As I type this, between 3,000 and 7,000 US military personnel are en route to Afghanistan to conduct a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in Afghanistan.
Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) is the ordered (mandatory) or authorized (voluntary) departure of civilian noncombatants and nonessential military personnel from danger in an overseas country to a designated safe haven, typically within the continental United States. Overseas evacuations could occur under a variety of circumstances, including civil unrest, military uprisings, environmental concerns, and natural disasters. The Department of State (DOS) recommends an evacuation, and the Department of the Army—as the Department of Defense (DOD) Executive Agent for repatriation (RE-PAT) planning and operations—coordinates the execution of NEO.
So they’re sending 7K troops to get 2,500-3K Americans out??
— Naveed Jamali (@NaveedAJamali) August 12, 2021
This is because Kandahar, Herat, and Ghazni have fallen to the Taliban.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban captured two major Afghan cities, the country’s second- and third-largest after Kabul, and a strategic provincial capital on Thursday, further squeezing the embattled government just weeks before the end of the American military mission in Afghanistan.
The seizure of Kandahar and Herat marks the biggest prizes yet for the Taliban, who have taken 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as part of a weeklong blitz.
The capture of the city of Ghazni, meanwhile, cuts off a crucial highway linking the Afghan capital, Kabul, with the country’s southern provinces, all part of an insurgent push some 20 years after U.S. and NATO troops invaded and ousted the Taliban government.
While Kabul itself isn’t directly under threat yet, the losses and the battles elsewhere further tighten the grip of a resurgent Taliban, who are estimated to now hold over two-thirds of the country and continue to press their offensive.
With security rapidly deteriorating, the United States planned to send in 3,000 troops to help evacuate some personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Separately, Britain said about 600 troops would be deployed on a short-term basis to support British nationals leaving the country.
Thousands of Afghans have fled their homes amid fears the Taliban will again impose a brutal, repressive government, all but eliminating women’s rights and conducting public amputations, stonings and executions. Peace talks in Qatar remain stalled, though diplomats met throughout the day.
The latest U.S. military intelligence assessment suggests Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that, if current trends hold, the Taliban could gain full control of the country within a few months. The Afghan government may eventually be forced to pull back to defend the capital and just a few other cities in the coming days if the Taliban keep up their momentum.
The onslaught represents a stunning collapse of Afghan forces and renews questions about where the over $830 billion spent by the U.S. Defense Department on fighting, training those troops, and reconstruction efforts went — especially as Taliban fighters ride on American-made Humvees and pickup trucks with M-16s slung across their shoulders.
A lot of people are currently arguing on social media about how this could happen and who is responsible. Some of them are blaming the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), some of them are blaming the US military personnel who have been training them for almost twenty years. Some are blaming both. The simple truth is that some of the ANSF are fighting and doing their best to hold the line against the Taliban. And, from what I’ve seen in the reporting, they’re demonstrating far more of the strategic, operational, and tactical awareness that the US spent almost two decades trying to teach them by recognizing when and where they can fight successfully and when and where if they fight they unnecessarily risk civilian lives.
The simple truth, however, is that this was going to happen no matter how the US and our Coalition partners withdrew. And it was going to happen no matter who was elected president in November 2020 provided the withdrawal was actually undertaken. The Taliban have a singular, focused strategic objective for what Afghanistan should be that is rooted in a revanchist, extremism version of Islam that was exported to Afghanistan by Saudi missionaries. It has been pretty clear for a very long time that while the majority of the people of Afghanistan do not really have an equivalent vision for Afghanistan. While it is pretty clear they don’t want to live under the Taliban and their barbaric rule, there is also no consensus for what Afghanistan should be or how the various ethno-national and ethnolinguistic groups should share it.
Adam L. Silverman, who served as the U.S. Army’s senior cultural adviser from 2010-2014, ran pre-deployment preparation courses and provided analytical support for U.S. personnel deployed in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2014, took issue with Miller’s remarks.
“The attempts by the Acting SecDef to justify this, per his memo this weekend, that the U.S. is a society that seeks peace, not war, is simply factually inaccurate,” Silverman told Newsweek. “The U.S. is 244 years old. The U.S. has been involved in wars or at war in 235 of those 244 years. I counted it up for Memorial Day 2019. And this isn’t even counting the various rebellions and revolts within the U.S. and its territories over the past 244 years.”
He saw the move as a recipe for fueling civil unrest in Afghanistan.
“It might be a good idea to have a policy discussion on whether war should be America’s real national pastime, but that’s not what this is,” Silverman told Newsweek. “What this is is America’s current political geography—the elected and appointed people in charge of our political and national security institutions—preparing to run head-first into Afghanistan’s human geography: Its people, places, and things and how they interact.”
He said categorically that the consequences of withdrawal would be catastrophic, including revitalizing the Taliban and empowering China in the region.
“Afghanistan’s government, military, and law enforcement are unable to survive without our and our coalition partner’s support,” Silverman said, “which leads to the Taliban moving to capitalize on the opportunity that will be created, leading to a potential civil war, more widespread insurgency, or both, that leads to an increase in regional instability creating new challenges and threats for the U.S., its regional partners and allies, and now opportunities for our peer competitors like China.”
In addition to China, he pointed to other international actors who seek greater involvement, including Russia and South Asian rivals India and Pakistan.
Rather than coming through with a political promise based on the phased agreement reached in March with the Taliban, Silverman saw this move as Trump acting on his own.
“What this appears to be, especially given the reporting indicating that the president is trying to do this, do it quickly, and do it so that an incoming Biden administration cannot undo it, is an attempt to lock the U.S. into a course of action that may not be strategically sound or advance any specific U.S. interests or policies,” he told Newsweek, “but personally pleases the president because it achieves one of his personal preferences that the U.S. shouldn’t have military personnel deployed forward in Afghanistan.”
Trump, interestingly, broke some news about all of this today, though I’m sure he didn’t mean to do so:
It was reported that Trump apparently tried to invite the Taliban leadership to Camp David to negotiate with him personally so he could dazzle them with the Art of the Deal. But it had not, as far as I know, been previously reported that Trump had personal discussions about the withdrawal with the Taliban’s leadership.
The larger problem here for the US is that with the exception of the Revolutionary War and World War II, the US seems to be incapable of winning the war and leveraging that victory to secure the peace or is incapable, no matter how much tactical and operational success, of both securing a successful battlefield termination (winning the war) and doing so in a way to set the conditions to secure the post war peace. Our continued and repeated failure to be able to achieve this strategic necessity is one of the main contributors to the fact that the US is constantly having to send troops back over and over and over to the same places.
For Silverman, what comes after combat is every bit as important as what happens during it.
“When we commit forces, how do we set the conditions to not just win the war, but to win the peace post-war?” Silverman said. “This has been a major issue in almost every major conflict we’ve found ourselves in.”
What we’re seeing right now in Afghanistan is the result of decisions made years ago. Of strategies that never aligned with the reality on the ground. Of fighting a low intensity war with conventional forces that resented having to do things outside of their military occupational specialties and where every time we rotated in a new corps, division, and brigade we started everything all over again. A twenty year war waged one year at a time multiplied by 20.
Right now the US’s priority is to get our non-combatant personnel, the Afghan citizens who worked for and with us that we’re bringing to the US to protect them and their families, and to ensure that the Afghan government doesn’t collapse. That Kabul does not fall. After that, I’m honestly not sure what the strategy is or will be. The Biden administration most likely has a crisis action plan in place in case they have to flood troops back in to stabilize the country and that may be why sources are telling Naveed Jamali and other reporters that the NEO force is going to be closer to 7,000 uniformed personnel. But we won’t know until we see what happens when they get there.
Frankly, I’m not sure that any strategy we could propose would actually be effective unless we’re going to flood forces back in to kill and capture every last Taliban and then do the long, hard work to completely eradicate their revanchist, extremist version of Islam. That is not going to happen because that is not how the US wages war. But it is also not going to happen because the Taliban are not the root source of that revanchist, extremist version of Islam. Saudi Arabia is. It exports it all over the Muslim world and it has given us the Taliban and al Qaeda and ISIS and al Shabab and a dozen other violent extremist groups at least.
I started to prep to go to Afghanistan and instead wound up at Carlisle Barracks, which made my mother much, much happier. I’ve provided theater strategic analytical support to senior leaders on the religion and culture and society and politics of Afghanistan. I’ve served on working groups and organizational planning teams providing these inputs. I’ve prepped divisions and brigades to go to Afghanistan. What is happening there is both tragic and predictable. And it is just another debt that the US has incurred because we seem to be unable to win the war and to leverage winning the war to secure the post war peace.