The rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the deafening silence from the White House and UK Government demonstrates one of the most extraordinary blunders of intelligence and analysis in history in regard to the strength of the Taliban. The Taliban’s lightning onslaught is far quicker than those in power can even arrange a meeting to formulate a response.
While some may lay the blame on former President Trump who formerly announced the withdrawal of US troops from the region in 2021, it was President Biden’s ultimate choice to pull out. The reckless nature of his choice has been laid bare for the whole world to see. As images of Chinhook aircraft landing at the US embassy in Kabul to evacuate US citizens and diplomats one can only think back to Biden’s own words not even 6 weeks ago, “The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of the embassy of the United States from Afghanistan”. No doubt words that have come back to bite him.
His miscalculation in Afghanistan may ultimately be what defines his Presidency. For the consequences have the potential be as severe for the international community as it is for the Afghan people who face an impending humanitarian crisis. Reports and images from Kandahar on Saturday showed a human wasteland. Scores of dead bodies slain across roads and on streets. It was described as the Taliban settling old scores. The silence from anti-interventionists in recent weeks has duly been noted.
The official line coming from Westminster, notably the UK Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, is that the UK had no choice but to pull out from Afghanistan as the international community had to act together, so if the US pulled out, the UK had to follow. It reveals the flawed nature of global foreign policy at present.
For the rest of us in Europe we can only sit on the sidelines and watch. The intervention in Afghanistan in the first place was to bring peace and a stable future to the region by dismantling al-Qaeda who were being given a safe haven to operate by the Taliban in power. It was done in the interest of national security, not just for the US and UK but for the whole of Europe. Long gone are the days of guaranteed US/UK interventionism supported by NATO to protect the interests of their allies. NATO above all has been silent this week.
Europe can no longer depend on the US and UK for its military defence. That is the bottom line. It is up to the EU to start guaranteeing European security. A state which provides safe havens for terrorist organisations is a terrorist-led state and Afghanistan is inevitably about to fall under that category once again. Not only in the long-term is it likely to destabilise the country itself but also its neighbours, notably Pakistan. By providing free breeding grounds for extremists, Europe will suffer too with terrorist attacks becoming part of the yearly calendar once again.
Closer defence cooperation between European states is inevitably the next step. With the end goal being establishing a proper European army as envisaged by Macron and Merkel. As recently as May, fourteen European Union countries including Germany, France and Ireland have proposed a rapid military response force that could intervene early in international crises. It is time incremental steps are made to make this become a reality.
The withdrawal of troops from regions and the destabilisation of state’s was precisely what most level-headed people feared when Trump became President. Biden’s election was meant to put an end to that fear but whether he is pandering to domestic opinion on America’s forever wars or whether the US intelligence assessed that they could leave the region without it destabilising, its caused as massive vacuum. There was a great summarisation by Chair of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat who compared the US and UK’s treatment of the Afghan military to expecting Olympic cyclists to win gold using a “rusty old tricycle”.
How 20 years after the initial US invasion, Afghanistan finds itself in the same rotten hole should serve as a reminder that peace should never be taken for granted. Reckless actions without prior thought can reset the clock, as we have seen, in a matter of months. For Europe it should be a calling sign, that we can no longer rely on the US and UK for our security interests and that we should become the leading light for peace and security around the world.
Peter is a digital marketer with a BA degree in history and politics. He is a member of Fine Gael. Twitter: Farrelly_peter