For almost 20 years, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 2001, the efforts of the U.S. military and the intelligence community have prevented other terrorists attacks from originating in Afghanistan. That may no longer be the case.
Due to the colossal failure of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and one national security blunder after the other, the American homeland is facing the greatest potential terrorist threat in decades. This was confirmed in recently published reports by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC).
On Aug. 26, 13 members of the U.S. military deployed in Afghanistan paid for these mistakes with their lives. It is now increasingly likely that ordinary civilians living in the United States would suffer the same fate as a consequence of these mistakes due to higher risk of terrorist attacks.
In over 40 years of government service, I have never seen anything so poorly planned, badly timed and horribly managed as the current Afghan "withdrawal."
These mistakes did not just start overnight. These missteps began years ago with actions like the Obama administration’s release of five senior Taliban leaders in exchange for disgraced Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl. Similarly, many other Taliban leaders have been released from Guantanamo under the false premise that they would not return to the conflict area or participate in terrorist activities.
It has become clearly evident that these promises were nothing but lies in order to obtain freedom. The Taliban cannot be trusted. The very Taliban leaders released by the United States have returned to the fight and are now serving in senior positions within the Taliban.
Recent strategic mistakes include abandoning Bagram Air Base. It was the most strategic airport in the area with greatest set-back and the best security footprint.
The U.S. troop withdrawal also enabled the release of over 5,000 prisoners from Afghan prisons, including Taliban, Islamic State (ISIS), and al Qaeda fighters who had been captured in operations by U.S. personnel who had sacrificed and risked their lives to do so. These terrorists promptly armed themselves with some of the hundreds of thousands of left behind U.S. small arms and quickly made their way over the short distance of about 30 miles, to the Kabul airport, where some would join in the Taliban standoff with U.S. forces.
Others joined the hunt for the remaining Americans, foreigners, Afghan translators and American supporters still in-country. Some have already been found and killed and unfortunately, many more will be found and likely tortured and executed.
In the eyes of the world this is a completely avoidable defeat and an act of incompetence.
Sadly, this task has been made easier by the U.S. handing over to the Taliban a list of Americans and translators so the Taliban could allegedly facilitate their safe passage to the airport. Another shocking U.S. display of naiveté and lack of understanding or acceptance of the Afghanistan/Taliban reality.
The U.S. abandoned an $800 million embassy in Kabul, and over $80 billion of military vehicles, aircraft and weapons systems. These abandoned items include armored and mine-resistant vehicles, over a hundred helicopters, light attack aircraft, cargo planes, hundreds of unmanned drones and Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms, night vision equipment, small arms, and potentially large sums of cash.
According to Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of OpenTheBooks.com and a senior policy contributor to Forbes, an accurate account is difficult because the Biden administration is hiding key audits on Afghan military equipment. That said, it is clear that the Taliban is now better equipped than many of the world’s armies. I have personally seen video footage of Taliban fighters carrying rifles that are better equipped than the one issued to my son for Iraq.
The American people have not seen the last of these weapons. Not only have we left the Taliban as the best-equipped terrorist force in the world, these systems and this technology will fall into the hands of other terrorist organizations, as well as into the hands of the Chinese and other U.S. adversaries who will reverse engineer and/or develop technology to defeat them.
A greater loss than the billions of dollars in weapons left to the terrorists, is the damage to our national security interests. This "withdrawal" is viewed by our enemies and our allies around the world as a capitulation, abdication and a supreme act of incompetence. The U.K. and many more of our staunchest allies around the world have already strongly condemned our conduct. In fact, the U.K. Parliament recently unanimously voted for the condemnation of President Biden.
Although labeled by the Biden administration as a "strategic withdrawal" it is not perceived as such by virtually anyone. In the eyes of the world this is a completely avoidable defeat and an act of incompetence. The entire world watched the chaotic U.S. retreat and the aimless swat at a few minor targets on the way out in frustrated retribution (in at least one strike innocents and children were killed).
The world watched it all on display, as the world’s most powerful military barely held on to a tiny airport, swarmed by a mass of humanity begging for their lives, many so desperate they would give away their babies to those departing.
These irresponsible actions have handed the Taliban and every other terrorist organization around the world the best recruiting tool imaginable, the idea that terrorism can win, even against a super power. Not only will this result in increased support and recruiting in the region, but around the globe. Unclassified reports from DHS and NCTC already highlight the threat of these actions to influence attacks in the U.S. homeland and elsewhere. As for our allies, partners and those who have been willing to work with us, they are now re-evaluating their relationships with a U.S. that has shown itself to be an unreliable partner.
The Biden administration deliberately, or otherwise, misapprehends the reality of Afghanistan. The administration advises that the "over the horizon" capability of the U.S. will continue to provide the ability to strike terrorists in Afghanistan. We’ve seen it demonstrated twice since the suicide attack took the lives of thirteen of our troops. However, it is not as simple as advertised and now that we have pulled out, it will be even less effective.
The drones that conducted these strikes had to fly from a location eight hours away because we have no friendly nearby bases to fly out of. This distance limits their time over the target area and complicates fuel and payloads.
Dan Hoffman, a fellow former CIA officer, recently stated that our ability to target adversaries depends largely on the contributions of ground intelligence to help "find, fix and finish" the enemy. Confirming the effectiveness or conducting a "Battle Damage Assessment" after a strike has occurred is also much more reliable when human/ground intelligence is involved.
The lack of that capability was demonstrated in the recent drone strikes, as the names of the targets were not released and the only confirmation received was for the drone operators to say, "We hit what we were aiming at." And, in at least one of these strikes, it appears that a number of innocent people were killed. This disastrous withdrawal has greatly diminished all of our military and intelligence capabilities, even those necessary to conduct effective over-the-horizon operations.
In contrast, during the presidency of Donald J. Trump, the U.S. had four years with the lowest number of causalities since the war began. In April 2017, President Trump ordered the use of the "Mother Of All Bombs" (the MOAB) against a stronghold of ISIS-K terrorists in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province (the same group responsible for the recent suicide attacks).
Afterward, as the Trump administration’s Adam Boehler, stated, we were able to engage with the Taliban from a position of strength, and to tell them in no uncertain terms what would happen if they attacked the U.S. Afterward, U.S. causalities dropped to zero and stayed there for the last 11 months of the Trump presidency.
Something that every operator knows is that at a minimum, combat operations always consist of a Plan A, Plan B, and a Contingency Plan (as a last resort). Anyone who has served in combat knows that plans rarely survive the first contact with the enemy and they must be quickly adapted to the rapidly changing ground situation.
That said, the Biden administration seems to be committed to stick with Plan A, no matter how flawed and no matter what the costs or consequences… which in this instance are counted in American lives lost and Americans left behind. This is unprecedented conduct.