The End Of The Forever War

[ Posted Monday, August 16th, 2021 – 16:47 UTC ]

So ends America's longest war. The forever war in Afghanistan is entering its final moments, at least for us. It is an ugly and chaotic picture. Just last week the U.S. government was saying that Kabul might -- just might mind you -- be overrun by the Taliban in roughly 90 days. The reality was closer to 90 hours. That is either a monumental failure of intelligence or was an enormous lie told to the American people. I strongly suspect it was the first of those, since the speed of it all seems to have caught everyone -- up to and including the decision-makers in the Pentagon and White House -- by complete surprise.

When the worst case scenario happened, it turns out we didn't have a plan for it at all. If we had, we would probably be flying Americans out of Bagram air base and not the civilian Kabul airport. I have never claimed to be a military genius, but it seems pretty basic tactics to secure the air corridor in and out of the country before you do anything else. And since it's already a military outpost, securing Bagram should really have been the first item on any checklist for evacuation. But Bagram was captured by the Taliban before they even got to Kabul.

Doubtlessly, many books will be written not only about our entire misadventure in Afghanistan but just about the events of the past few weeks. And the next few weeks. It's hard to imagine the people writing those books won't be sorely tempted to use a compound word beginning with "cluster-" to describe it. This is the ugly and chaotic picture America is showing the world.

President Joe Biden just finished giving a speech on the withdrawal. He made his case about as well as he could, although it remains to be seen how many accept it. Why, Biden asked, should we stay one more day if the people of Afghanistan won't fight for their own country? What is the point? Really, what was the point of the last 15 or 20 years? Why has this been the longest war America has ever fought? For what? For a government that wallowed in corruption and outright kleptocracy. For a government that has now fled the country. For a military we spent tens of billions of dollars on and trained for 20 years who would not or could not stand and fight when the time came. A military supposedly 300,000 soldiers strong that melted away within a single week. A military that wouldn't or couldn't even defend the capital city. How many tens of billions of dollars more would have made any kind of difference whatsoever to any of that? How many years would have changed that dynamic one iota?

This is the case Biden made. He's right on several points. Mostly, he's right that the American people are tired of this war, and we've been tired of it to the point of exhaustion for over 15 years. Biden ran on total withdrawal and he followed through on his promise. And he likely won't pay much of a political price for that fundamental stance. After all, it is exactly the same stance that Donald Trump took as president -- for the same reason. The American public wants us out. And we're thankful that we are finally completely getting out.

But how it happened was and still is a shock. This is what Biden may indeed pay a political price for. Biden also ran on basic competence, after all. After four years of incompetence and chaos from Trump, the country longed for someone who could be reliable and who knew what they were doing. Biden promised us all that, and for the most part has done a good job delivering on it (most notably in the smoothness of the vaccination rollout -- how fast shots got into arms at the start). But on this one, Biden failed to deliver.

In fact, Biden has been predicting things which have turned out to be far rosier than the reality, even as late as last week (when that "90 days" assessment was announced). He dismissed comparisons to Saigon, saying that sort of thing (helicopters evacuating people from the embassy) just wouldn't happen. Then it did. All his advisors -- both military and intelligence, one assumes -- told him the Taliban offensive would go fairly slowly, taking roughly six months or so. We'd have plenty of time to get our people out and plenty of time to process visas for all the Afghans who have been helping us out. That obviously didn't happen -- the entire country fell in roughly one week's time. Again, this is a monstrous failure of intelligence in a country where we've had active troops deployed for twenty years. If the C.I.A. and all the rest of the intelligence agencies could get things so wrong in a place we've been for so long, how can they be trusted when they talk about places where we don't have any presence at all (North Korea, for example)?

Some historians might chalk this up as America's second lost war (or third, if you count Iraq). We lost Vietnam, and now we've lost Afghanistan. In both cases, the government we created after invading turned out to be pathetically weak and the military we trained just disappeared when they were needed the most. In both cases the political calculation was the same as well -- end a war that has lost the support of the American people. More time isn't going to solve anything, so there really is no good time to leave. The result was inevitable in both cases -- our propped-up government was going to fall and the insurgents were going to take over. The insurgents cared enough to fight and die for their country, while the military we spent over $80 billion on did not. Those are the hard cold facts, and no amount of additional time was going to change them.

America has reportedly spent over $1 trillion on the Afghan war. Some put the figure at double that. Think of what all that money could have been spent on here at home. Joe Biden knew that, and he is unique among American politicians since he was vice president for eight years in the middle of the war and now is the president who is ending our participation. He has been firm in his commitment to get our troops out.

What has followed has been not just the end of our involvement in the conflict, but the end of the Afghan civil war as well. And our side lost. The Taliban won. What comes next is anyone's guess. When we pulled out of Iraq, the vacuum we left behind gave rise to the Islamic State (ISIS). We had to go back in and clean it up, after they had successfully set up their own "caliphate" in both Iraq and Syria. That's likely not going to be the case in Afghanistan, since the Islamists are already in control. The real question is whether the Taliban will allow groups like the Islamic State (and others) to have a major presence within Afghanistan or not. Will there be terrorist training camps out in the Afghan hinterlands? Will the Taliban see this as an opportunity, or will they see it as a threat to their own power? That is unknown, at this point.

What we do know now is that this is not what the end of our presence in Afghanistan was supposed to look like. We much would have preferred an orderly withdrawal, paced over weeks and months, rather than running for our lives as the enemy takes over the capital city with blinding speed.

President Biden and everyone involved were caught unawares by the speed with which Kabul and Afghanistan at large fell to the Taliban. This has led to shocking scenes, which continue to unfold. A few generations ago, it was videos of helicopters lifting off from the U.S. embassy in Saigon. This generation will remember people desperately trying to cling to the sides of a U.S. military transport jet at the Kabul airport. Both are grim scenes of failure and human desperation.

This is what the end of a war looks like, when you lose. That is a hard thing for Americans to face. It certainly could have gone smoother, and it certainly could have been planned with a lot more cynical of a worst-case scenario. That might have helped avoid the scenes we now see unfolding at the airport. At the very least, Bagram should have been defended and reinforced once it became apparent how fast the Taliban blitzkrieg truly was.

There were a lot of mistakes made, in other words. Some we already know about, and some we'll find out about in the coming days and weeks. But whatever is uncovered and however many lessons we should learn from this fiasco, at the end of it American forces will be gone. We will have ended our forever war, and Afghanistan will once again prove that their title of "Graveyard of Empires" is appropriate. And even all the naysayers and detractors of Biden and how things unfolded cannot really defend sticking around for another 20 years just to see if things improve any. America's involvement in Afghanistan is almost over. America's longest war is finally -- and tragically -- at an end.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


29 Comments on “The End Of The Forever War”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, the way I look at it, the US accomplished the most important mission, and relatively early in the campaign. Namely that Osama bin Laden et al. are no longer in Afghanistan. That's when the US should have left, damn the consequences for America's Afghan government and national army.

    As much as I used to think that nation-building was the way to go in Iraq, where it could have worked or in Afghanistan, where it would never have worked in a million years, the US sucks at nation-building.

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Good basic commentary. I had two reactions:

    One, depending on how we define the "War on Terror", that is the true Forever War, with Afghanistan being just one front on an amorphous and eternal world war with dozens of fronts on every continent. There have been rumors that the Taliban bought into Trump's deal: we let you have Afghanistan and its people, and you promise not to house any more global terrorist training camps and bases. The corollary to the deal is, presumably, this: you break the deal and we'll be back to take you down again, even if only for a while. In other words, the Taliban is on the other side in the War on Terror, or it always has been up to now. If it goes neutral, in order to solidify the Islamic state in its homeland, the War on Terror has one less player on the terror side. But the War itself is hardly over, and one would hope the president would remind us of that, and acknowledge it himself.

    Two, regarding the 'intelligence failure' about the implosion of the anti-Taliban Afghan state. On public radio this morning they had several guests from the intelligence community, so-called (mostly ex-CIA, I think), protesting that NO, they've been telling the US powers-that-be for many years now that the Pentagon has its head up its a** and has severely underestimated the Taliban's strengths. YES, we warned anyone who would listen that, if and when we leave, the entire house of cards will collapse in much less time than your self-serving experts in the Defense and State Department are telling you. Clearly this will be the subject of many debates in the national security cocktail circuit and Congressional hearing rooms for months if not years to come. Was there an intelligence failure? Or was there a listening-to- intelligence failure?

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What has followed has been not just the end of our involvement in the conflict, but the end of the Afghan civil war as well. And our side lost. The Taliban won. What comes next is anyone's guess.

    Call me a cockeyed optimist but, I think there may be some shred of hope for Afghanistan in terms of it not becoming a terrorist state again. That may be the best outcome. And, who knows, the Taliban may learn lessons a whole lot better than American political and military leaders.

    If America plays its cards right, keeping a close eye on China and Russia in Afghanistan, and if American diplomacy is not dead, then better things could happen there, in time. Speaking of which, as far as I know, the Russians haven't closed their embassy in Kabul. And the game goes on and on ...

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, going forward, where does Pakistan fit into all of this?

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    But the War itself is hardly over, and one would hope the president would remind us of that, and acknowledge it himself.

    Biden has acknowledged this and even did do in his address today, no?

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So, I'm guessing former Defense secretary Gates believes it is a big mistake for the US to get out of Afghanistan. ;)

  7. [7] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    As far as I'm concerned, what has happened is simply proof that Biden was right to get us out as quickly as possible. If they were so incapable of holding the country, nothing short of a permanent US military presence was going to work, and that's simply not an option the American people are willing to entertain. Biden is simply smart enough to not fall for the sunk cost fallacy.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    That's precisely how I see it, too.

  9. [9] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    The very worst thing about the whole Afghanistan disaster, which nobody except for me ever seemed to realize, is that it was a stupid miss-judgement RIGHT FROM THE GIT-GO!! We went there because we assumed that the place bore some responsibility for 9/11, because Bin Laden operated out of there, and we stupidly thought that implied that the Afghans were in cahoots with him on the attack. BIG FUMDUCKING MISCALCULATION. Bin Laden located there because it was handy, but I'm betting the Afghans not only did not participate in executing the devilishly clever highjacking plot on the WTC, I'm betting THEY DIDN'T EVEN KNOW HE WAS PLANNING IT!

    I keep hearing they were "functioning as a terrorist training ground". I say BULLSHIT. Bin Laden ran a damn near one-man operation, and he could have planned it just as well living virtually anywhere. You've gotta remember, most of the WTC operation happened RIGHT GAWDAM HERE in the U.S.A., NOT in Afghanistan. The hijackers learned to 'guide' (not 'fly', not 'pilot') jetliners at U.S. schools/training centers, NOT in Afghanistan.

    And for that same reason, I ain't buying into the idea that the instant we leave, it will "revert" to being a terrorist training ground. It never was, and anyway we can monitor the place and wipe out any "terrorist training centers" by means of drone attacks, without settin a single foot over there.

    We were stupid to ever go there, and we paid dearly for our stupidity. The question now is, did we LEARN ANYTHING from our mistake? I ain't betting on it.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Couldn't agree more!

    Except that I think the US and allies were right to go there but they should have meant it as a strictly counter-terrorism mission and got the hell out of there when that mission was accomplished.

    Do you think appropriate lessons have been learned?

  11. [11] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    CRS, yes, it was a mistake from the start.

    The chances of a 'good' or 'well-managed' withdrawal were vanishingly small, but still it's a mess.

    Back in my days teaching English to speakers of other languages, I taught many Afghan refugees, first from the initial Taliban takeover (When asked why he hadn't stayed to fight, a professional man explained to the other students 'I have a wife and daughters and I could no longer keep them safe;' another man brought an old unexploded Russian grenade home for lack of any other protection until they could get out) and then later waves of refugees, many of them the kind of people needed for actual rebuilding, generally very realistic about the internal barriers to a sound government.

    I fear most for the women and girls.

  12. [12] 
    John M wrote:

    [1] Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    "Well, the way I look at it, the US accomplished the most important mission, and relatively early in the campaign. Namely that Osama bin Laden et al. are no longer in Afghanistan. That's when the US should have left, damn the consequences for America's Afghan government and national army."

    Yep, the Taliban first surrendered back in 2001. The anti-terrorism part of the mission was actually over close to 18 years ago. Remember, Bin Laden was actually found and captured in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

  13. [13] 
    John M wrote:

    [2] John M from Ct. wrote:

    "Two, regarding the 'intelligence failure' about the implosion of the anti-Taliban Afghan state."

    Once the Trump administration cut a separate deal with the Taliban back at Doha, leaving out our Afghan allies completely, it was all but over for the Afghan government. The Taliban just negotiated take over deals with local leaders of towns and cities one by one. There was never ANY fighting. The Taliban just walked in and the local police and military melted away.

  14. [14] 
    John M wrote:

    [4] Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    "And, going forward, where does Pakistan fit into all of this?"

    Same place it always was. Another regional neighbor fighting for influence and providing a safe cross border haven. We were never going to "WIN" the war in Afghanistan unless we invaded, occupied, and overthrew the Pakistan government as well.

  15. [15] 
    Alin wrote:

    CRS: Agreed. Well put

  16. [16] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    In the end it was all about the bumper cars...

    We need new writers, this reality is becoming unplausable.

  17. [17] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Once in a great while I find myself in complete agreement with what you post. This is one of those times.

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It is going to be very, very interesting to see how the Taliban settle into their new role of leadership and control over all of Afghanistan, especially if all foreign aid is halted.

  19. [19] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    More interesting still will be to watch team Biden handle what comes next with regard to terrorists from the Middle East.

    Biden says that fighting terrorist the old way by military occupation and nation-building doesn't work. He must now lay out a plan that does work!

  20. [20] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Liz [10]No, I don't think our current or recent leadership is smart enough to "learn the lessons", especially the dream of "nation building"

    Mezzo [11]

    There are no "women and girls" under Sharia law. In places like Afghanistan, what they have is more accurately designated as female chattels.

    Stig [20]

    Like I told Kick once when she had that same "problem" - Better have somebody feel your forehead, you may be delirious with fever.

  21. [21] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    If there was a "C.R. Stucki Comments Hall of Fame" this comment would be in it.

  22. [22] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It has been hard for many veterans of the war in Afghanistan to deal with the news of the Taliban taking control of the entire country, especially since it has happened so quickly before all of their Afghan allies could find safe passage to the US.

  23. [23] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    Stucki, they are women and girls to me. My sisters.

  24. [24] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Yes, Afghanistan fell in hours; but I do not understand how this has come as a surprise to anyone. We allowed Afghani’s who gave themselves the job title of “Warlords” (Drug Lord would be a more appropriate title… or unlicensed Pharmaceutical Rep) to remain in power and we turned a blind eye as they pumped as much heroin into our country as they pleased. Yes, the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma deserve a lot of the credit for helping start the opioid epidemic in this country, but our government chose to allow heroin to freely enter our country with nothing to deter it! We like to think that every heroin addict got their taste for opioids thanks to OxyContin, but that just isn’t the case. Cheap and plentiful heroin never required a prescription and was responsible for the deaths of over 130,000 Americans since 1999.

    The Afghan officials that we wanted to run the country proved to be extremely corrupt — which, again, should not surprise anyone since they were simply modeling themselves after our own country’s GOP!

    And are we the only country that goes to war for reasons other than to expand our empire? Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan… we shed a lot of blood for what, exactly? While the stockholders of Haliburton might say Iraq and Afghanistan seemed to go perfectly to them; we gained nothing as a nation! Give your soldiers something tangible for them to fight for and they will fight much harder! What good is taking a hill or a city if you are just gonna give it back to those you defeated later on? Was it really “war” or were we just overly armed hall monitors for these countries?

    9] CRS

    Well said and spot on!

  25. [25] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Mezzo [26]

    I believe that, but your opinion doesn't count for much in Afghanistan, where Sharia law reigns, right?

  26. [26] 
    Kick wrote:

    It would be a shame if one of those idiot governors from one of those populous states who're trying to outstupid Trump tested positive for COVID-19.


  27. [27] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Biden is taking pounding on Afghanistan, and as Commander In Chief the buck does stop at his desk. As a senator he voted for getting into the conflict, but so did all the other Senators. As Veep Biden argued against further escalation…which occurred anyway.

    So, I ask how many of his rather opportunistic critics (on both sides the aisle*)actively tried to extricate the USA from Afghanistan. Not a whole lot.. Are we supposed to stay longer…is that going the bring back the dead, make the wounded whole again, or retrieve the fortune spent on the war? It hurts to lose…but Afghanistan has a habit of humbling great powers…among them, Great Britain…Russia…and now the USA. I don’t expect it, but the politicians and US citizens should accept the mistake and not repeat it.

    * “Failure is always an orphan”

  28. [28] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I have to admit, I haven't been following the media/pundit/analyst, save for one critique of Biden but the ones who I have seen and who are highly critical are the ones who think the US should still be in Afghanistan, forever.

    I also have to admit that I don't understand why the US under the Biden administration was so woefully unprepared to secure the exit from the country. I expected so much more ...

  29. [29] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Biden is taking pounding on Afghanistan, and as Commander In Chief the buck does stop at his desk.

    Yeah, I figured as much. That's why I've been avoiding American news outlets for the most part and following Al Jazeera and RT and China Global and relying on a favourite American political analyst to keep me up to speed.

    Though, some of the criticism of Biden is certainly deserved.

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