In July and August of last year, as Joe Biden was pushing ahead with his decision to fully withdraw from Afghanistan and we watched the colossal debacle that followed, a couple of questions were on everyone’s lips. How did the Afghan military completely collapse so quickly and who could possibly have seen this coming? Well, thanks to new documents released under the Freedom of Information Act this week, we’re getting a better idea of the answer to the second one. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in the Department of Defense knew and he submitted a report to the DoD back in January of 2021 on the subject. John Sopko’s report flatly stated in no uncertain terms that the Afghan Air Force “would collapse” if we withdrew and that it “did not have the capabilities to survive” after America’s withdrawal. And without air support, attempting to maintain military dominance in that country would be a fool’s errand. So how was this information completely ignored in the White House’s decision-making process? (Associated Press)
Months before President Joe Biden announced the U.S.’s complete withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, Washington’s watchdog warned that the Afghan air force would collapse without critical American aid, training and maintenance. The report was declassified Tuesday.
The report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, submitted to the Department of Defense in January 2021, underscores that American authorities had been alerted that Afghanistan’s air force did not have the capabilities to survive after a U.S. withdrawal. In particular, the report points to U.S. failure to train Afghan support staff, leaving the air force unable to maintain its aircraft without American contractors.
U.S. air support to government forces was key in the 20-year-war against Taliban insurgents. Its removal — along with the inability of the Afghan air force to fill the void — was one factor that contributed to the Taliban’s sweeping victory as the Americans withdrew.
In retrospect, anyone familiar with military matters is probably not acting terribly surprised. We did an admirable job of training the Afghan grounds forces over the twenty years we spent there. (Except for the steady stream of Islamic terrorist moles who embedded themselves with the Afghan army and attacked us.) But fielding a 21st-century military air force is far different than stocking up infantry troops with guns and ammunition and training them to work cohesively in the field.
Both fighter jets and attack helicopters are incredibly complex beasts. We were able to train Afghan pilots to fly them in combat and many of those men did heroic work in the air. But keeping those aircraft in service requires far more than just capable pilots. You need a steady, ongoing supply of missiles and other munitions, things that one doesn’t simply pop down to Home Depot and pick up. The maintenance and repair of the aircraft also require highly specialized parts and the ability to troubleshoot and repair those systems. You also need a steady supply of massive amounts of jet aircraft fuel. With the supply lines cut, the Afghan Air Force would collapse in a matter of days.
So how was the Biden White House able to ignore this report, assuming anyone told the President about it? Keep in mind that we were being told right up through June and July of last year that both the Afghan government and the military forces we built for them would continue on well into this year at a minimum after the withdrawal. There were no plans to immediately evacuate the embassy there and mostly “normal” operations would continue. And then, seemingly overnight, the entire house of cards collapsed before we could even get all of our troops out.
Most honest observers have long since concluded that Biden’s decision to suddenly pull out of Afghanistan entirely was one of the greater military blunders seen in a generation and we’re still paying the price for it today. But many of his supporters still seem to cling to the idea that it was “an honest mistake” and an intelligence failure or whatever. This report deflates such ideas entirely. An office that was positioned to know better warned the Pentagon that a disaster was on the way eight months before the collapse took place. And Joe Biden moved ahead with the plan anyway. As many of us had already suspected, the decision to evacuate from Afghanistan was a political one, not a military one. Biden had promised to end the war in Afghanistan and he didn’t want to be seen as failing to live up to that political talking point. And we continue to pay a heavy price for that completely avoidable blunder.