WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden and other top U.S. officials have been stunned by the pace of the Taliban’s nearly complete takeover of Afghanistan, as the planned withdrawal of American forces urgently became a mission to ensure a safe evacuation.
The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and the ensuing chaos posed the most serious test of Biden as commander in chief, and he was the subject of withering criticism from Republicans who said that he had failed.
Biden campaigned as a seasoned expert in international relations and has spent months downplaying the prospect of an ascendant Taliban while arguing that Americans of all political persuasions have tired of a 20-year war, a conflict that demonstrated the limits of money and military might to force a Western-style democracy on a society not ready or willing to embrace it.
By Sunday, though, leading figures in the administration acknowledged they were caught off guard with the utter speed of the collapse of Afghan security forces. The challenge of that effort became clear after reports of sporadic gunfire at the Kabul airport prompted Americans to shelter as they awaited flights to safety after the U.S. Embassy was completely evacuated.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that Afghanistan fell faster than the administration expected, and blamed the government’s fall on the Afghans themselves.
“It is certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated,” Sullivan said Monday on NBC’s “Today.”
But he said the U.S. ultimately could not give Afghan security forces the “will” to fight to defend their fledgling democracy from the Taliban.
“At the end of the day, despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to give the best equipment, the best training and the best capacity to the Afghan security forces, we could not give them the will and they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul and they would not fight for the country,” Sullivan said.
The turmoil in Afghanistan resets the focus in an unwelcome way for a US president who has largely focused on a domestic agenda that includes emerging from the pandemic, winning congressional approval for trillions of dollars in infrastructure spending and protecting voting rights. —Agencies