Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walks inside the Bagram US air base after all US and NATO troops left (AFP)
WASHINGTON: Self-doubts, shame, and remorse are coursing through Washington after US troops stealthily bolted from Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in the dead of the night last week without even informing local Afghan commanders.
Pictures of Afghan troops across the country surrendering to Taliban without a fight amid unfolding chaos at Bagram is triggering questions from leading US lawmakers and security analysts, with dire forecasts about imminent civil war and the return of terrorism to the region because of the Biden administration’s accelerated withdrawal.
On the advice of the White House, the Pentagon is said to be slowing down the pace of withdrawal, directing the top American commander in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, and a few hundred troops to stay back for couple more weeks — “to soften the drawdown’s psychological shock to the Afghans,” as one report put it.
The Afghans, hardened by decades of fighting, are hardly shocked as they prepare for the return of civil war. Michael McCaul, a Republican lawmaker revealed that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s team warned him the departure of US troops from the country would mark “the year of the jihad” when they visited Washington last week, and said President Biden will have to own the “ugly images” of killings, oppression of women, and a humanitarian crisis.
“The young males in Pakistan at the madrassas are poised with the Taliban to pour over into Afghanistan and you’re going to see a major civil war take place and I don’t think, at the end of the day, it’s going to look pretty,’ McCaul told Fox News, blamed Biden for the fiasco although it was President Trump who called for US withdrawal from foreign wars.
There is also anger in some quarters that Washington is abandoning people who helped the western alliance during its 20-year occupation of Afghanistan to root out terrorism- among them 18,000 translators and support staff and their families. The US has pledged to help them immigrate to America via third countries, but some experts said it is too late to vet them and the promises are just words.
There is also profound regret that the US is abandoning the gains of the past two decades, particularly the emancipation of women and girls, some 40 per cent of whom are enrolled in schools, and who, it is feared, will now be forced by the Taliban to jettison education.
“A few years ago I met this group of female entrepreneurs in Mazar-i-Sharif who were changing Afghanistan from the ground up. It’s sad to realize this will likely be lost (if not already) because we gave up. Afghan Govt was doing the fighting, but needed us as a partner,” said Adam Kinzinger, a moderate Republican lawmaker who served in the US military.
Other GOP lawmakers supported the withdrawal with one of them suggesting that soldiers returning from Afghanistan could be used to guard the southern border to staunch immigration.
There is also alarm that Washington’s exit is paving way for China to move into the vacuum using its economic clout amid reports that Beijing is already pitching to extend its Belt and Road Initiative to Kabul.