The Collapse of U.S-backed Afghan Government: What Went Wrong?

Following the end of World War II, the United States has involved in “Nation-Building” projects to help rebuild countries engulfed civil and interstate wars. The U.S. has successfully delivered its promise to restore security and stability in 1953 in Korea but failed to do so in Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. U.S. failure in these countries can be attributed to the lack of preparedness to work with the host governments, indigenous societies, and reliance on military power. The United States failed to form a clear political objective and strategies for nation-building in Afghanistan. It is also failed to properly assess the character of the country and its people, with both militarily and their societal setting (cultural, religious, and internal dynamics). As of result, two decades after being toppled, Taliban forces overwhelmed the U.S.-trained Afghan National Security Forces numbered some 300,000 without a single bullet fired, and captured the entire country within a short period of time than ever predicted. The momentum of the Taliban to seize power has exposed how badly unprepared U.S.-trained Afghan forces were and poor leadership, resources, and resolve.

According to series of reports, concerns were raised concerns of the likelihood of Afghan security forces could crumble. According to New York Times, the U.S. intelligence assessment has warned the top decision-makers of the high risk of Afghan security forces falling apart and Taliban could take the country within weeks. On the other hand, there were reports of series of deals between elements of Afghan security forces and the Taliban, which often were described as cease-fires, but these deals were surrendering to the Taliban with general amnesty in exchange for no resistance. In early 2020, the Taliban has offered money to Afghan forces in exchange to hand over their weapons. In districts where deals were not reached, Afghan forces have disappeared. The 2019 report from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) to Congress is expressed serious concern of corruption. Even the accuracy of 300,000 Afghan armed forces were in question to their existence. Some lower-level Afghan officials described some units of the Afghan security forces as “ghost soldiers” that was claimed their salaries and never seen on the battlefield. According to July 2021-SIGAR report, more than $88 billion (£64bn) has been spent on Afghanistan’s security. whether that money was well spent is not answered by the outcome of the fighting against the Taliban.

Top National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said at the White House press briefing that the Taliban seized a “fair amount” of U.S.-provided military equipment from the Afghan security forces. The seized military equipment includes fighter jets and helicopters and has an access to the Afghan air force’s inventory of U.S.-provided planes and helicopters. The United States has spent more than $80 billion in training and equipping the Afghan security forces for the last twenty years.    


U.S. policy objectives on the Afghanistan war were not clearly defined as to what it is going to be accomplished. The biggest mistake the U.S. made to Afghanistan is employing military power on nation-building projects which are beyond the scope of military operations. The worst-case scenario should have learned a lesson is When U.S. humanitarian intervention in Somalia employed with military means ended in ignominious withdrawal without achieving any of its objectives. Former Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Robbins defined “Nation-building” as activities in the aftermath of a conflict to rebuild a nation and support lasting peace. This definition does not appear nation-building with military means, however, can be an alternative to local civil-military operations and police forces. For instance, after the “Sons of Iraq” (Sunni Awakening) was established in Iraq, violence was reduced faster in areas of operations. It is difficult to establish a consensus on long-term nation-building projects without understanding national will and local dynamics. Understanding the national will and local society help leaders improve their assessment of various conflict scenarios and what to do about them, in a broader domestic and international support. Non-military projects came to be seen as prerequisites for nation-building with functioning institutions and democracy. Developing the capacity of the institutions, and legitimacy of the state in relation to an effective political process for negotiating the mutual demands between the state and societal groups. 

According to 2019, SIGAR’s Report of Afghanistan is identified that the advisors sent to Afghanistan were unprepared and did not have the skills-sets and background for training foreign security forces. Secondly, there were no local experts that knew the problems inherent to the target areas. Advisors of the train and equip mission failed to begin with an initial assessment of the country’s current power dynamics in the security sector and the history of its policing and ethnic societies. An initial assessment would have helped identify problems with absorptive capacity in advance, and build guiding principles and doctrine relevant to Afghanistan’s armed force or police in long-term needs. Many of Afghanistan’s conflict case studies found that corruption problems within the security and judicial institutions by senior-level personnel. U.S.-led Afghanistan government has failed to establish a system of accountability in the rule of law that would tackle corruption and impunity focused on tactical and technical measures outside the security sector to serve as an oversight body that ensures transparency and accountability. Measures tackling senior-level corruption can also help stop senior leaders from abusing their power, selling, or lending government weapons to militias or criminal actors.

Despite years of halting attempts to peace agreements between the United States and Taliban, February 2020 U.S.-Taliban peace agreement gave a lot of people a sense for a sustainable peace for the future of Afghan people. The peace agreement mainly focused on reduction of violence and complete withdrawal U.S. forces from Afghanistan. As part of the agreement, the peace deal also states that there will be “…intra-Afghan negotiations.” According to Congressional Research Service (CRS), Taliban demonstrated its commitment to the agreement in a good faith by reducing attacks 80% across the country in the same month. However, the heavy-handed leadership style of the self-exiled Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has failed of uniting his county by refusing to bring more people under his tent. Ghani has reportedly isolated himself from the intra-Afghan dialogue team which was part of the 2020-peace deal with the Taliban. Ghani’s cantankerous and arrogant rule alienated other ethnic minorities and the ethnic divide grew wider than ever.

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