The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban after two decades of conflict can be summarized in three words: Corruption, Delusion, and Bungling. Corruption is endemic in the tribal culture of Afghanistan. It pervades the privileged classes, the provincial governments, and the officer class in what passed for military “leadership.” That was abetted by the skimming of billions of dollars for military assistance, training, equipping and pay for Afghan troops. Delusion is reflected in that the US national security echelon did not recognize that the average Afghan would take risks to defend a government that was as dangerous to them as the Taliban. Instead, it perpetuated unrealistic evaluations of the performance of this non-NATO ally.
Former Afghanistan White House War czar during Bush-Obama Presidencies had this comment in a December 9, 2019 Washington Post report:
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan—we didn’t know what we were doing.” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfuction …. 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of US military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”
Bungling was evident in the current Biden administration debacle in Afghanistan. It is the culmination of missed opportunities in four Presidential administrations: Bush, Obama, Trump and his own. While he has long professed views from his days as Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Vice President under Obama of ending support for the seemingly “endless war” in Afghanistan, he and the senior Pentagon leaders blundered into enabling the rapid Taliban blitzkrieg. The Biden White House bought into the Trump unilateral withdrawal negotiations in Doha with Taliban leaders. Then on April 13th he reset the date for ultimate withdrawal to August 31, 2021. The other misstep was not maintaining a limited force at Bagram Air Base of 2,500 troops, while withdrawing close air support. Instead, the US CENTCOM commander opted to reinforce the Kabul airport with 6,000 US Airborne, Marines, and other support. That prodded the Taliban forces to expedite their encirclement of Kabul by capturing 24 remaining provinces and major cities Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Kandahar in 11 days. Chaos erupted with the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021, with the enormous difficulties of securing the safe passage of 15,000 Americans and 18,000 Afghan translators and families. On view are daily dramatic scenes of throngs of Afghans rallying at the perimeter of Kabul airport, desperate to leave the country, surrounded by Taliban soldiers. This has resulted in casualties, including those clamoring to board US transport planes who fell to their deaths. The Taliban has laid down a “red Line” that the US and other foreign air evacuations must end on August 31, 2021, thereby ending the prospect of continuing the flights until upwards of 100,000 US Citizens and Afghans can be brought to safety in the US and other lands. The failure of the Pentagon to create contingency plans for such an occurrence is appalling.
The Taliban were routed by the US CIA and Special forces and Northern Alliance troops with massive air support in December 2001. An opportunity was missed that same month to capture the perpetrator of 9/11 Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders in the Tora Bora mountains. It would not be achieved until May 2011 with the attack by US Navy Seals on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan that resulted in his death and seizure of extensive files US attention was diverted by the Bush White House planning for the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The result was a failed counterinsurgency “nation building” strategy that cost more than 2 trillion dollars with billions syphoned off by corrupt officials, which produced a virtual ghost Army with no effective leaders. More than 2,400 US troops lost their lives and over 20,000 were injured in combat in Afghanistan. Those who passed as Afghan military leaders were stealing wages, food, and salaries from the average Afghan soldiers and allegedly 60,000 lost their lives battling the Taliban. Equipping and training the Afghan military cost American taxpayers over $88 billion. There never was a 300,000-member Afghan Army touted by Biden and the Pentagon, more like half of that figure. It was poorly organized and trained in the US foreign assistance model with no Pentagon budget priorities to create effective leadership. Perhaps the only effective fighting force were the US-trained 22,000 commandos some of whom following the collapse in Kabul are joining the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan in the Panjshir Valley fighting the Taliban. It is among the few areas in the country’s north that is not occupied by the Taliban. The Alliance is led by the son of the fallen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud who was killed by a team of Al Qaeda operatives feigning a filmed interview two days before 9/11. His 32-year old, UK-educated son, Ahmad Massoud, in a Washington Post op-ed published August 18, 2021, made a Churchillian request for weapons and munitions to defend the bastion. Massoud has been joined in the resistance by former Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Defense Minister Bismallah Khan Mohammad.
Corruption was rampant by the country’s leaders and families peeling off hundreds of millions diverted to Gulf financial safe havens. One example was the speaker of the Afghan parliament, Rahman Rahmani who became a multi-millionaire off sole-source contracts to supply fuel and security at Bagram Air Base.
An investigation into $900 million hoard found in the Kabul Bank in 2010, uncovered that a person close to President Hamid Karzai was found to have taken a bribe. However, a warrant for his arrest was aborted when then President Karzai vigorously objected. A US interagency study in 2011 on corruption in Afghanistan failed to establish a mandate to address the problems at the highest levels. Instead, it was suggested that local, meaning police corruption, might be the focus. The US effort to reign in corruption effectively collapsed. Former Afghanistan Ashraf Gahni, a Columbia University PhD, former World Bank executive, co-author of a book on Fixing Failed States, who Foreign Policy Magazine in 2010 listed among the 100 Global Thinkers, fled the Presidential Palace in Kabul by helicopter on Sunday, August 15, 2021 to his ultimate sanctuary in the UAE via Tajikistan. Accompanying him was alleged to be a cache of $169 million dollars, though he later denied this.
As rapid as the Taliban’s takeover was in Afghanistan, it faces the problem of not only governance but a cash economy that has run out of dollars for its banking system. Since 2019, the country has received over $4 billion in international assistance. The US Treasury effectively aborted the half billion dollars to be delivered in mid-August. The New York Federal Reserve put a hold on an estimated $9 billion in gold reserves, liquid funds, and US bonds. The IMF followed that up blocking over $440 million in Special Drawing Rights for Afghanistan. International payment systems like Western Union and MoneyGram have shut down transfer services to Afghanistan. That will effectively prevent over $700 million in annual remittances from Afghan ex-pats. The banking system and economy will be in chaos, unless and until international assistance can be restarted. Under Taliban control that is going to be a daunting effort, given that very few countries have opted to recognize it. Although, it has been warmly received by the usual suspects, Pakistan, China, Russia, Turkey, and Qatar.
The Taliban was the creation of Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) founded by Afghan extremist Salafist religious students. The interlocutor of this deceit—no surprise—was the first US installed President Hamid Karzai, who cut a deal with the embryonic Taliban in 1994 under ISI auspices. Afghanistan was then in chaos following the Soviet withdrawal amidst a shooting war among Mujahedeen warlords. Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Walid (who was syphoning off opium profits), was gunned down in Kandahar in 2011 by his bodyguard. Former US Chief of Staff Mike Mullen in 2011 told the Senate Armed Services Committee; “the Taliban was the virtual arm of the ISI.” Hamid Karzai is now a member of the “coordinating council” in Kabul with Abdullah Abdullah, head of the former peace delegation and former Prime Minister and Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, negotiating a power sharing agreement with Taliban leader Khalil Haqqani, a US designated terrorist with a $5 million bounty for his capture or killing.
Those who have chronicled this tawdry record of American military misadventure include Sarah Chayes (journalist and later advisor to the former US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullens), John Sopko (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction), Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio (editors of Foundation for Defense of Democracies Long War Journal), and Jonathan Schroden of the Center for Naval Analysis.
ISIS-K murderous attack at Kabul Airport
With less than five days to the deadline of the evacuation flights from Kabul International airport on August 26, 2021, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K) struck. Two suicide blasts at the Abbey Gate entrance and the adjacent Baron Hotel, with a follow up attack by gunmen, killed 13 US servicemen—10 Marines, two soldiers and a sailor, injuring 18. This was the first report of US casualties since February 8, 2020. More than 90 Afghans were killed and over 150 injured. The toll of the dead and injured is still not complete.
The ISIS-K AMARG news service claimed responsibility, showed a picture of the alleged suicide bomber, and suggested in the news release that the attack was directed at so-called “spies” at the airport—meaning US and coalition partner service personnel. Hundreds of ISIS-K prisoners were freed during the Taliban overthrow of the former Afghan regime. ISIS-K has a complicated history of both fighting the Taliban and cooperating with it, especially when it comes to attacking US service personnel and, even more dastardly, Afghan children and infants. Witness a 2020 Kabul attack on the French elite high school for girls May 8, 2021. It is not above attacking Taliban and vice versa. It is suspected ISIS-K was the perpetrator. ISIS-K is composed of both Afghan and Pakistani Taliban of Pashtun ethnic and tribal relations. They have killed one another and yet cooperated in terrorist attacks especially against the U.S. operations in Afghanistan and their families have intermarried. Both extremist groups have competed in claiming control of an extremist Afghan Emirate ruled under medieval Islamic Sharia justice.
In three separate press conferences at the Pentagon and two at the White House, the Biden Administration endeavored to present a brave face to this latest debacle. For days prior to the attack, the State Department and Pentagon had issued warnings of a possible ISIS-K event. The extensive Pentagon briefing by CENTCOM commander Marine General Frank Mackenzie endeavored to reconcile the competing problems of force protection security in this chaotic environment with resuming the humanitarian airlift of US nationals, green card holders and Afghan Special Visa holders, and others. More than 105,000 eligible persons have been airlifted by US and coalition partners: 7,000 during the attack at Kabul Airport. The UK has managed to rescue over 30,000 of its citizens and Afghans. However, it announced on August 27, 2021, that it was ending its evacuation flights. General McKenzie cited the array of military capabilities to address the ISIS-K threat including armed drones, USAF “spectre” C-130-gunships, and both Marine and Naval air squadrons of the USS Reagan carrier task force. He rationalized the CENTCOM controversial decision to abandon the giant Bagram air base with two operating fields instead choosing to reinforce the Hamid Karzai Kabul International Airport with 6,000 US Army paratroopers, Marines, and other service personnel. He admitted that it would be difficult to protect the force against ISIS-K threats but elected to complete the humanitarian evacuation mission. There was also admission that upwards of 1,000 US citizens and families remain to be delivered to Kabul Airport before the August 31, 2021, deadline. However, he indicated that CENTCOM would continue the mission. Regarding the ISIS-K perpetrators of the Kabul airport attacks, he said, “If we can find who is associated with this, we will go after them.”
President Biden, at the White House news conference, expressed empathy with the families of the fallen “heroes” of the 13 US service personnel and ordered US Flags on public buildings lowered to half-staff in mourning for the nation’s loss. He noted that, while perforce the US is coordinating with the Taliban, he “does not trust them.” Regarding the ISIS-K, he stated,” We will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay. We will not be intimidated.” White House press director Jen Psaki in the following press conference said, “we will kill you.” That suggested the Pentagon and CIA may have intelligence with which to target counterterrorism actions. Many bi-partisan Members of Congress have faulted President Biden’s performance in this episode. Some Republican Members have called for either his resignation or impeachment. Afghan veteran groups have demanded that the President continue the evacuation flights after the August 31st deadline. Former British Commander in Afghanistan Richard E. Kemp even suggested that President Biden “should be court martialed for betraying US Armed Forces” over the debacle in Afghanistan. As to the political impacts on President Biden and alleged bungling to prevent this debacle, one must recall that President Reagan was re-elected in 1984 in the wake of the 1983 Beirut barracks suicide truck bombing by Hezbollah that killed over 243 US Marines. President Biden’s poll figures have “dipped” over his leadership during the Afghanistan fall and the Kabul airport attacks.
What follows is an expanded discussion of a radio interview on the fall of Afghanistan between the author and Tamar Yonah, Managing Director of Israel News Talk Radio.
Tamar Yonah: I’m glad to have you. Thank you for coming on the show. We have been seeing video and photo footage all over the news with people in Kabul trying to get out. We hear a lot of talk from the White House trying to tamp down the accusations against the Biden administration for bungling their leaving of Afghanistan. So where would you like to start?
Jerry Gordon: Let us start with the accusations of bungling. There has been enough intelligence over the course of two decades to indicate that the Taliban was going to return at some point in time. The Wall Street Journal revealed a cable sent on July 13, 2021, by the US Embassy in Kabul to top officials of the State Department, warning of the rapid advance by the Taliban and likely collapse of the Afghan government and inability of what passed for its military to stop it as soon as the US withdrew by August 31st. It also made recommendations on speeding up evacuation of Embassy staff and the more than 18,000 Afghan translators and families. The cable also suggested harsh language condemning the atrocities committed by rampaging Taliban forces seizing provinces and later major cities. There was rampant endemic corruption within the Republic of Afghanistan involving Baksheesh transactions by the military and police. It was not uncommon for many people to work with both the regime during the winter months and join the Taliban during the summer.
Tamar Yonah: Why?
Jerry Gordon: Because frankly it resulted in more money for them than they could earn in the corrupt system. Let me give you some examples of this.
Tamar Yonah: Please.
Jerry Gordon: An American security contractor in Afghanistan who dealt with the Border Police provided me with evidence of how pervasive the corruption is. He was at the border station in Herat, one of those cities overrun by the Taliban, witnessing off-loading of Iranian truck cargo going through customs. There were three trucks, not just two as one would expect. There was a truck from Iran offloading food and other materials into a truck making deliveries elsewhere in Afghanistan. The third truck off-loading supplies was from the Border Police. The commander of that Border Police Station was pleased to indicate that he had paid baksheesh equivalent to three months’ salary equivalent to $80,000 US to secure the slot from national police that enabled him to continue his quest of skimming profits from the cross-border trade.
The informed source who spent 4 years as an adviser and trainer of district police in Afghanistan explained the endemic nature of corruption that ultimately disabled the ability to field an effective military and security force. He stated,
The image of corruption in the minds of homemakers, business owners, politicians, clerics, and students in western civilizations vary yet share the common denominator of greed or evil and in general a negative connotation. Any person who has spent time in Afghanistan working with government officials, military, law enforcement, and businesses have witnessed or experienced the alternate definition of corruption.
Should one be fortunate enough to barter an action or deed to a benefit far above a level of fairness, the action is revered and considered evidence of power or authority. The concept is engrained in the cultural acceptance of a system capitalized upon for hundreds of years. The normalcy of corruption in day-to-day life in Afghanistan is such that attempts to disguise the practice from westerners became a lesson in Afghan civics. In rural Afghan districts, the citizens rely on whomever is the current authority in the region. Whether it’s a warlord, Taliban, or Afghan government official; the process and procedures are the same. Disputing parties present their cases to the district governor, tribal leader or cleric who decides the victor.
While on a mission to train and advise the Afghan police in a predominantly agricultural district, the district Governor was conducting his weekly conferences in the district center that housed the police. The conferences included hearings referred to as “Land Disputes” to outsiders, but often involved the outcome of mercy killings, thefts and even murder.
Approached by a man speaking English with a strong British accent, he stated his Afghan family was in a “Land Dispute” to be decided by the District Governor that day. He discovered that the opposing party was going to provide the same bribe amount to the governor and could not raise additional cash before the hearing. He requested I deliver the bribe in the hopes that U.S. endorsement of his side would influence the Governor. Of course, his request was denied, and he lost his family’s case after the opposing family increased their bribe.
Corruption was embedded within the Afghan Police promotion system and, the further from Kabul a policeman or soldier was assigned, the chances for promotion diminished. The fee schedule for promotions were common knowledge within the ranks. $400.00 U.S. was the fee to be a sergeant and was transported to commanders in Kabul by courier or hitchhikers leapfrogging towards the Capitol. By accepted practice, every senior official and checkpoint commander along the way was entitled to a cut of the fee. Coincidentally if one was assigned to Helmand Province and didn’t personally deliver the fee, the $400.00—by the time it reached Kabul—was only $40 or $50, and no promotion was granted.
When the U.S. government began to fund the payroll for Afghan military and police, the cash payroll system was so corrupt, soldiers bid to be assigned to checkpoints to survive on shakedowns to feed themselves. The payroll converted to a debit card style system forced commanders to coerce PINs from subordinates to facilitate the ease of skimming their cut of the pay. So often a commander would claim discipline issues on ill equipped soldiers and police officers when in fact the equipment was sold before or after issue.
Four years on the ground and the only times I heard Afghans complain about corruption is inflation or when the process itself became too complex.
Tamar Yonah: Jerry, my question is, why hasn’t the Afghani military been really fighting back against the Taliban who are just taking over? The Biden administration is saying, “We left them with 300,000 men in their military, they had an Air Force, and they should have been able to get these 75,000 fighters from the Taliban.” That was their claim. You see pictures of Taliban, they don’t have an air force, they don’t have a proper army, you see them riding on motorcycles and bikes against the big giant military that Afghanistan had trained by the superpower America, and they couldn’t beat them. Where is the Taliban getting the funds to topple the Afghan regime in Kabul?
Jerry Gordon: Let’s first address the question of what the Taliban is, their history and support for Al Qaeda global terrorism that perpetrated 9/11. The Taliban are largely composed of a cross border ethnic group called the Pashtun. In the late 19th century, the British Raj created the Durand Line that divided the restive Pashtun between what became the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pashtun were largely from rural agricultural communities Southern and Eastern Afghanistan places like Kandahar.
The Taliban is a creature of its next-door neighbor, Pakistan.
The Taliban in the 90s were in a dispute with the Mujahideen, the fighters against the Soviet army during the decade between 1979 and 1989, when it left ignominiously. The Taliban essentially were all graduates of the radical Madrassas inside Pakistan. Mullahs Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mohammed Omar—since deceased allegedly from TB in Afghanistan—co-founded Taliban in a Pakistan madrassa and established the first Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996. The Taliban were also supported by the so-called Inter-Service Intelligence of the Pakistani government. The ISI cooperated with the CIA in the 80s, in a famous clandestine episode called “Charlie Wilsons War“ depicted in the film of the same name about an adventurous Texas Congressman and the subterfuge of cover for Reagan administration policy against shipping US arms, by filtering weapons to the Mujahideen through Pakistan. That included weapons from stocks that the Israelis had captured in major wars. Eventually, the US dropped the elaborate ruse supplying the Mujahideen with US Stinger MANPADS in 1986 to take down Russian helicopters. They were able to take power from the fractious Communist government left behind after the Soviet forces retreated. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan as an Islamic Emirate under dystopian Sharia justice from 1996 until ousted in 2001 by US CIA clandestine and special operations contingents working with anti-Taliban Mujahideen warlords. The Taliban “hosted” Al Qaeda founder, Saudi multi-millionaire Osama bin Laden—refusing to surrender him to US demands. Al Qaeda launched attacks on US Embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000 in Yemen—culminating in the 9/11 attacks by 15 Saudi, Egyptian and Yemeni jihadists who hijacked several airliners crashing them into the former World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Over 3,000 Americans and foreigners were killed on 9/11.
A confidential report commissioned by NATO and reported by Radio Free Europe/ Radio liberty in December 2020 revealed the enormous wealth of the Taliban since ousted in 2001. (See: The Taliban are mega rich—here’s where they get the money they use to wage war in Afghanistan, The Conversation, December 8, 2020.) The 2019-2020 budget was $1.6 billion versus $5.5 billion for the Afghan regime. The principal sources of Taliban reported revenues were:
- $416 million from opium production under their control.
- $464 million from mining iron ore, marble, copper, zinc, gold, and rare earth minerals.
- $160 million from extortion and taxes including Islamic “ushr” tax of 10 percent on farmer poppy production and Zakat an Islamic charity wealth tax of 2.5%.
- $240 million from Persian Gulf charitable trusts listed by the US Treasury as terrorism financiers, wealthy individuals in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Haqqani network.
- $240 million in imports and exports to launder illicit funds.
- $80 million in real estate revenues in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Taliban have been building a massive war chest over two decades making it among the world’s wealthiest terrorist groups.
Take for example the hundreds of millions in opium production and smuggling and involvement of the CIA and the Karzai family, Pakistani ISI in the lucrative Afghanistan heroin trade. F. Edwin Engdahl writing in the New Eastern Outlook about the “Afghan Heroin Trade and the American Pullout“in April 2021 had these revelations:
“The Taliban in 2000 sought to limit opium production on the grounds of being un-Islamic reducing poppy acreage from 80,000 to less than 8,000. The UN Drug Office reported that ‘production fell from 3,300 tons in 2000 to less than 185 tons in 2001.’ After they were ousted in October 2001, the corrupt regime of US-installed President Ahmed Karzai and family saw the significant revenues from ramping up opium production to meet global heroin and opiate demands.” Engdahl noted this New York Times report in 2009—by which time opium production had risen to 8,000 tons. Citing unnamed US officials, he wrote, “Ahmed Walid Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years … In 2011, Ahmed Karzai was gunned down, mob-style, at his home in Helmand by one of his bodyguards.” During the 1980s, US-financed CIA-ran Mujahideen war against the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan, Afghan warlords such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar were enriching themselves along with the Pakistani ISI intelligence with vast drug trade profits.
Afghanistan supplies upwards of 84 percent of the world’s opium and heroin. The US failed miserably to try and suggest to farmers in Helmand, that produced 60 percent of opiate production in Afghanistan, that there were other “profitable” alternate crops to be planted instead of poppy seeds, essentially in the area. The US spent over $8 billion in this anti-opium production campaign, even to the extent of burning poppy fields that despite compensation brought backlash from aggrieved Afghan farmers. As we have seen in the NATO report, the Taliban conveniently changed their previous Islamic views and began to accumulate wealth for funding its insurgent terror campaigns from both opium production taxes and smuggling profits.
Tamar Yonah: I remember seeing a news report showing American troops protecting the poppy farmers and the poppy farms to be able to keep going on, and they were saying that they were given this order, and the American soldiers were upset about it too. They didn’t want to have to protect something like this at the drug trade, but they said, “Look, this is how the people make their living and we have to keep letting them make a living.” Whatever they produced, was America getting money from these poppy farms.
Jerry Gordon: As to the meltdown of the Afghan military, note what Pentagon watchdog on Afghanistan John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in Congressional testimony in March 2021: “Corruption is one of the biggest threats to Afghanistan’s security force and is fueling the [Taliban] insurgency.” He noted that as of December 31, 2020, the Pentagon had spent $88.3 billion to provide training and security in Afghanistan equal to 62% of all US reconstruction funding. The US commitment to spend another $4 billion until 2024 has been aborted given the Taliban takeover. The same AP report on “Afghan forces demoralized, rife with corruption” noted that Afghan soldiers complain of substandard equipment, because corrupt contractors used shoddy materials. This is despite the tens of billions spent. The Afghan Army lacks professionally trained leadership and cadres. One Afghan former major general, Attiquillah Amarkheil, who served in the Soviet-trained Army of 150,000 that remained after 1989, said that the professionally trained force had “quality rather than the quantity.” An updated report on the size of the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces indicated it had a revised strength of less than 182,000, which has virtually disappeared with the Taliban takeover. Jonathan Shroden, of the US defense think tank the Center for Naval Analysis, noted in a CNN report, “Fact -checking Biden’s assertion that the Afghan military was ‘300,000’ strong,” that the size of the Afghan military and police force was marred by the “problem of so-called ‘ghost fighters’—no show soldiers and police officers who were listed on employee rolls only so corrupt people could fraudulently collect their salaries.”
Tamar Yonah: Jerry, US Secretary of State Blinken was saying that, “We didn’t bungle anything up. We left them with a military of 300,000 soldiers and they had an air force,” and this was not expected. But you’re saying that the Taliban has been waiting quietly. Take it from there.
Jerry Gordon: What the Taliban have been doing in plain sight was telling the world how they were going to take back the country. One of the experts who has written about this is Bill Roggio. He’s the editor of The Long War Journal at the Washington, DC Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). On August 11, 2021—four days before the final denouement in Kabul—Roggio pointed out in a PBS NewsHour interview,The Taliban now control two thirds of Afghanistan—How did it Happen? that the Taliban maintains an English language website. It’s called The Voice of Jihad. He was saying anybody who could access it and look at their content would see what their gameplan was.
Roggio said, “what the Taliban did, since the US handed over security to the Afghan forces back in 2014, they focused on taking control of rural areas. US generals, the commanders, dismissed this and said, ‘We’re going to focus on the population centers.’ The Taliban said, ‘That’s fine. We’ll work on the rural areas; we’ll stage from there and we’ll expand our control outward.’ This Taliban strategy was over a decade in the making. They explained it in English, by the way. So, it was all out there to see. Unfortunately, bad US, Afghan and NATO strategy combined with solid Taliban strategy. Yes, they were stockpiling weapons in every area they took control. They gained more war material. This is how we have seen this spread. It has gone from the rural areas, and now it is inside the Afghan cities.”
Roggio noted in his interview the smokescreen of the Doha peace negotiations. “Seven days after signing the Doha agreement, that the only acceptable outcome of this war would be the re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate with Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, its emir, as the leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban’s Doha group was merely providing cover. The strategy is giving false hope to everyone tying up diplomatic efforts while the Taliban tries to take control of Afghanistan. The Taliban would accept the surrender of the Afghan government, remember that would lead to peace. That would be the peace of the Taliban. But they’ll take it militarily.”
After the Taliban takeover in Kabul, former Afghan President Ashraf Gahni fled via helicopter to Tajikistan in transit ultimately to the UAE. Subsequently, he announced possible return to Kabul to hold discussions with the new Taliban authorities. Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh declared himself interim President and fled to Panjshir, the only area not occupied by the Taliban, to establish resistance against the Taliban with the son of the “Lion of Panjshir,” 32-year-old Ahmad Massoud. You may recall that two days before 9/11, there was an assassination of the leader of the Northern Alliance called the Lion of the Panjshir Valley, Ahmad Shah Massoud, and it was done with an Al Qaeda hit team masquerading as a camera team filming an interview with him that resulted in his killing.
Tamar Yonah: Secretary Blinken said that America was there for around 20 years, and it was unable to beat the Taliban. How is it that the superpower with Air Force, with one of the best military training, etc., was not able to beat—in 20 years—the Taliban?
Jerry Gordon: The Afghan regime was largely led by returning ex-pats from the West who had little connection to the conservative religious Afghans in rural areas. Taliban had cultivated them in terms of their Islamist Sharia doctrine. The US chose to abandon its original counterterrorism focus that ousted the Taliban in late 2001. Instead, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with Vice President Dick Cheney in the Bush White House was preoccupied with building the case for the overturning of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. What emerged was a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan with an objective of “national-building,” a strategic error. That deflected resources from killing and capturing Al Qaeda leader bin Laden, which wasn’t achieved until 2011. Given the ethnic, tribal and linguistic challenges, that deflected the US from achievement of its “national interests,” instead focusing on the virtually impossible objective to create a “democratic freedom loving country” in Afghanistan. At one point we had over 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan until the drawdown began during the Obama Administration in 2014. But then we had an incident in 2014, the release by the Obama Administration, despite the objection of US Intelligence, of five captured “hardcore” Taliban commanders from the US Guantanamo Detention center in Cuba in exchange for a US Army Sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl walked away from his post in Afghanistan spending five years as a hostage of the Haqqani network. Khairullah Khairkhwa, one of those released in the Doha exchange, was the dominant figure in uniting the Taliban and crafting the takeover strategy. He remained in Doha conducting negotiations with US Special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. Kharirkhwa refused US, Russian and Chinese entreaties to delay the spring offensive in Afghanistan that ultimately toppled the Afghan regime. The Trump Administration began unilateral withdrawal discussions in 2018, requested the release of Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghan Baradar, who participated in the Doha negotiations with the US. Baradar, who was captured by a joint Pakistani ISIS-CIA team in 2010, spent eight years in prison. Now he is back in Kabul as the defacto Taliban leader and likely President of the self-declared Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. He led the Taliban delegation to China and signed the Doha agreement with the US.
Tamar Yonah: The Taliban is in power now. What do you think is going to happen to all the people who are stuck there who couldn’t get out?
Jerry Gordon: Well, it’s not going to be a pretty scene for them, many of those people who were deemed to be allies of the US are probably fair game for Sharia-like punishment, which obviously means they could be executed. You may recall, if you’re old enough, these horrible pictures of assassinations of persons in sports stadiums—remember sports was outlawed underneath the regime of Taliban 1.0 back in the 90s, and you found women dressed in these blue—
Tamar Yonah: —Yes, like blue sacks.
Jerry Gordon: Essentially, these people were executed in former sports statement. Shot to death. You are going to find a lot of that occurring. There was a film clip I recently saw of an actual interview with the Taliban in one of the captured communities. They made it abundantly clear to everyone that, No. Girls were not going to be educated beyond the age of 12, period. Therefore, if parents persisted in that direction, they’re probably fair game for being executed. Another filmed interview with an Afghan woman doctor near Kabul Airport recounted tearfully being taken from her car and pistol whipped by Taliban for driving. She is desperate to leave, knowing she can’t practice her profession and her life is in danger.
Tamar Yonah: Terrible. Some women tweeted that they were going to university in Afghanistan, and they were barred from going into the university. After Kabul fell on August 15, 2021, you saw pictures of Taliban fighters in the office of the presidential palace in Kabul. It is frightening to think what is going to happen to those allies of America and the West who are left behind. Translators, possibly journalists, if they haven’t gotten out yet. Families of workers of the embassies, etc. What is going to happen to these people? Why do you believe that the left-wing Biden administration wanted out of Afghanistan after 20 years of American forces being there, keeping the Taliban out, what made them want to leave?
Jerry Gordon: I think it’s because Joe Biden in particular, even before he was part of the Obama administration, had misgivings about losing sight of national interests to contain the al Qaeda threat as Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, that during the Bush Administration, the focus changed to “nation building.” He wanted to end the conflict because of US casualties there. Remember, his son Beau served in Afghanistan. We have expended over $2 trillion in support of activities in Afghanistan. It cost the US over $88 billion dollars to “train, equip, and advise 300,000 troops who disappeared.” It also claimed the lives of 2,350 and injured more than 20,000 American troops in actions in Afghanistan. I think that is why Biden said, “Look, enough in that regard.” But he failed to heed cables issued by the US Embassy in July warning the country was in danger of a Taliban takeover when the last 2,500 US troops were withdrawn and major US bases like Bagram were overrun—freeing thousands of Al Qaeda and ISIS prisoners and with Taliban seizing major stockpiles of US vehicles, weapons and munitions, Blackhawk helicopters, and 150 other tactical and logistical aircraft—some of which were flown to neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Now we have the paradox in the Kabul airport of more than 6,000 US troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and USAF personnel, Aircraft from the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Task Force redeployed from the strategic South China Sea with threats by China to Taiwan made periodically, and sorties over Kabul airport. This deployment of US forces converted Kabul Airport in a bastion for evacuation of an estimated 15,000 American citizens, more than 18,000 Afghanistan interpreters and families, as well as journalists, and others. President Biden admitted in an ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos, that this might very well continue beyond that date. Problem is the Taliban guard the base perimeter violently threatening Afghans fleeing and even attacking US and international journalists covering this humanitarian crisis. Unlike the British and French, the Biden administration Pentagon appears unwilling to commit to undertaking special operations to secure their citizens and Afghan allies trapped in Kabul, except in one instance evacuating 169 Americans by helicopter shuttles from the roof of a hotel, reminiscent of the picture of Saigon in April 1975. Now, according to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, they are concerned about threats from ISIS-K about attack on the teeming crowds at the Kabul airport disrupting evacuation. Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and General Jack Keane proposed in a Wall Street Journal op ed, “How to Contain the Taliban” the creation of channels into the capital of Kabul by US forces to permit secure entry of US citizens and our Afghan allies to the bastion of the Kabul Airport.
Tamar Yonah: I would counter with a question saying that the United States and every country that has troops in another country isn’t there to protect the people. They’re there because it is their interest in being there. There’s some type of pay-off, and otherwise America wouldn’t be in there for 20 years, wouldn’t be spending all that money, wouldn’t be taking the chance of some of their soldiers being picked off. Why were they there in the first place? After they got Bin Laden, what is the reason that they had an interest in still being there?
Jerry Gordon: Their interest in being in Afghanistan was it had provided a haven for our enemy, the late Osama Bin Laden, to conduct his attack on something that I looked upon with my son and his law firm colleagues from mid-town Manhattan 20 years ago on 9/11 in New York. Even before that there were the Al Qaeda US Embassy attacks in 1998 in East Africa and against the USS Cole in 2000 in Yemen. After 9/11, the Bush administration was infuriated by the fact when they asked the Taliban to surrender Bin Laden, they said, “No, the Islamic standard of hospitality covers him,” and hence they decided to go in there. You may recall, a mixed force of CIA clandestine force contingent backed by a Mujahedeen Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostom and USAF “spectre gunships” and carrier based Naval and Marine air missions routed the war against the Taliban in less than two months by the end of 2001. Tactical missteps by both US and British special operations units failed to trap Bin Laden leading to his and Al Qaeda leaders escape from the mountain redoubt of Tora Bora in 2001. The International Security Assistance Force led by NATO under a UN mandate in 2003 was supposed to provide security and assist in training the Afghan National and Security Forces to deny a haven for terrorists. That mission ended in 2014, replaced by a smaller effort (Resolute Support) to continue the training of Afghan forces which, in view of what occurred with the Taliban “blitzkrieg” victory in August 2021, failed. Therefore, you must ask, “How were we stalled in there over two decades trying to run a sophisticated counter-insurgency program that didn’t work?”
Tamar Yonah: One of the emerging issues of this debacle is mistrust from US allies or any country thinking of allying with the United States. After Afghanistan, why would anyone want to ally with the United States when they see that America could leave their country to pick up the pieces?
Jerry Gordon: You’re right. And let me give you some examples. Remember, Georgia was attacked by Russia in 2008, and you had the episode with Putin’s Russia taking over the Crimea in 2014—supporting insurgents’ war in eastern Ukraine. Or, take Israel, which alleges there is a special relationship with the US. After Afghanistan and the US push for renewal of the 2015 nuclear JCPOA under Biden while Tehran is on the verge of achieving a nuclear weapons breakthrough, the Israel special relationship is under serious re-evaluation by not only Israel, but Middle East signatories of the Abraham Accords orchestrated by the former Trump Administration. Whether the UAE, Bahrain and non-signatories Saudi Arabia and Oman, Israel is the only ‘strong horse’ they can rely on to deal with Iran and terror proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi in Yemen, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and now infiltrating Judea and Samaria.
The US came up with recognition of so-called non-NATO allies like Georgia, Ukraine, and Israel. Nine years ago, they listed Afghanistan as a valued non-NATO ally. In the wake of the Taliban victory, it didn’t happen. The US does not have a very good track record in dealing with allies who are not members of NATO. The US and all NATO members are subject to Article Five of the NATO charter, which says If you are attacked, as the US was in 9/11, then the NATO partners were honor-bound to come to US assistance to deal with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. That was the history of that involvement. The US does not have a very good track record honoring so-called commitments to these non-NATO allies.
Tamar Yonah: With the Taliban taking over, you’re saying that there will be reprisals, people are going to be killed. I have assumed that many people are going to be losing their property and their businesses if they sided with America and/or they’re not part of the Taliban. Women cannot go to universities, women cannot get an education after age 12. What else can we expect to see?
Jerry Gordon: The women are going to be put in purdah under male guardians. It means a return to what Dr. Phyllis Chesler, called gender apartheid (see our New English Review interview with her on her own personal experience in Afghanistan). Afghan women will be forced to wear blue niqabs, covering them from tip to toe completely veiling their faces. What has been going on in some of these conquered areas, is that girls as young as 12 are being forced to marry Taliban fighters. Afghan women could soon share the fate of Yazidi women in Iraq when ISIS seized their homeland.
Tamar Yonah: Wow! And alright, this is just so sad for the Afghani people. My heart goes out to them. Will there be slavery?
Jerry Gordon: Yes, there is already slavery.
Tamar Yonah: Explain how?
Jerry Gordon: Forcing girls and women under threats of rape to marry or service the fighters thereby functioning as personal slaves.
Tamar Yonah: How is this going to affect the rest of the region and the world? What does it mean for somebody living in Tennessee, Paris, or Melbourne?
Jerry Gordon: The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Milley said in one of his briefings that the fall of Afghanistan means it provides a haven for global [Islamic] terrorism. Bill Roggio of FDD, in his PBS Newshour interview was very clear on this point,
“The Taliban/Al-Qaeda Alliance is as strong as it ever has been. The Taliban claims that Doha deal was really a deal to get the US to withdraw from Afghanistan. The Taliban claims that they won’t allow Afghanistan to be used as a base of operations for foreign terror groups. The Taliban made the same promise pre-9/11, and we all saw what happened then. The Taliban couldn’t be trusted then. They can’t be trusted today. You could be certain that Al-Qaeda will be seeking to leverage its relationship with the Taliban to plot attacks against the West.”
But think about where ISIS and Al-Qaeda are very active today. It is in an area that I’ve written about, the Sahel region in Africa. You’ve seen it in the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Mozambique, and Sudan. It’s caused havoc. Al-Qaeda has moved on to other targets across the globe. It doesn’t need a sanctuary in those mountains in the Hindu Kush after the Taliban victory in Afghanistan.
The question is what is going happen to this area of South Asia. One thing that Pakistanis really fear is instability in the region, because the Taliban may be victorious in seizing the country, fearful Afghans are poring over the borders. Moreover, as one Pakistani analyst said, “the Taliban have yet to demonstrate they know how to run a country”. India, which has interests in Afghanistan, is concerned about training for terror groups active in disputed Kashmir—remember the deadly Mumbai attacks in 2008—and the significant Indian Muslim minority. China, which shares a 47-mile mountainous border, despite covet of the estimated $1 trillion in mineral wealth in Afghanistan—copper, gold, and rare earth deposits—is concerned about Islamist training and support of Uyghur insurgents in Xinjiang province.
Tamar Yonah: In a sentence or two tell our listeners what the bottom line is.
Jerry Gordon : That political Islam and Sharia justice in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are inimical to freedom of its people and especially deadly with gender apartheid imposed on its women and girls.
Tamar Yonah: Wow, that is scary. The Taliban essentially beat the superpower of the world, the United States of America.
Jerry Gordon: Correct.
Tamar Yonah: This is very frightening and concerning. It should concern everyone, because the Taliban are emboldened by this victory which makes them even more dangerous. I want to thank you so much, Jerry Gordon, for coming on the show and talking to us about the modern fall of Saigon happening in Afghanistan. We pray for the people there. I want to thank you Jerry, for coming on and telling us about all the background information that we need to understand.
Jerry Gordon: You’re welcome.
Listen to the Israel News Talk Radio -Tamar Yonah Radio Show discussion with Jerry Gordon.