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Analysis of factors leading to the collapse of democracy in Afghanistan

January 4, 2022. Updated March 2, 2023

Human Rights

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban, an organization of Islamic extremists with close ties to al-Qaeda, took control of the Afghan capital of Kabul as U.S. diplomats evacuated by helicopter.[1] U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney noted that the scene evoked the fall of Saigon in April 1975, but “far worse.”[2] Reuters noted “chaos and desperation” with many allies left behind during the U.S. withdrawal.[3] The nation’s nascent democracy was crushed and more than forty million Afghans were abandoned to an oppressive theocracy. With only 50,000 to 60,000 active fighters,[4] the Taliban inflicted a “crushing defeat” to end the United States’ longest war in its twentieth year. The Economist noted that the consequences for the nearly forty million “Afghans, already catastrophic, are likely to get worse.”[5]

Biden’s unconditional unilateral withdrawal leading to Taliban victory exposed the longstanding designation of American military operations in Afghanistan as “Operation Enduring Freedom” as a cruel hoax and dishonored the sacrifice of countless men and women among Afghan, U.S., and allied forces. For the first time in history, the United Kingdom’s parliament held the U.S. president in contempt, condemning Joe Biden’s conduct over the withdrawal from Afghanistan as “catastrophic” and “shameful.”[6] Labour MP Chris Bryant called Biden's statements regarding Afghan soldiers "some of the most shameful comments ever from an American president.” Former Obama Secretary of Defense and CIA director Leon Panetta noted that the Afghan withdrawal was an international disaster and ‘Bay of Pigs’ moment for Joe Biden.[7] Lance Morrow wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “President Biden’s conduct of the withdrawal from Afghanistan will be remembered as a defining stupidity of our time.”[8]

In the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, thirteen U.S. service members were among more than ninety killed by a suicide bomber at the Kabul Afghanistan airport on August 26, 2021,[9] constituting the deadliest incident for U.S. forces in the country since 2011. During the ceremony to honor the fallen service members, Biden was recorded looking at his watch multiple times.[10]

Independents gave Biden’s Afghanistan speech a failing grade.[11] Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton, who traveled to Afghanistan in August 2021 to observe, called Biden's withdrawal "a total f*ing disaster” of “epic proportions,"[12] whereas commentator Greg Gutfeld stated that Joe Biden “didn’t see the Taliban resurgence, because he was “too busy destroying” the U.S.[13] Senator Ben Sasse called the Afghanistan withdrawal a “disaster,” a “dereliction of duty,” and a “national disgrace,”[14] blaming Biden’s “cowardice and incompetence.”[15] Judge Jeanine Pirro noted that “Joe Biden has given a terrorist organization their own nation.”[16] The Babylon Bee’s satire that “Taliban Buys Hunter Biden Painting For Presidential Palace”[17] was less troubling than many real headlines. Commentator Laura Ingraham noted that Biden advisors “spent more time on the narrative of January 6 than on our exit from Afghanistan.”[18]

Without even allowing a vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shut down a bill seeking accountability from the Biden administration for the Afghanistan catastrophe. Instead, Pelosi had released a statement the day before the Taliban overran Kabul that "The President is to be commended for the clarity of purpose of his statement on Afghanistan and the actions he has taken."[19] Texas congressman and retired Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw stated that Democrats “want no accountability whatsoever.”[20]

Why Did America Fail?

Raphael Cohen of the nonpartisan Rand Corporation described the reason for U.S. failure as "The Big Unanswered Question of the Afghanistan War," citing “a lack of U.S. staying power” as a critical weakness which could "prove devastating in future confrontations with Russia, China or other powers."[21] Cohen points to the smoking gun: the precipitous U.S. withdrawal abandoning longstanding representations to the Afghan people, the American public, and international allies.

Closer analysis demonstrates that far deeper problems of American cronyism, corruption, and unethical behavior lost the confidence of the Afghan people, strengthened the Taliban, and undermined democracy and the rule of law virtually from the beginning. The Economist explored “why America keeps building corrupt client states.”[22] Citing endemic corruption in Afghanistan, it states, in part:

  • “Such corruption creates patronage networks that threaten the state’s integrity. Officials’ main goal is not carrying out their agency’s mission, but extorting revenue to distribute to their families and cronies. Even before America invaded, Afghanistan was partly run by patronage networks headed by regional warlords. Yet instead of dismantling these networks, America strengthened them by paying warlords to keep the peace, according to reports by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), an American oversight authority. Afghans soon grew furious at government corruption and more welcoming towards the Taliban. A study in 2015 by Transparency International cited one policymaker’s epiphany: ‘The guys at the bottom are sending money to the top of the system and the guys at the top are sending protection downwards, which is how a mafia runs.’..The Afghan government’s own anti-corruption authorities mainly prosecuted political enemies…

  • “By the time of the Taliban’s final offensive the state had grown so corrupt that most of its governors cut deals with the jihadists to switch sides. The Afghan army was in poor shape to fight: its numbers were inflated by ‘ghost soldiers’—absentees listed on the payroll so that commanders could steal their salaries.

  • “Americans of a certain age may remember the term ‘ghost soldiers’ from Vietnam, where corrupt commanders used exactly the same system…As in Afghanistan, police and military forces also profited from the heroin trade. Indeed, the conclusions of a report in 1978 on the fall of South Vietnam by RAND, a security think-tank, foreshadow those in the last SIGAR report on Afghanistan, released on July 31st. South Vietnamese believed corruption was ‘a fundamental ill that was largely responsible for the ultimate collapse,’ the RAND report found. The problem had already been diagnosed in Vietnam by forward-thinking officers in the early 1960s. So why did America refuse to treat it as a grave issue when it invaded Afghanistan decades later?”

  • “[O]ne recommendation of anti-corruption experts is that in countries like Afghanistan aid should be frugal and focus on achievements rather than grant sizes…If [the United States] does not learn that dollars cannot build a real government, it may end up creating yet another fake one.”

Human Rights Abuses and Atrocities

During the U.S. withdrawal, the Biden administration gave the Taliban names of American citizens and Afghan allies. One defense official told Politico: “Basically, they just put all those Afghans on a kill list. It’s just appalling and shocking and makes you feel unclean.”[23] The Biden administration offered only conflicting and “increasingly muddy denials.”[24]

Within hours of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official confirmed that “Taliban members were going door to door in Kabul and executing people” as a wave of summary executions and forced marriages involving young girls was reported across the country.[25] The United Nations documented ‘credible reports’ of summary executions of civilians by the Taliban.[26] The Wall Street Journal observed that the “Taliban’s promises of tolerance in Afghanistan often don’t match reality,” noting that “from executions of rivals to restrictions on women’s rights, the new Taliban look a lot like the old Taliban.”[27] The Taliban remain closely bound to al-Qaeda,[28] and have been dubbed by some “ISIS 2.0.” In August 2021, Taliban executed an Afghan folk singer after the group declared that “music is forbidden in Islam.”[29]

Afghan women have lost basic rights and public visibility under the Taliban.[30] A teenage girl who was one of the top players on the Afghan national women’s volleyball team was beheaded by the Taliban and images of her severed head were posted on Afghan social media. Zahra Fayazi, a teammate who escaped, stated that “The Taliban asked our players’ families to not allow their girls to do sport, otherwise they will be faced with unexpected violence.”[31] Mark Levin noted that “Afghans were living ‘mostly in peace’ and safety before Joe Biden’s presidency with a ‘minimal American military footprint,’” and wondered: “how many Anne Franks are in Afghanistan tonight?”[32]

Women protesting all-male Taliban rule in Afghanistan[33] were "assaulted with rifle butts, tear gas, and metal clubs."[34] "Women's rights activists fear for their lives" and have been have been systematically "hunted down" as the Taliban "infiltrate, detain, beat and torture groups of protesters."[35] The Associated Press,[36] the British Broadcasting Corporation,[37] and other major news outlets covered the Taliban’s violent suppression of women’s protests. Former U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues Kelley Eckels Currie observed that Taliban promises were essentially to treat women as “a little less subhuman.”[38] As at-risk women in Afghanistan were abandoned to oppression and even death, she stated:

Under the Taliban, thousands of Afghan Christians face a nightmare, experiencing intense persecution[39] with the prospect of religious genocide.[40]

U.S. Abuses in Afghanistan

The United States undermined the trust and confidence of the Afghan public through serial human rights abuses, rampant corruption, and neglect for the principles of law and democracy that it professed to uphold. Patricia Gossman of Human Rights Watch observed:

New York Times investigative journalist Azmat Khan, who visited over 100 casualty sites of American air strikes and interviewed survivors, observed that the death toll is "far higher than the Pentagon has acknowledged."[42] Khan noted the lack of credible investigation of civilian casualty incidents by the U.S. military:

“Not only do the records contain no findings of wrongdoing or disciplinary action, but in only one instance is there a ‘possible violation’ of the rules of engagement. That stemmed from a breach in the procedure for identifying a target. Full investigations were recommended in fewer than 12 percent of the credible cases. In many cases, the command that approved a strike was responsible for examining it, too. And those examinations were often based on incorrect or incomplete evidence. Military officials interviewed survivors or witnesses in only two cases. Civilian-casualty reports were regularly dismissed because video showed no bodies in the rubble, yet the footage was often too brief to make a true determination.”

War reporter Peter Maass of The Intercept wrote that “U.S. bombings since 2014 have consistently killed civilians but that the Pentagon has done almost nothing to discern how many were harmed or what went wrong and might be corrected.”[43] Maass observed that instead of being charged with war crimes,

  • “No American general has been disciplined for overseeing the catastrophic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor for lying to Congress about these disasters. The opposite has occurred: Stars have usually been added to their shoulders, and when they retire from the military, they tend to march into well-paid positions as board members in the weapons industry or elsewhere…The Pentagon’s culture of impunity for killing civilians stands in contrast to its zealous pursuit of soldiers for other offenses.”

Rampant U.S. military atrocities have diminished American credibility and moral authority worldwide. Authoritarian governments like China have even seized the opportunity to represent themselves as human rights defenders against the imperialistic West. The Global Times, a propaganda organ controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, gleefully reported on the international seminar "Human Rights Violations Caused by US Military Intervention of Afghanistan" conducted during the 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.[44] 

Researcher Qian Feng cited “crimes against humanity and war crimes,” noting that the US has conducted the wanton killing of civilians in the name of counter-terrorism, such as “an air raid on Herat Province in August 2021, killing more than 100 people.”

There is little basis for the notion that military interventions improve human rights. Researcher Dursun Peksen reported in 2012:

A Pattern of Deception

The Associated Press noted that “Biden campaigned as a seasoned expert in international relation” and “spent months downplaying the prospect of an ascendant Taliban.”[46] U.S. President Joe Biden claimed that military commanders agreed with his withdrawal plans and did not advise him to keep a contingent of troops in Afghanistan. Other lawmakers noted that Joe Biden ignored the advice of his top military commanders,[47] which was confirmed when they testified before Congress that they had recommended keeping troops in Afghanistan.[48] Biden claimed that his administration had no intelligence warning of imminent Taliban victory. Yet even the far-left New York Times[49] acknowledged that intelligence officials contradicted Biden’s narrative, warning that prior to the withdrawal that if the Taliban were to seize cities, “a cascading collapse could happen rapidly and the Afghan security forces were at high risk of falling apart.”[50] When then-Afghan President Ghani raised concerns about the rapid Taliban advance, Biden told Ghani: "there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”[51] Biden appears to have been aware not only that his statements did not reflect reality, but pressured Ghani to lie for political gain. Biden attempted to scapegoat his predecessor, but top U.S. negotiators had made clear that the 2020 Doha agreement “was not irreversible,” that the agreement was conditions based, and that “there is no obligation for the United States to withdraw troops if the Afghan parties are unable to reach agreement or if the Taliban show bad faith.”[52] The New York Times further acknowledged that Biden “made several misleading or false claims about the pullout and evacuation.”[53]

The Washington Post fact-checker rated Biden’s claim that nation building in Afghanistan “never made any sense” to him as false with two Pinocchios, noting that Biden himself extolled “nation building” in Afghanistan on multiple prior occasions.[54] The New York Times’ Peter Baker contrasted Biden’s 2021 statement that "our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building" with his 2002 statement that "history is going to judge us very harshly, I believe, if we allow the hope of a liberated Afghanistan to evaporate because we are fearful of the phrase nation-building."[55]

U.S. Political Malfeasance

U.S. malfeasance facilitated the capitulation of the Afghan army to far less numerous but more committed Taliban forces. The Biden administration’s unilateral withdrawal without regard to conditions on the ground, nighttime abandonment of military bases, and failure to provide promised support services scuttled Afghan morale.[56] U.S. forces abandoned Bagram air base in the dead of night in July 2021 without telling the Afghan commander,[57] surrendering a more defensible evacuation zone and conveying to Afghans that basic communication, coordination and support were not forthcoming. Senator Rand Paul says while he has advocated for leaving Afghanistan for 10 years, "never in my worst nightmares did anyone conceive such a colossal incompetence.”[58] Paul called abandoning Bagram Air Base "one of the worst military decisions in our history" and noted that the Biden administration failed to hold anyone accountable.

Former Marine and CIA intelligence officer Elliot Ackerman noted that the situation in Afghanistan had been stable with only a few thousand U.S. forces supporting Afghan troops, but that Biden’s unconditional withdrawal made the collapse of Afghan democracy inevitable:

  • "Somewhere in our American narrative, we seem to have got in our head that wars end when all the troops come home, that it’s a prerequisite for a war ending. If you look historically, that has never been the case…In fact, the troops only all come home when we lose wars. We leave troops behind to secure peace. And that is what led to this calamitous situation in Afghanistan."[59]

The Biden administration subsequently ordered the removal of hundreds of pages of reports that had been online for years over the objections of Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, who noted that the request was “highly unusual” and “without any explanation or justification.”[60]

Four prisoners with close ties to the Taliban that Obama exchanged for U.S. deserter Bowe Bergdahl occupied senior Taliban national leadership posts.[61] The U.S. House Armed Services Committee found that the Obama-Biden administration misled Congress and violated federal law during the exchange, putting "politics and expediency ahead of proper procedure."[62] Yet no Obama-Biden officials ever faced criminal charges over this misconduct.

The New York Post editorial board opined that “this Afghan rout is entirely on Joe Biden.” Regarding the Biden administration’s treatment of the Taliban as responsible actors in the international community and even hinting at foreign aid, the Post noted:

  • “Hello? The Taliban has never given a damn about world opinion or ‘stability and development.’ It was a global pariah when it ruled Afghanistan in the ’90s, ignoring the handwringing as it crushed the country’s women, destroyed those 1,500-year-old Buddha statues and hosted the al Qaeda plotters of 9/11. And it hasn’t changed a whit since, blowing off all diplomatic efforts these last 20 years to get it to abandon its drive to reconquer the country...They’re turning girls as young as 12 into sex slaves as they advance.”[63]

The Guardian criticized the Biden administration’s efforts to assist its own helpers in Afghanistan as “too little, too late,” to say nothing of the forty million abandoned to a tyrannical regime.[64]

The Biden administration obstructed private rescue flights from Afghanistan, conduct blasted by retired general Jack Keane as “an absurdity,”[65] under the pretense that evacuees could not be fully vetted[66] and then falsely denied having obstructed them.[67] Yet the U.S. State Department subsequently admitted regarding refugees brought on official government flights to the U.S. that it was “doing accountings on the back end.”[68] Notwithstanding a propagandizing CNN “fact check” claiming that evacuees were “vetted” on the basis of cursory screening for some,[69] the Washington Examiner reported that "President Joe Biden's statements of complete vetting were untrue. The refugees...have no visas and haven't undergone the standard vetting process," but were permitted to leave the base at any time.”[70] Subsequent investigation confirmed that “nearly all of the roughly 82,000 Afghans that were evacuated to the United States from Kabul in August [2021] were not properly vetted before they entered the country.”[71]

In a piece entitled “The Bad Guys are Winning” in the Atlantic, Anne Applebaum noted that Afghanistan was only one of many nations in which autocrats have gained the upper hand. Of the Taliban, Applebaum observed:

  • “Their goal is not a flourishing, prosperous Afghanistan, but an Afghanistan where they are in charge…The widespread adoption of the Maduro model [of foreign autocrats propping up other authoritarian regimes] helps explain why Western statements at the time of Kabul’s fall sounded so pathetic. The EU’s foreign-policy chief expressed ‘deep concern about reports of serious human rights violations’ and called for ‘meaningful negotiations based on democracy, the rule of law and constitutional rule’—as if the Taliban was interested in any of that. Whether it was ‘deep concern,’ ‘sincere concern,’ or ‘profound concern,’ whether it was expressed on behalf of Europe or the Holy See, none of it mattered: Statements like that mean nothing to the Taliban, the Cuban security services, or the Russian FSB. Their goals are money and personal power. They are not concerned—deeply, sincerely, profoundly, or otherwise—about the happiness or well-being of their fellow citizens, let alone the views of anyone else.”[72]

U.S. Military and Intelligence Malfeasance

Carlson documented numerous instances of the U.S. military systematically lying to the American public over the course of the twenty-year war, noting that the “military establishment projected [the] illusion of progress, even when it was clear they were failing.”[73] A Gray Zone investigative report found that in 2020, Pentagon officials engaged in “political deception,” including the Russian bounty hoax and the “secret annexes story,” to “torpedo plans for a US withdrawal.”[74] The investigators further documented that Pentagon leaders intentionally subverted a negotiated peace with flagrant ceasefire violations. Unconfirmed Russian bounty allegations were leaked from U.S. intelligence agencies for political reasons and were amplified by false reporting originating in the New York Times.[75] The Biden administration subsequently did not find the “Russian bounty” allegations sufficiently credible to warrant any action, noting that there was only “low to moderate” confidence in their veracity.”[76]

White House press secretary Jen Psaki engaged in semantic games, claiming that stating that Americans “stranded” in Afghanistan was irresponsible. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged that Americans were indeed stranded in the country, but attempted to provide political cover for the administration by painting it as a matter of routine, claiming that “we have Americans that get stranded in countries all the time.”[77] Kirby, who had previously engaged in unprecedented personal attacks against a U.S. civilian for challenging the Pentagon's woke ideology and politicization of the military, also defended his claim made only two days before Kabul’s fall that the city wasn’t in “imminent” danger of falling to the Taliban, alleging that his statement was “true” at the time.[78]

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen told ABC News that there “absolutely” should be accountability for the drone strike as well as the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan,[79] although the Biden administration had previously stated that there would be no accountability among senior military leaders. A drone strike on “ISIS-K planners” was announced by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley as a “righteous strike.” The Pentagon later acknowledged that no terrorists had been killed in the attack, which instead killed an aid worker, seven of his children, and others.[80] Marine lieutenant colonel Stu Scheller demanded that senior military leaders accept accountability for blunders in Afghanistan,[81] but was instead himself removed and court-martialed.

Corruption and Cronyism

The fall of Afghan liberty was not inevitable, and likely could have been salvaged even at a late date with principled and competent American leadership. Nonetheless, prior American malfeasance had made the situation fragile and unhealthy, undermining the principles that intervention purported to defend.

An August 2021 Brown University report cites costs to date of the war in Afghanistan at over 243,000 direct deaths and over $2.3 trillion dollars, or nearly $15,000 per US taxpayer.[82] In serial reports over nearly a decade, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko warned of fraud, waste and abuse squandering billions in Afghanistan.[83],[84] Sopko’s 2021 report warned that massive U.S. investment in Afghanistan had produced gains which “were neither commensurate with the investment nor sustainable after U.S. troop withdrawal,” and concluded that "if the goal was to rebuild and leave behind a country that could sustain itself and pose little threat to U.S. national security interests, the overall picture in Afghanistan is bleak.”

The Washington Post's investigative reporting found that the “Obama administration hid the truth” and engaged in deception and malfeasance regarding Afghanistan.[85] The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported in March 2015 that the Pentagon could not account for $45 billion, nearly two-thirds of total appropriations spent on Afghanistan reconstruction at that time.[86] Matthew Gault reported that “the bulk of the unauditable contracts involve money the U.S. military spent on the Afghan security forces.”[87]

A Washington Post investigation reported in 2019 that Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan from 2004 to 2014, “won reelection after cronies stuffed thousands of ballot boxes. He later admitted the CIA had delivered bags of cash to his office for years, calling it ‘nothing unusual.’”[88] Diplomatic cables portrayed Karzai as "corrupt and erratic" as well as "weak, indecisive, paranoid, and beholden to criminals to maintain power."[89] Karzai, in turn, noted that U.S. cash payments distorted incentives and fed corruption nationwide.[90] Karzai's cousins, Ahmad Rateb Popal and Rashid Popal, had been jailed in the US for importing heroin in the 1990s; Ahmad was a former translator for the Taliban.[91] In the 2000s, the pair became "immensely wealthy businessmen" engaged in telecommunications, logistics, and security.

Ashraf Ghani, the second and final Afghan President (2014-2021), was a past U.S. college professor and World Bank executive[92] accused of being little more than a U.S. puppet. The Washington Post noted that "even as the cascade of provincial capitals fell, Ghani appeared distracted," and cited an official who stated: "Ghani would want to talk about digitization of the economy. It had nothing to do with the dire threat."[93] Even when the need to establish plans to defend Kabul was brought to Ghani's attention, there was "no follow-through." Ghani had promised U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken that he would “fight to death,”[94] but like the U.S. forces that preceded him in departure, Ghani surreptitiously fled under the cover of night. Pentagon officials reportedly had no idea that Ghani had fled the country until they saw it on television.[95] Ghani was accused of taking millions in cash with him as he fled Afghanistan, and only weeks later, posted an English-only ‘explanation’ on Twitter ostensibly addressed to the Afghan people.[96]

Vivek Ramaswamy noted that flawed assumptions of the Biden administration fueled the catastrophe, observing that “Taliban leaders had more conviction in their cause than President Biden appeared to have in the American vision. Taliban fighters were more inspired to fight for their cause than the Afghan military was to fight for ours – and that’s why Afghan soldiers simply put down their guns even as they were armed with superior equipment and outnumbered the Taliban by nearly 5-to-1.”[97]

Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan stated that the U.S. "didn't really build a democratic government" in Vietnam or Afghanistan:

  • "[I]t all goes back to the original sin, which was we didn't really build a democratic government in any of these places…[I]n Vietnam, in particular - … we made so many mistakes it wasn't even funny. I had access to certain information because of the job I did, and it was ridiculous. And [Afghanistan]'s no better. We built this house of cards we call the government....We didn't put real people in it [who] really cared about democracy. They only cared about how much money they can line their pockets [with].”[98]

Funding the Taliban

Instead of cutting off funding to the Taliban, the Biden administration has been one of its chief benefactors. The Associated Press acknowledged that “billions spent on Afghan army ultimately benefited [the] Taliban.”[99] Vast stockpiles of state of the art weaponry and equipment fell to the Taliban: not all able to be maintained and used by the group, but constituting an impressive arsenal nonetheless.[100]

Even after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Senator Rand Paul noted that the Biden administration released over $64 million in aid, knowing that the Taliban would take the money.[101] As the Afghan resistance and human rights advocates urged other nations not to recognize the Taliban regime,[102] the Biden administration was treating the Taliban as an international partner and hinted at further financial aid.[103] Former acting homeland security chief Chad Wolf tweeted: “Economic assistance to a terrorist organization? I feel like we are in an alternative universe.”[104] On October 28, 2021, the Biden administration released an additional $144 million to Taliban-led Afghanistan and expressed intent to provide further funding.[105] This was done without regard to dire human rights abuses and misappropriation of prior funds, offering only a naive statement that the “United States will work to urge the Taliban to adhere to agreements.”

Investigative journalist Aram Roston at The Nation reported in 2009 that US payments funded the Taliban:

  • “In this grotesque carnival, the US military’s contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban. ‘It’s a big part of their income,’ one of the top Afghan government security officials told The Nation in an interview. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts–hundreds of millions of dollars–consists of payments to insurgents.”[106]

National Public Radio stated in 2010:

  • “Taliban revenue include[s] extortion rackets that target various groups — including, indirectly, U.S. taxpayers. Resupply convoys navigating the hazardous Afghan highway system frequently have to hire security firms to protect them, and as often, these security firms pay off militias that control key stretches of road...The payoffs can amount to ‘potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. It's a huge chunk of the security part of the logistics operation…It's really worse than irony: It's, in some cases, just funding the same people you're fighting."[107]

Economic policy analyst Hanif Sufizada reported in 2020 that the Taliban was earning $1.6 billion annually, equivalent to approximately 30% of the official Afghan government budget at the time. The Taliban's funds came from drugs (estimated $416 million), mining ($400-464 million), extortion and taxes ($160 million), charitable donations ($240 million), exports ($240 million), real estate ($80 million), and donations from specific countries.[108]

Sufizada noted that "the governments of Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are all believed to bankroll the Taliban" up to a combined $500 million a year, while cautioning that "it is difficult to put an exact figure on this income stream." Further donations came from “charities” and private individuals:

  • "Many Taliban donations are from charities and private trusts located in Persian Gulf countries, a region historically sympathetic to the group’s religious insurgency. Those donations add up to about $150 million to $200 million each year, according to the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies. These charities are on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of groups that finance terrorism…

  • “Private citizens from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and some Persian Gulf nations also help finance the Taliban, contributing another $60 million annually to the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, according to American counterterrorism agencies.”

As reported by the New York Times, a classified CIA report estimated in 2008 that the Taliban had received $106 million in foreign funding, primarily from the Gulf states.[109] These donations appear to have increased substantially as U.S. “reconstruction” efforts foundered.

A 2019 report of the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team documented funding sources of the Taliban. In addition to opium production, mining, and extortion,

The United States has spent massively for security and defense of regressive autocracies in the Persian Gulf which include some of the world’s worst human rights violators, even as individuals, religious “charities,” and private individuals in the region have funded terror and extremism.

Former Democratic Senator Bob Graham, chair of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chair of Congress’ 9/11 Joint Inquiry, cited sworn statements that “there was evidence of support from the Saudi government for the terrorists.”[111] The U.S. government collaborated with Saudis in suppressing evidence regarding the Saudi government’s involvement, denying Freedom of Information Act Requests, and supplied inside information to the Saudis’ lawyers. Senator Graham characterized U.S. conduct as “aggressive deception” rather than passive cover-up.[112]

The Intercept has noted mounting evidence that Saudia Arabia helped fund the 9/11 attacks.[113] The Independent (UK) cited legal documents attesting that the Saudi government had previously funded a “dry run” of the 9/11 attacks.[114] Only by the twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks did the US release a report acknowledging in heavily redacted form previously suppressed evidence of connections between Saudi religious officials stationed in the U.S. and 9/11 terrorists.[115]

Even as the U.S. was actively running interference for the Saudis, evidence suggests that Saudis were funding the Taliban to keep their war against Afghan democracy alive. What could possibly go wrong? Yet successive U.S. administrations and countless foreign policy “experts” supported and perpetuated this debacle. That the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan came as a surprise to these same “experts” highlights their self-delusion.


Democracy and human rights in Afghanistan are gone, likely for the long term. This loss was not inevitable and reflects neither any defect on the part of the Afghan people nor any shortcoming with principles of democracy. It rather reflects a series of missteps by the United States and its leaders and agents, who prioritized political agendas and expediency above loyalty and accountability to the principles they were sworn to uphold. The architects and agents of this policy acted with gross disregard for the welfare and human rights of the Afghan people and conducted themselves with duplicity towards the American public.

Update - One Year Later

One year after the Taliban takeover, Deutsche Welle reported:

“Independent media had flourished under former presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, human rights had seen a substantial improvement, an increased number of girls had started going to school and universities, and Afghanistan's middle class had experienced relative prosperity during the same period. Over the past twelve months, these achievements have been largely reversed.

CBC Kids News explained to Canadian school children why millions of girls in Afghanistan can no longer attend school beyond the sixth grade:

  • “The Taliban believes in a strict interpretation of religious laws that can severely limit the human rights of its citizens, especially women. In the past, TV shows, music and movies were banned in Afghanistan by the Taliban and women weren’t allowed to work, drive or go to school…Along with Canada, Afghanistan has signed a document called ‘the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,’ which includes a commitment that every citizen has the right to an education...[Women's rights advocate Lauryn] Oates said if we don’t hold countries to the promises they’ve agreed to, the document becomes pointless.”[117]

These vast losses of human freedoms and basic rights have received scant coverage in the U.S. press.  Both the right-and left-leaning American press have focused overwhelmingly on the cost of the war to America and U.S. service member casualties, while ignoring the cost to Afghans in lost liberties, displacement of millions, and more than 200,000 estimated civilian deaths in a war started by the United States.

The left-leaning Clinton-affiliated Brookings Institute acknowledged that under Joe Biden, Afghanistan has again become a haven for terrorists:

  • "[Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-]Zawahri was killed in a comfortable neighborhood of Kabul, previously favored by officials of the fallen Afghan Republic and now replete with high-ranking Taliban members. He wouldn’t have lived there without some Taliban leaders’ knowledge. In fact, he was killed in a house belonging to a senior aide to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the acting Taliban minister of interior and leader of the powerful Haqqani faction of the Taliban. This exposes both the Taliban’s and Sirajuddin’s duplicity, and the strong, persistent affinity between al-Qaida and the Taliban…This spring, a U.N. report assessed that al-Qaida has been able to operate in Afghanistan with a 'greater freedom of operation.'"[118]

The loss of basic freedoms for millions in Afghanistan reflects the natural consequence of U.S. policies and conduct. The $6.8 trillion spent to date on the Afghan war representing a substantial portion of the US national debt, and another $8 trillion in expected interest payments, were by all indications worse than wasted, causing harm abroad while mortgaging the nation’s future.

In the year since the Taliban takeover, the Biden-Harris Administration sent over $1.1 billion in aid to Afghanistan while stonewalling any accounting thereof.[119]  Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko reported on November 1, 2022, that his office “for the first time in its history is unable this quarter to provide Congress and the American people with a full accounting of this US government spending due to the noncooperation of several US government agencies.”

In November 2022, the United States Department of Defense acknowledged in its annual report to Congress that China used the bungled US abandonment of Afghanistan as “evidence that the U.S. is an unreliable partner and declining power.”[120]  The record, from Obama’s betrayal of the Budapest memorandum facilitating Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, to Trump’s betrayal of Kurdish allies,[121] to Biden’s failure to meet the largest aggression in Europe and extensive Russian war crimes with measures beyond aid and sanctions, has led many to the all too obvious conclusion that that America’s agreements and obligations mean little except when deemed to be in immediate self-interest.

The Journal of Democracy observed that “the post-2001 system fostered corruption” and that “the policy choices made by the United States and its partners in Afghanistan over the past twenty years are largely to blame” for the Afghan collapse.[122] The author concluded that “unless there is soul searching about what went wrong, the international community and the United States are likely to repeat the same mistakes somewhere else.”

Instead of “soul-searching,” the Biden-Harris administration turned instead to censorship and cover-up. Notwithstanding the discontinuation of the administration’s plans for a politicized “disinformation board” following widespread public outrage, the administration continued “expanding its efforts to limit speech on social media,” including over the “U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.”[123]  Yet the US administration has been a leading purveyor of misinformation regarding Afghanistan. A Washington Post investigative report entitled “At War With the Truth” found that US officials repeatedly lied to the public, presenting false claims of progress in Afghanistan when they knew the situation to be failing.[124] Even left-leaning Politifact, long known for running interference for Democrats, acknowledged that Biden claimed that Taliban takeover was not inevitable and that the withdrawal from Afghanistan would be done “responsibly, deliberately, and safely” and was “proceeding in a safe and orderly way,” only to subsequently engage in a “full flop.”[125]

To date, there has been no meaningful introspection, insight, or accountability. Providing honesty and transparency to the American public, and the world, would be a far better direction for the administration’s ostensible efforts to “combat disinformation.” American officials have demonstrated concern only for their own reputational harm with no regard for the irreversible harm to millions of Afghans caused by US duplicity.

Update - March 2023

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction's February 2023 report "Why the Afghan Security Forces Collapsed" details systemic errors and efforts of the US military to mislead the public. Among many important findings, it notes that the U.S. rush to exit the country was widely perceived by Afghans as "an act of bad faith and a signal that the United States was handing over Afghanistan to the enemy as it rushed to exit the country; its immediate effect was a dramatic loss in ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Force] morale."[126] This report has received scant coverage in US media and no accountability has been forthcoming.

The Rand Corporation's report "Staying the Unfavorable Course" implicates numerous U.S. errors, including early policy errors, a lack of institutional safeguards, inadequate progress metrics, civilian-military mistrust, dysfunctional relationships, and the failure of objectives to evolve over time in response to changing circumstances.[127]


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