CNN reporter in Kabul: "If this isn't failure, what does failure look like exactly?"

The reporter is Clarissa Ward, who got a bad rap a few days ago when something she said about the Taliban being “friendly” while shouting “Death to America” got taken out of context. It was flagged by some righties as evidence that CNN had begun to soft-pedal the jihadi takeover of Afghanistan as a way of doing damage control for the Democratic White House.

In reality Ward has been one of the most clear-eyed and gutsy reporters on the ground over there. She knows a disaster when she sees one and she’s not pulling her punches about it.

Does this sound like damage control?

It sure doesn’t look like success:

To repeat what Ward said: If this isn’t failure, what does failure look like?

A [British] senior officer told me they had no choice [but to set up roadblocks] because the situation was out of control, but said the blockade will live with some of his soldiers for the rest of their lives.

“It was terrible, women were throwing their babies over the razor wire, asking the soldiers to take them, some got caught in the wire,” he told me.

“I’m worried for my men, I’m counselling some, everyone cried last night.”

Today John McCormack asks and tries to answer the question on everyone’s mind. Why did the United States abandon Bagram, a bigger and more secure airfield, knowing that it had a huge number of people to airlift? Why force ourselves to hold a position in an urban center like Kabul when there was a realistic chance the country would collapse before everyone was out?

“I believe they wanted as small a footprint as possible and they also did not believe it would come to this this quickly,” says Roggio, who writes in depth about Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on Islamist terrorism at Long War Journal. Abandoning Bagram, he adds, “is the perfect example of the generals just saluting, saying ‘yes, sir’ and ‘can do’ and not standing up and saying, ‘This is madness, and I can’t execute this because I’m putting the lives of Americans at risk, and you need to find someone else to do this.’”…

While Bagram would be more secure than Karzai International, simply holding on to the base would not have solved the problem that some Americans and Afghan allies are facing right now of the Taliban not letting them through checkpoints. “This is kind of why they couldn’t let Kabul fall to begin with,” says Roggio. “Eventually you’ve got to organize somewhere.” Establishing a perimeter around Kabul, however, would have taken many more troops than Biden wanted left in the country.

All tactical roads lead back to the strategic mystery of why the evacuations didn’t begin much sooner. Even if you buy the White House and Pentagon spin that U.S. intelligence agencies failed by not predicting the fall of Kabul until it was imminent, decisionmakers were certainly told that implosion could happen. “The intelligence agencies had been stepping up their warnings about the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan throughout the summer,” the Times reported last night. “Their reports grew more specific in July, noting how the Taliban had taken control of roads leading to Kabul and how the group had learned lessons from its takeover of the country in the 1990s.” Over the last year, the intel bureaus allegedly cut their predictions of how quickly the country could fall from two years to 18 months to six months to one month — clear proof that America never understood Afghanistan well enough to see the road ahead beyond its own headlights but also evidence that the administration knew the situation was deteriorating.

That was their cue to speed up evacuations. It never happened.

The president was in denial about the time he had left, it seems. He’s in denial here too:

“The Taliban isn’t going through an ‘existential crisis,'” Thomas Joscelyn tweeted in response to that clip. “We are.”

Whether the Taliban really is providing “safe passage” to a meaningful number of Americans in Kabul is anyone’s guess. Doesn’t sound like it based on these numbers. And even if they are, they could change their minds at any moment, of course. But if they’re letting Americans leave, it’s not because they care about being accepted by the so-called “international community.” It’s because they want America out ASAP, having already won the war and grossly humiliated the enemy. They want to assert themselves against internal enemies and consolidate power with a free hand; if they start shooting at Americans again, that’ll get complicated.

But they’re not worried about international approval, as even Biden appears to understand. They have plenty of cards to play to help make friends abroad. The “kinder, gentler Taliban” is still the same old Taliban, writes Graeme Wood:

The Taliban are cruel, but they are not fools, and magnanimity early in their rule does not mean that they will be any less vengeful than they were at the height of their power, in the 1990s and 2000s. Outside Kabul—which is to say, away from the eyes of the world—there are reports of summary executions.

Indeed, the leaders of the Taliban show no sign of mellowing. Why would they? For the past 15 years, they have been unremittingly violent, and for this pitilessness they have only been rewarded. They played at negotiating, but dishonestly, and only to accept the terms of American surrender. Moreover, the current generation of leaders is simply meaner than its predecessors, and in some cases hardened by time in Guantánamo Bay. The first generation of Taliban focused on overcoming its Afghan rivals. This one has taken on those rivals—and NATO—and has now won decisively. An Afghan in Kabul who knows senior Taliban told me they are “much more strict, much more hard-line.”

“They came into the city as a victorious Islamic army,” he said, “and of course they will act that way,” and treat their success as a reward from God for having shown no mercy.

Maybe we’ll get every American out without bloodshed after all. But if we do, it’s only at the sufferance of victorious barbarians who are eager to enjoy the spoils of victory unmolested by fading western powers.

I’ll leave you with another report from Ward, whose crew was nearly beaten with rifle butts here by Taliban goons. She needs to leave soon for her own safety.