AfghanistanHow the Afghan Army Collapsed Under the Taliban’s Pressure

By Max Boot

Published 17 August 2021

Despite having larger numbers and better equipment than the Taliban, Afghan forces were never strong enough to sustain government control in the absence of U.S. firepower.

A reporter asked U.S. President Joe Biden in July whether a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was inevitable. “No, it is not,” he said, pointing to the presence of three hundred thousand “well-equipped” Afghan security personnel.

Little more than a month later, the Afghan military completely collapsed. It lost control of much of the country, often without putting up a fight, and allowed the Taliban to take over. Near the end, provincial capitals fell with dizzying rapidity. On August 15, Taliban fighters marched into Kabul.

How did the $83 billion U.S. effort to train and equip the Afghan military go so wrong? Why didn’t the Afghan military fight harder to stop the Taliban?

Fatally Demoralized
The answer could be found in Napoleon Bonaparte’s maxim: “In war, the moral is to the physical as ten is to one.” Quite simply, an Afghan military that over the past twenty years had learned to rely on U.S. support for airpower, intelligence, logistics, planning, and other vital enablers was fatally demoralized by the U.S. decision to abandon it. An Afghan special forces officer told the Washington Post that many Afghans saw the troop withdrawal deal that the Donald Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February 2020 as “the end” and that the United States “left [the Afghan military] to fail.” As a result, he said, “Everyone was just looking out for himself.”

It’s possible that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thought his government would receive a reprieve from President Biden. But in April, Biden announced that the remaining three thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be withdrawn by September 11, 2021. Not only did those troops depart, but so did eight thousand allied troops and eighteen thousand contractors that the Afghan forces relied upon to operate their air force and for logistical support. In recent months, the Afghan military was unable to provide vital supplies such as food and ammunition to outposts scattered around the country. Some Afghan units, particularly the elite commandos, fought hard nearly to the end. But seeing the writing on the wall, most troops chose to cut deals with the Taliban, surrender, or simply melt away rather than risk their lives for a hopeless cause.