The Taliban overran Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. This event brings an unimaginable end to a two-decade campaign. Making the US and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan. The nation’s Western-influenced and trained forces quickly collapsed in the face of the insurgent offensive that ran through the country in a week.
After the fall of the capital, Kabul, a tense calm set in; most people hid in their homes as the Taliban set fighters at vital intersections. There have been reports of looting and armed men knocking on doors and gates. Streets seem eerily quiet with less traffic than usual.
Fear Left in Many
The possibility of chaos caused fear in many Afghans. The Taliban freed thousands of prisoners with no trace of police enforcement and security.
“We haven’t seen anything but catastrophes and fighting… So we always live with hope for a long-lasting peace,” a Kabul resident, Wahidullah Qadiri, said. He hopes for peace after decades of war that have claimed the lives of two of his brothers and cousin.
Thousands of other Afghanistan’s doubted that peace would result from The Taliban takeover and rushed to Kabul’s international airport. Videos on social media show hundreds of people scurrying across the tarmac as US soldiers fired warning shots in the air. One video shows a crowd pushing and forcing its way up a staircase. Videos also show them trying to board a plane, and left some hanging off the railings.
The US Embassy has evacuated. The American flag lowered and left diplomats relocating to the airport to aid with the evacuation. Several other countries stationed in Afghanistan have also closed their missions. They are flying out personnel and nationals.
The speed of the Taliban offensive through the country has shocked US officials. Days before the Taliban entered Kabul, a US military assessment predicted it could take months for Kabul to fall.
The takeover erased 20 years of Western efforts to remake Afghanistan, which tragically cost more than 3,500 US and allied troops lives and tens of thousands of Afghans.
Veterans and Troops Reflect
US troops who deployed to Afghanistan over the past two decades say the Taliban’s quick success of power over Afghanistan has left them shocked and in dismay.
“This one will hurt for a long time, man,” said Sean Gustafson, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. He deployed in western Afghanistan to the city of Herat from 2006 to 2007.
On Thursday, the city of Herat was captured by the Taliban, shocking Sean Gustafson. The next day, the retired Army lieutenant colonel forwarded photos from 2007 of him and other troops building schools and handing out books to children to Stars and Stripes.
Like other veterans of America’s 20-year war, Gustafson can only watch from afar. He says it hurts him to see the projects he worked on destroyed. Even more, it saddens him too see the people he attempted to help left threatened by the Taliban.
Due to the departure of the Afghan President and the capture of the city of Kabul, the Taliban now holds control of the country.
The collapse of Afghanistan and its military has come weeks before the scheduled Aug. 31 final withdrawal of US troops ordered by President Joe Biden. The withdrawal results from a peace deal signed last year by the Taliban and the Trump administration.
How Veterans Say It Should’ve Been Handled
Several veterans told Stars and Stripes that the final days of the US war in Afghanistan should have been handled better.
“A complete pullout is not only unnecessary, it is sabotage… a betrayal of American and international forces who have expended so much in life and limb to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban,” said Army Staff Sgt. Seamus Fennessy. He fought in Ghazni province in 2010.
“Maybe we stayed longer than we should have, but the manner in which we pulled out, it’s just unfortunate, and my heart breaks,” said Christy Barry. She deployed to Afghanistan multiple times as both an Air Force officer and a civilian adviser.
“You pour your heart into it, and at the time, it feels like you’re doing something great, and you’re making a difference… And looking back on it now, I still feel that way, but it’s with a sadness,” said Christy Barry.
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