Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Dreamers Wake


This poor bastard is one Dr. William Brydon. He's arriving in British-held what is today Pakistan, the sole surviving escapee of the British Afghanistan expedition of 1844. He could probably have told you what it's like in Kabul today.

It's kind of pointless to refight all the fights we've had over this slow-motion disaster. Largely because we knew, or should have known, that the people who were supposed to be running this goat rodeo knew and have known for years that they were building nothing; that the ridiculous pile of blood and treasure had gone completely to waste.

The only point left to make is the point the GIs in Vietnam used as their summary of the clusterfuck: "Don't mean nothin'." That there was no point at which that rock was going to roll uphill, and the only question was who'd be left standing when the music stopped.

Of course this is a human tragedy. Thousands of people are going to suffer, many of them will die, because of all of this; the initial bizarre "constitution" doped out in Europe that tried to make a conventional Westphalian state out of Afghanistan, Rumsfeld's refusal to accept Taliban terms in 2001, the unwillingness to face the reality of what was happening to the place and the people, the constant insistence that just a few more months and a few more lives would change things.

To me, anyway, the truly "tragic" part - in the classic meaning of the term - is the fate of the poor Afghan sods that worked with and for the occupation. The images out of Kabul are horrifying...and yet...how else could this have ended?

To have ramped up an evacuation program six months ago, say, would have been as much as announcing to the Afghan government and the ANA that the U.S. had no confidence in their ability to hold. That lack of confidence would have been and is, obviously, fully justified. But it would have likely resulted in this disaster happening in February instead of August.

And I honestly can't see a way - short of slamming in a full division complete with heavy artillery support - to have held a perimeter around Kabul long enough to get everyone out. If it was my call to make I might have made it. But it wasn't, and I can see why it wasn't.

So the fever-dream of hustling the East ends, as such dreams so often do, in blood and heartbreak.

Will the waking dreamers learn from this?

Sadly...my guess is that not only will the Western foreign and military organizations not learn, they will refuse to even accept that there is a lesson to be learned here. There will be a brief search for scapegoats, and then the entire episode will be shoved unceremoniously down the memory hole so the next time we need to slay Afridis where they run.




  1. For this Afghan vet it's been a particularly sad and depressing few days.

    It would be difficult enough at the end, even though I've been waiting for this for a very long time. It was a pretty big additional kick in the nuts that, at the endgame, we still managed to fuck things up. But I suppose it's fitting that after so many years of clusterfucks, that we ought to cap it off with a really big and impressive one.

    1. Actually, I think that things are going better than expected.
      The Taliban are behaving with discipline and
      as far as I can tell the butcher's bill is remarkably small.

      Of course, that could change, but no rivers of blood just yet.

    2. I agree that it's much more likely that the Taliban won't be stupid and try to start some shit.

      And I sort of agree that things are going reasonably well considering the circumstances, assuming you start the clock at yesterday and ignore the week before that.

    3. I can't begin to imagine, but I'm sorry. There's nothing to drown that sorrow.

      Again...the problems I see are that the Trumpkins pretty much boxed this up back in 2020 and left the incoming administration little or no leverage. The only way I see this going differently would have been:
      1. Develop an evacuation plan as soon after the election as possible that would have included
      2. A big lift of U.S. maneuver elements into Kabul to secure an enclave around the city before the spring campaigning season, and
      3. Then an active defense as the Afghan government and ANA collapsed to get the bulk of the Afghan employees and anyone who wanted out, out.

      It would have been bloody and ugly, but at least had the effect of honoring our commitments to the Afghans who helped us. Could it have been possible, militarily and/or politically? I have no idea.

      But short of that, I honestly don't see how this ends differently.

    4. Yeah, it sucks. Seriously, thanks for understanding.

      I do disagree about how we go here - I don't think it was inevitable. I don't think Biden was boxed in - he wanted out and he's wanted to be out of Afghanistan since at least 2009.

      Those circumstances don't change the fact that there was a fundamental miscalculation or wishful thinking that the Afghan military and government would collapse slowly enough to retrograde both Afghans and Americans - that's clearly what we prepared for and expected. Which was questionable assumption if you ask me, but perhaps an understandable calculated risk if you've got a contingency plan in place - but we clearly didn't.

      Even without Trump, any scenario where you draw down and remove forces on the assumption that the Afghans will hold leads to the outcome where in. Therefore, I don't think Trump's deal and negotiations are relevant to the current situation.

      But we still had a month. More concerning was the lack of any sense of urgency when districts began quickly falling after the pullout in early July which only accelerated - that should have been a big fucking red flag, but we basically did nothing until the Taliban were already in Kabul a month later. We saw the Afghans folding in real-time over the course of four weeks and did nothing.

      I don't know why this happened and, at this point, I'm not interested in finger-pointing - there's plenty of time for that. But I think your reference to 1841-1842 is a parallel that's scary as fucking hell. If we didn't have 21st century air mobility and firepower, we'd be just as fucked as those poor Brits. We have a relatively small force on a postage stamp in an urban area and thousands of Americans in the rest of the country controlled by our long-time enemy. We've got few good option except to hope the Taliban play nice.

    5. My "boxed in" assessment wasn't re: the Biden administration. I agree; from Biden himself down I think there never was any intent to try and do anything but grab a hat. He'd seen the smoke-blowing that the brass directed at Obama, saw the lack of results, and was determined not to go there again.

      No, by "boxed in" I mean that to prevent what happened there needed to be an oplan not just detailed by with all the logistical support elements in place to drop the 101st plus all their corps arty, CS, and CSS elements into Kabul Airport back in the winter to secure the Kabul area, and then a reverse-Berlin-airlift coordinated with MAC (to include destinations out of country for the refugees such as the UAE or Diego Garcia) to start pulling people out.

      Short of that? I think you get this anyway. The more aggressive we were about sending in maneuver forces to secure evac areas the 1) quicker the ANA collapses (why be the last Hazara to die for a mistake when the freedom bird is right there on the taxiway?) and the 2) sooner the Taliban pushes into as many of their unsecured AOs and cuts deals.

      I mean...I'm just a dumbass paratroop sergeant. But I can't think of too many other potentially decent options. To try and exfil US assets and Afghan allies without some sort of actual blocking forces on the ground? Same-same result w the ANA/Taliban, only there's no backstop there to keep the Talibs off the refugees.

    6. I think what the options are, how you pull out, and what you plan for hinges significantly on what your assumptions are about the ANA. If you think they are going to fold, or you are pretty sure they might, then that's when you gotta say fuck it and implement the plan to delay the Taliban so you can pull people out. If you think that's gonna happen, you don't pull out your last combat troops and leave Americans and Afghans in the dark, under the control of the Taliban.

      If, on the other hand, you assume the ANA will hold for a couple of months, then it might make sense to remove remove all your combat forces first except for minimal security at the Embassy and Kabul airport. That's what we did, back on July 11th IIRC, and that was our assumption.

      But the thing is, if you're going to do that, you ought to at least have a contingency in place in case circumstances change and your assumption is wrong, along with the intelligence, indications, and warning so that you can monitor the situation.

      And the thing is, once those last 2500 troops were gone, and Bagram was abandoned (without even telling the ANA), that's when districts started falling and surrendering, with the ANA melting or switching sides. Which continued for a month like a snowball rolling downhill. And what did we do during that month? Nothing. We had time to see what was happening and do something and we didn't. That is the problem I have. Yes, rolling back in the 82nd or 101st would have sucked and been controversial, but we're doing that now, only those forces are stuck in a shitty, vulnerable airfield. If we'd rolled them in two weeks ago, we could have probably held them Taliban from taking the capital until we got Americans and our allies out.

      Meanwhile you had a Mom in Oklahoma sense what was happening, get on a plane and got a bunch of girls out before Kabul collapsed. She was able to see what was happening and react, but our entire government was not?


    7. I think the problem here is that DoD and State and much of the Intel community (among others) have been kidding about the Afghan government and ANA capabilities for so long that it was difficult to suddenly accept that all those lies WERE lies and that the likelihood of a rapid collapse wasn't just "likely" but pretty much baked in.

      So the only way to have prevented this would have been to 1) dump all the Trump deals, and 2) begin a new war, basically - reinforce at the very least Kabul and several other major cities massively and begin yanking people out, preferably in the winter or early spring when the Taliban mobility was lowest.

      As soon as you think that the political and military downside becomes brutally obvious. There's an upside, obviously, in saving more of your people. But you're also going to take some pretty ugly losses, and the only real reason that Trump's people were able to get away with the sleight-of-hand they used to "get out of Afghanistan" is that conditions had already been set up to minimize US casualties and keep the "war" off the front pages.

      You suddenly have the 82nd and 101st and 10th divisions fighting all across the country? That changes most quick smart (and don't kid yourselves that Trump and Pompeo and all the other slimy bastards who are now finger-wagging about how demoralizing and messed-up this withdrawal is now wouldn't have STFU about how Bloody Biden was throwing more of Our Brave Boys into the Afghan meatgrinder...) and I'm not sure how other than "probably not good".

      Bottom line; I'm not sure there was a "better" way to do this, and I'm not sure that looking at it now gives us any notion of how that better way might have been accomplished.

      Like I ended the post; we're just fucked.

      We The People let - let? Hell, invited! - the people who SHOULD have been telling us what was happening to lie to us (those documents released in 2019 should have been shocking and appalling...except any of us who'd been paying attention had pretty much figured out long before then that when people like McCrystal and Petraeus lips were moving they were bullshitting us about how splendidly our Little Brown Brothers were doing...) so we could cookout on Memorial Day without worrying our pretty little heads about what the hell our country was doing in Southwest Asia.

  2. "You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous of which is 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia'". Of course, since that quote comes from 1987, most of our leadership is too young to appreciate the words of wisdom.

    Older people knew the wheels were going to come off, eventually.

  3. Well, it's just about over except the covert shit. Glad to say we got lucky and didn't repeat a modern version of the end of the First Anglo-Afghan war. The Taliban were much more accommodating that I ever expected.

  4. Worthwhile analysis here: https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2021/08/30/wanted-a-cleaner-kabul-withdrawal-heres-what-it-would-have-taken/

  5. Speaking of covert shit, moonofbama reports that the Americans destroyed all the security cameras and X-Ray machines from the civilian side of the Kabul Airport. One of their last actions before leaving. I don't think it was done for spite, rather I think that the US military would rather that the Taliban have less security control over the airport to give US covert operatives less chance of being caught.