Afghan forces fold as rapid Taliban advances test will of government troops

WE’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE: The rapid territorial gains of the Taliban in Afghanistan has eerie echoes of the 2014-2015 ISIS takeover of much of Iraq. Then, as now, a vastly smaller, ideologically driven force defeated a numerically superior and better equipped U.S.-trained Army by breaking the will of their enemy.

As of this morning, at least four provincial capitals have fallen to the Taliban over the past four days, and the key northern city of Kunduz appears to be the fifth. The string of Taliban victories began Friday in the far western Nimroz province, where Afghan forces defending the capital of Zaranj reportedly took off their uniforms and fled across the border into Iran.

Reports said that, much like ISIS did in Iraq, the Taliban tortured and executed captured troops to break the morale of others.

The other provincial capitals now fully under Taliban control are Sar-e Pul, Shibirghan, and Taleqan, according to the Associated Press.


It was disturbingly reminiscent of the 2014 fall of Mosul in Iraq, when nearly 60,000 Iraqi troops, spooked by the brutal tactics of ISIS, melted away in the face of an assault by a mere 1,500 fighters. When Ramadi fell the following year, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter told CNN that Iraqi defenders "showed no will to fight.”

"They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight,” Carter said in March of 2015. “We can give them training, we can give them equipment — we obviously can't give them the will to fight.”

SPREAD TOO THIN: While the U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan military also vastly outnumbers the Taliban, without American logistical and air support, the government lacks the ability to resupply and reinforce its far-flung forces far from the capital of Kabul.

“They're being very smart about this,” says Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan in the Bush and Obama administrations. “They are not launching major strikes into Kabul. They are doing what they're doing in part to create a climate of fear and panic. And they are succeeding wonderfully at this,” Crocker said on ABC.

Speaking on the Sunday show This Week, Crocker said the most likely outcome at this point is “a prolonged civil war,” rather than “a swift Taliban takeover of the entire country.”

A TEST OF WILL AND LEADERSHIP: The U.S. can’t care more than the Afghans do about the future of their country, said Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Armed Services Committee, on MSNBC Saturday.

“The United States has been in Afghanistan for 20 years. We've trained more than 300,000 current members of the Afghan National Security Force. The number of Taliban fighters is 50,000 to 60,000,” Kaine said. “If 300,000-plus can't defeat 50,000 or 60,000, it's not because 2,500 U.S. troops are gone ... at the end of the day, the United States can't be the guarantor of Afghan civil society, that has to be the Afghans' job.”

At a Pentagon briefing July 21, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley insisted “the end game is yet written” in Afghanistan, and that the most important factors would be “the will and leadership of the Afghan people.”


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HAPPENING TODAY: EVACUATIONS UNDERWAY: With the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorating by the hour, and with the possibility the Taliban could soon threaten the international airport in Kabul, the U.S. Embassy issued an urgent warning to Americans to get out of the country as soon as possible and not to depend on the U.S. government to provide transportation.

“Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited even within Kabul,” the statement said. “The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately using available commercial flight options.”

For now, the embassy remains open with only essential personnel, guarded by some 600 U.S. troops. But all other Americans are being told to “consider leaving Afghanistan via the earliest available commercial transportation,” and to “develop a plan of action that does not rely on U.S. government assistance.”


‘WE ARE IN A MOMENT OF CRISIS’: “What needs to be done right now is to ramp up the evacuation, get more flights in faster. We are in a moment of crisis,” said former Ambassador Ryan Crocker on ABC. “The problem is the Taliban now control the narrative. They can certainly shut down Kabul airport if they choose.”

“The ability to get our folks out, and others who have served us at risk of their lives out, it really now depends on whether the Taliban want to let them go,” Crocker said. “The Taliban can wait. They've got the options. They've got the leverage and the capability. We've given all that away.”

‘THEY WILL KILL EVERYBODY’: Appearing with Crocker on ABC was Janis Shinwari, a former Afghan interpreter and co-founder of the nonprofit organization No One Left Behind, which is working to get Afghans who helped Americans out of Afghanistan before they face retribution from the Taliban.

“We have to ask President Biden to start more flights. And we cannot wait ... his process has been too slow,” Shinwari said. “I have been in contact with a lot of people in Afghanistan that they're waiting for their visa. ... We should expedite this program. We should have more planes to evacuate these people as soon as possible.”

“We have to evacuate those people before it's too late,” he pleaded. “If we do not ... the Taliban will kill everybody. And they will torture them in front of their family and kill them ... they will not only kill the interpreters, but they will kill their immediate families who are still in Afghanistan,” he said. “They will kill all these people, including the news reporters. Everybody who was working for the Afghan government or U.S. government, they're not safe. They will kill everybody.”

‘AN INDELIBLE STAIN’ ON BIDEN’S PRESIDENCY: Unlike in Iraq, where the U.S. sent troops back to enable local forces to reverse ISIS gains and eventually crush the terrorist caliphate, Crocker sees little chance President Joe Biden will change course and rescue the faltering Afghan government.

“President Biden has made that clear. We're going out and are staying out,” said Crocker, who argues that total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghan, while a top priority of former President Donald Trump, will now be part of Biden’s legacy.

Biden, he says, has “now taken complete ownership of President Trump's policy in Afghanistan.” “He owns it,” Crocker said. “And I think it is already an indelible stain on his presidency.”

All U.S. troops, except for those guarding the embassy, are due to be out in three weeks.

LESSONS FOR IRAQ: The Center for Strategic and International Studies is out with a new report on Iraq and options for strategic cooperation with Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces, scheduled for the end of the year.

“If there is any lesson the United States needs to learn from both its ‘long war’ in Afghanistan and its previous efforts in Iraq, it is that the U.S. cannot help a nation that cannot help itself,” writes the report's author Anthony Cordesman.

Iraq, he argues, is a very different case from Afghanistan. With the world’s fifth-largest proven oil reserves, Iraq, Cordesman writes, “not only is strategically important in itself, but its position between a hostile Iran and a Syria tied to Russia will have a major impact on the stability” of the region.

Cordesman examines three possible futures, of which he says the “most likely” is an Iraq that is “weak, corrupt,” and divided between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurds, with factions within each bloc. “This Iraq would exist in a self-inflicted state of economic collapse.”

Instead, he says, the U.S. should deal with Iraq as “a strategic partner that faces threats from Iran, Turkey, Syria, and the remnants of ISIS and other extremist groups.”

“It can provide military and economic assistance that will help Iraq stand on its own and become a stable and fully functioning state.”

The full report can be downloaded here.

DEL TORO CONFIRMED AS SECNAV: On a voice vote late Saturday, the Senate confirmed Carlos Del Toro, a former Navy surface warfare officer, to be Navy secretary.

In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called Del Toro, a Naval Academy graduate, well-prepared for the job, citing his “lifelong pursuits and deep experience.”

“Carlos rose through the ranks during the Cold War and Operation Desert Shield and Storm to serve as the first commanding officer of the destroyer USS Bulkeley DDG 84, and then later as a trusted aide to Pentagon leadership,” said Austin. “He understands firsthand the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing our Navy, from addressing the pacing challenge of China and modernizing our capabilities, to investing in our most valuable asset — our people.”

“As an immigrant who has dedicated his life to public service, Carlos exemplifies the core values of honor, courage, and commitment in defense of our country,” Austin said of the Cuban-born Del Toro.

With Del Toro’s confirmation, all three military departments, Army, Navy, and Air Force, have civilian service secretaries in place.


The Rundown

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New York Times: The Taliban fly their flag in Kunduz as exhausted Afghan troops regroup

New York Times: As the Taliban Seize More Cities, the Propaganda War Grows in Importance

Navy Times: Here’s Why CENTCOM Thinks Iran Was Behind A Fatal Drone Attack On A Ship Last Month

Bloomberg: Biden’s Iran Nuclear Deal Ambitions Shrink as Tensions Flare

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“If 300,000-plus can't defeat 50,000 or 60,000, it's not because 2,500 U.S. troops are gone. … At the end of the day, the United States can't be the guarantor of Afghan civil society, that has to be the Afghans' job.”

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, arguing that having trained Afghan forces that vastly outnumber the Taliban, there’s little more for the U.S. to do after 20 years.

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