This article appeared in the May 19, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Why Afghanistan fell: Report sheds new light

Rahmat Gul/AP/File
Afghan National Army personnel march during their graduation ceremony after a three-month training program at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 29, 2020.

The collapse of Afghanistan last August left the world reeling. How had more than 20 years of investment been undone so quickly? On Wednesday, the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released its investigation, and I talked with our frequent contributor on global security issues, Anna Mulrine Grobe, about it. 

The main takeaway, Anna says, is that the collapse of Afghan security forces was foreseeable, and foreseen. The Taliban were adept at exploiting the situation, but the failure happened well before the advance on Kabul. 

How did so much money and effort do so little? 

  • Corruption. No significant inroads were ever made. The war in Ukraine offers a counterpoint. Anna notes that one reason the Ukrainian army has held up so well is that significant efforts were made in recent years to address corruption. 
  • Hierarchy. Ukraine shows how NATO training can work. But, crucially, Anna notes, that training has empowered mid-level officers to make flexible decisions on the battlefield. In Afghanistan, training was never able to break down persistent hierarchies. 
  • Falling expectations. When it became apparent that Afghan units were not progressing, U.S. trainers simply changed the bar to essentially make that acceptable. The focus was on numbers more than quality. 
  • Secrecy. The U.S. almost completely cut Afghan officials out of its peace negotiations with the Taliban. Many Afghans felt the U.S. was effectively handing the country over to the Taliban upon its withdrawal. That was toxic to morale and became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • The report concludes that the U.S. government didn’t have the will to do the hard work that needed to be done. For Anna’s part, she saw “so many smart minds who were applying themselves to fixing this.” But the lack of trust and honesty gave it no real foundation.

    This article appeared in the May 19, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

    Read 05/19 edition
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