.  The lack of coordination between law enforcement and the intelligence community was one of the primary reasons for the disaster  but despite all kinds of new bureaucratic “fixes” little has been accomplished.

One of the more intractable problems is the inability to identify  the enemy.  In the 911 Report, after lamenting the low favorable views of the United States, the  Report stated, ” “Many of these views are at  best uninformed about the United States, and at worst, informed by by  cartoonish stereotypes, the coarse expression of a fashionable “occidentalism” among  intellectuals who caricature U.S.  values and policies.” This problems has become much worse, as the word “muslim”  in connection with “terrorism” has  become one of those woke forbidden words.

In watching the dawn to midnight TV  network remembrance of the 911 mass murder, people not around at the time must wonder who were these people who perpetrated this massacre and for what reason.

What is needed is something similar  to the Agranat commission that examined the reasons for the “near thing” ( Israeli unpreparedness for the 1973 war). This report which is examined in some detail in the book The Watchman Fell Asleep by Uri Bar-Joseph. . did  a result in some high officials  losing their jobs, both intelligence and operational leaders.    Roberta Wohlstetter’s analysis (Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision)  of the Pearl Harbor fiasco in which she blamed  human systemic problems writing that  inherent pathologies of the intelligence community adversely “affect honest, dedicated, and intelligent men.” 2 This may be true but there are a host of other issues that never seem to be addressed. They cry out for the light of day.

Somehow the systemic approach does not resonate with me on the Kabul debacle. There are just too many unanswered questions that center around lack of leadership, inertia, sloth, and just plain ignorance. To be sure these after action  reports of disasters are seldom popular among politicians.

Churchill refused to commission a study of the Dunkirk disaster,  believing quite wisely that with a German invasion of the British isles being likely at that point, that the British people could not afford any more bad news. Nor with the Singapore mass surrender. But he was at least honest. saying in a speech to the people, ” thankfulness  at the escape of our army, and so many men. …..must not blind us to the fact that what happened in France and Belgium is a  colossal military disaster.”

We can applaud the last minute mass evacuation of so many Afghans and most Americans  as a well done operation, keeping in mind that the enemy allowed it to happen and could have still stopped the entire  operation with a few mortar rounds. As Churchill observed, “wars  are not won by evacuations.”

The irrefutable fact is that we invaded Afghanistan  to destroy the terrorist Al Qaeda group and those that harbor them, the Taliban. So said president Bush. We failed.

Our military leadership deserves, in fact demands, a close scrutiny, not only of this failure but the general decline of our military prowess, especially in the ethos of martial spirit. We cannot contest other world powers with a military that lacks confidence,  discipline,  and a will to win, something most of which us old soldiers  see or hear evidence of  every day. We must eliminate all vestiges of social engineering and get back to basics.

Finally this commission should analyze how we plan to resettle the thousands of Afghan refugees, keeping in the mind the sad story of the Algerian  refugees from the Algerian war, in which thousands of Algerians ( Harkies) had fought against  their own countrymen   to preserve French rule in Algeria. They  fled to France to avoid slaughter at the hands of the revolutionaries.2 Today the grand sons of these Algerians enforce Jihadi controlled no go zones in a number of French cities. The human condition does not allow gratitude to go very far. We must understand that.

1 However in a later book by  Henry Clausen who did a report on Pearl Harbor for Sec of War , Henry Stimson, (Pearl Harbor: Final Judgement , ) he did indict a number of high officers for negligence in carrying out their duties, including Lt Gen. Walter Short, Admiral Husband Kimmel,  Rear admiral Richmond Turner,  BG Leonard Gerow and a number of 0-6 intelligence types.

2. The Algerians fought bravely in  two world wars  ( in WWII often  better than the French themselves) and IndoChina  for the French empire.

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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