Who signed off on Bagram? The hinge of fate

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

The warning flags were clearly there but Team Biden chose not to heed them. A top secret State Department Memo in mid-July, cited by the Wall Street Journal, signaled swift advances of  the Taliban and the impending collapse of the Afghan military. Nobody seemed to notice?

Let’s offer a sobering assessment of a deteriorating situation:

An F-16 takes off at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, on Jan. 23, 2015. / U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz

Bagram Air Base; The disastrous pullout from Bagram in early July was a catastrophic mistake by the U.S. Why would we withdraw from our most secure and versatile air and supply hub just north of Kabul the capital?  Why would leave in the dead of night, only to tell the Afghans, it was theirs to run?  First came looters, then the Afghan army, and now the Taliban!  Billions of dollars in military supplies and munitions fell into the hands of the Taliban. Blackhawk helicopters, armored Humvees, drones now all waiting for buyers in the international arms market.

So, who signed off on Bagram?

The Bagram Air Base pullout created an inflection point from where the threads of the entire fragile mission quickly unravelled. The Afghan military plainly saw the writing on the wall. What little morale there was evaporated into a pathetic cut-and-run mission cascading like dominos throughout provinces across the country.

This is not a U.S. military failure nor largely an intelligence failure, but a clear and unmitigated political failure by an administration who misread the signals and blundered into a impasse at the Kabul International Airport where thousands of Americans and Afghan allies are marooned. More than 6,000 exceptionally trained and tough American troops are bottled up inside while we sort out chaotic departures with the Taliban. And this is OK?

What are our NATO allies saying? European countries were a vital part of the military and reconstruction mission. Countries like France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands along with Canada provided troops and economic assistance.

Yet, according to President Joe Biden, “I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world.”

Significantly Armin Laschet, the likely candidate to succeed outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “This is the greatest debacle that NATO has seen since its foundation.”

Britain’s Financial Times, long enchanted with the current administration, had a lead story, “Biden’s Foreign Policy Fiasco.” An opinion column by Simon Tisdall in the left-wing Guardian gushed, “After Afghanistan, the Pax American is over; as is NATO. About time too.”

“Afghanistan is the biggest foreign policy failure since Suez (1956)” tweeted Tom Tugendhat, a military veteran and Chair of the UK parliament foreign affairs committee.  In Prague, Czech president Milos Zeman said that, “by withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Americans have lost their status of global leader.”  The list continues.

So Who Profits?  Obviously the jihadi international who now have their capture of Afghanistan as a crown jewel and just in time for the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks!

The timing and the nuance of this U.S. policy debacle remains stunningly serious. It’s unmistakable that Terror LLC has had its best year since 2001.

China who borders Afghanistan wishes to get in the Taliban’s good graces and Afghanistan’s resources. Beijing’s Foreign Minister met the Taliban in China just weeks ago.  But can an   atheistic regime like China really embrace the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban?

Maybe a transactional marriage of connivance but communist China’s mistreatment of its own Uighur Muslim population hardly makes a strong case for the Belt and Road stopping in Kabul.

Pakistan is a real winner here. Traditionally having supported the Taliban, Pakistan shares a long border, religious ties of Islam, and a common ethnicity along the border, thus is well poised here. Pakistan’s shadowy ISI, a parallel military security apparatus, has supported Taliban after first taking handfuls of cash from Washington.

Recall Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. Pakistan’s press has largely been gleeful over the Taliban takeover BUT warns the group to play nice and gain international support and is quietly nervous over its spillover effect into Pakistan.

Refugees Redux. Here we go again.  After the calamitous refugee movement on Western Europe in 2015, where Germany and Sweden accepted over one million Syrians and others, the Afghan surge is about to begin.  Watch Turkey here. Strongman Erdogan, not wanting to expand the more than four million refugees already inside Turkey, will shakedown the Europeans for a deal lest he open the floodgates. Turkey won’t become Europe’s “refugee  warehouse,” he warned.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair however offered a stunning rebuke saying that Joe Biden’s decision to pullout of  Afghanistan was “Imbecilic… dangerous and unnecessary.” Clearly it’s not the planned withdrawal but How it’s being done.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]