The Afghan Military Was Built Over 20 Years. How Did It Collapse So Quickly?


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The surrenders appear to be occurring as quick because the Taliban can journey.

Up to now a number of days, the Afghan safety forces have collapsed in additional than 15 cities beneath the strain of a Taliban advance that started in Might. On Friday, officers confirmed that these included two of the nation’s most necessary provincial capitals: Kandahar and Herat.

The swift offensive has resulted in mass surrenders, captured helicopters and thousands and thousands of {dollars} of American-supplied tools paraded by the Taliban on grainy cellphone movies. In some cities, heavy preventing had been underway for weeks on their outskirts, however the Taliban finally overtook their defensive strains after which walked in with little or no resistance.

This implosion comes regardless of the US having poured greater than $83 billion in weapons, tools and coaching into the nation’s safety forces over 20 years.

Constructing the Afghan safety equipment was one of many key elements of the Obama administration’s technique because it sought to discover a technique to hand over safety and go away almost a decade in the past. These efforts produced a military modeled within the picture of the US’ army, an Afghan establishment that was imagined to outlast the American battle.

However it’s going to probably be gone earlier than the US is.

Whereas the way forward for Afghanistan appears increasingly unsure, one factor is turning into exceedingly clear: The US’ 20-year endeavor to rebuild Afghanistan’s army into a strong and impartial preventing drive has failed, and that failure is now taking part in out in actual time because the nation slips into Taliban management.

How the Afghan army got here to disintegrate first grew to become obvious not final week however months in the past in an accumulation of losses that began even earlier than President Biden’s announcement that the US would withdraw by Sept. 11.

It started with particular person outposts in rural areas the place ravenous and ammunition-depleted troopers and police models have been surrounded by Taliban fighters and promised protected passage in the event that they surrendered and left behind their tools, slowly giving the insurgents increasingly management of roads, then whole districts. As positions collapsed, the grievance was virtually all the time the identical: There was no air help or they’d run out of provides and meals.

However even earlier than that, the systemic weaknesses of the Afghan safety forces — which on paper numbered someplace round 300,000 individuals, however in current days have totaled round simply one-sixth of that, in line with U.S. officers — have been obvious. These shortfalls will be traced to quite a few points that sprung from the West’s insistence on constructing a completely fashionable army with all of the logistical and provide complexities one requires, and which has proved unsustainable with out the US and its NATO allies.

Troopers and policemen have expressed ever-deeper resentment of the Afghan management. Officers usually turned a blind eye to what was occurring, understanding full effectively that the Afghan forces’ actual manpower depend was far decrease than what was on the books, skewed by corruption and secrecy that they quietly accepted.

And when the Taliban began constructing momentum after the US’ announcement of withdrawal, it solely elevated the assumption that preventing within the safety forces — preventing for President Ashraf Ghani’s authorities — wasn’t price dying for. In interview after interview, troopers and cops described moments of despair and emotions of abandonment.

On one frontline within the southern Afghan metropolis of Kandahar final week, the Afghan safety forces’ seeming incapacity to fend off the Taliban’s devastating offensive got here right down to potatoes.

After weeks of preventing, one cardboard field filled with slimy potatoes was imagined to move as a police unit’s each day rations. They hadn’t acquired something aside from spuds in varied types in a number of days, and their starvation and fatigue have been sporting them down.

“These French fries are usually not going to carry these entrance strains!” a police officer yelled, disgusted by the dearth of help they have been receiving within the nation’s second-largest metropolis.

By Thursday, this entrance line collapsed, and Kandahar was in Taliban management by Friday morning.

Afghan troops have been then consolidated to defend Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals in current weeks because the Taliban pivoted from attacking rural areas to focusing on cities. However that technique proved futile because the rebel fighters overran metropolis after metropolis, capturing round half of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals in every week, and encircling Kabul.

“They’re simply making an attempt to complete us off,” stated Abdulhai, 45, a police chief who was holding Kandahar’s northern entrance line final week.

The Afghan safety forces have suffered effectively over 60,000 deaths since 2001. However Abdulhai was not speaking concerning the Taliban, however relatively his personal authorities, which he believed was so inept that it needed to be a part of a broader plan to cede territory to the Taliban.

The months of defeats all appeared to culminate on Wednesday when all the headquarters of an Afghan Military corps — the 217th — fell to the Taliban on the northern metropolis of Kunduz’s airport. The insurgents captured a defunct helicopter gunship. Photos of an American-supplied drone seized by the Taliban circulated on the web together with photos of rows of armored autos.

Brig. Gen. Abbas Tawakoli, commander of the 217th Afghan Military corps who was in a close-by province when his base fell, echoed Abdulhai’s sentiments as causes for his troops’ defeat on the battlefield.

“Sadly, knowingly and unknowingly, a lot of Parliament members and politicians fanned the flame began by the enemy,” Basic Tawakoli stated, simply hours after the Taliban had posted movies of their fighters looting the final’s sprawling base.

“No area fell on account of the battle, however on account of the psychological battle,” he stated.

That psychological battle has performed out at various ranges.

Afghan pilots say that their management cares extra concerning the state of the plane relatively than the individuals flying them: males and a minimum of one girl who’re burned out from numerous missions of evacuating outposts — usually beneath hearth — all whereas the Taliban perform a brutal assassination marketing campaign towards them.

What stays of the elite commando forces, who’re used to carry what floor remains to be beneath authorities management, are shuttled from one province to the following, with no clear goal and little or no sleep.

The ethnically aligned militia teams which have risen to prominence as forces able to reinforcing authorities strains even have almost all been overrun.

The second metropolis to fall this week was Sheberghan in Afghanistan’s north, a capital that was imagined to be defended by a formidable drive beneath the command of Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, an notorious warlord and a former Afghan vice chairman who has survived the previous 40 years of battle by chopping offers and switching sides.

On Friday, one other outstanding Afghan warlord and former governor, Mohammad Ismail Khan, who had resisted Taliban assaults in western Afghanistan for weeks and rallied many to his trigger to push again the rebel offensive, surrendered to the insurgents.

“We’re drowning in corruption,” stated Abdul Haleem, 38, a police officer on the Kandahar frontline earlier this month. His particular operations unit was at half energy — 15 out of 30 individuals — and several other of his comrades who remained on the entrance have been there as a result of their villages had been captured.

“How are we imagined to defeat the Taliban with this quantity of ammunition?” he stated. The heavy machine gun, for which his unit had only a few bullets, broke later that evening.

As of Thursday, it was unclear if Mr. Haleem was nonetheless alive and what remained of his comrades.

Because the Taliban perform an virtually uninterrupted sweep of the nation, their energy has been in query. Official estimates have lengthy sat at someplace between 50,000 to 100,000 fighters. Now that quantity is even murkier as worldwide forces and their intelligence capabilities withdraw.

Some U.S. officers say the Taliban numbers have swelled due to an inflow of overseas fighters and an aggressive conscription marketing campaign in captured territory. Different specialists say the Taliban have taken a bulk of their energy from Pakistan.

But even amid what may very well be a whole give up by the Afghan authorities and its forces, there are troops nonetheless preventing.

As a rule, as is the case in any battle because the starting of time, the troopers and police are preventing for one another, and for the lower-ranking leaders who encourage them to combat regardless of what hell lies forward.

In Might, when the Taliban have been breaching the outskirts of the southern metropolis of Lashkar Gah, a hodgepodge group of border drive troopers have been holding the road. The cops who have been imagined to be defending the realm had lengthy surrendered, retreated or had been paid off by the Taliban, as has occurred in lots of elements of the nation over the previous 12 months.

Outfitted with rifles and machine weapons, some wearing uniforms, others not, the border troopers beamed when their stubble-bearded captain, Ezzatullah Tofan, arrived at their shell-racked place, a home deserted through the preventing.

He all the time involves the rescue, one soldier stated.

Late final month, because the Taliban pushed into Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province, an outpost known as their headquarters elsewhere within the metropolis asking for reinforcements. In an audio recording obtained by The New York Instances, the senior commander on the opposite finish requested them to remain and combat.

Captain Tofan was bringing reinforcements, he stated, and to carry on slightly longer. That was round two weeks in the past.

By Friday, regardless of the Afghan army’s drained resistance, repeated flights of reinforcements and even American B-52 bombers overhead, town was within the palms of the Taliban.

Taimoor Shah and Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi contributed from Kabul. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.


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