The Pentagon mistakes behind the rout of the Afghan army

A wall mural painted on the wall of US embassy in Kabul on July 30, 2021

The collapse of the Afghan army that allowed Taliban fighters to take control of Kabul cast a stark light on errors committed over 20 years by the Pentagon as it spent billions  of dollars in Afghanistan. 

– The wrong equipment –

Airplanes, helicopters, drones, armored vehicles, night-vision goggles: the United States spared no expense in equipping the Afghan army. It recently even provided the Afghans with the latest Black Hawk attack helicopters.

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Their capabilities were seriously overestimated, according to John Sopko, the US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR).

“So they knew how bad the Afghan military was.”

– Exaggerated numbers –

But those army numbers were greatly inflated, according to the Combating Terrorism Center at the prestigious US Military Academy at West Point, New York.

And barely 60 percent of the Afghan army troops were trained fighters, the West Point analysts said.

The SIGAR report said desertions have always been a problem for the Afghan army.

– Half-hearted promises –

During his last visit to Kabul, in May, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin raised the possibility of helping the Afghans maintain their air force — from afar — through an approach he called “over the horizon” logistics.

Ronald Neumann, a former US ambassador to Kabul, believes the American military “could have taken more time” to withdraw.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden pushed that date back, originally to September 11 before changing it again to August 31.

“We built an air force that depended on contractors for maintenance and then pulled the contractors,” Neumann, who was ambassador under President George W. Bush, told NPR public radio.

Worse, the salaries of the Afghan army had been paid for years by the Pentagon. But from the moment the American army announced its planned withdrawal in April, responsibility for those payments fell on the Kabul government.

The rapid US withdrawal provided a final blow.


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