As the Taliban swiftly reasserted control over Afghanistan amid the chaotic U.S. troop withdrawal, President Joe Biden attempted to blame a lack of will to fight among the Afghan military and police forces, among other factors.
Facts on the ground and the testimony of top generals, however, seem to confirm that Biden’s effort to pass the buck was misplaced and inappropriate.
Facts vs. speculation
As a recent Washington Times op-ed argued, tens of thousands of Afghan military and police officers fought and died for their country and many would have continued serving alongside U.S. forces if the Biden administration had not summarily withdrawn troops and other support.
Biden first addressed the debacle in a speech on Aug. 16 in which he accused the Afghan government and security forces of essentially giving up without a fight. His tone was especially critical toward the security forces as he noted the training and support provided by the United States over the years.
Later that month, the president marked the end of the 20-year Afghanistan war by doubling down on his sharp critique of the “more than 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces” trained and equipped with the “assumption” that they would stand and fight on their own.
Various other remarks by Biden and White House insiders have echoed the same theme, but there appear to be several noticeable holes in the narrative.
For starters, the size of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces is believed to be substantially lower than the 300,000 figure repeatedly cited by the president.
The “ghost soldier” effect
A 2016 report from the U.S. Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction pointed out the “questionable” nature of the unit and stated that “neither the United States nor its Afghan allies know how many Afghan soldiers and police actually exist, how many are in fact available for duty, or, by extension, the true nature of their operational capabilities.”
The Guardian reported the same year that “ghost” soldiers and police were used to inflate the supported membership of such forces but were actually fake names or deceased officers whose names had not been removed.
Part of the problem was reportedly driven by corruption by commanders and senior officers who pocketed the salaries of these so-called ghost troops. Another motive attached to the practice is the desire of some commanders to downplay losses by not officially reporting those who either deserted or were killed in combat.
Biden’s attempt to blame Afghanistan is clearly misleading in light of the fact that the U.S. trained Afghan soldiers over 20 years to fight in a manner that relied heavily upon U.S.-provided assistance, such as air support, intelligence, logistics, and maintenance.
When all of that support was pulled out of the war-torn country, the Taliban saw an opportunity to exert its dominance once again. Top U.S. military officials including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie have both shared their belief that a limited number of U.S. military personnel should have remained in Afghanistan to withstand the Taliban offensive.