OPINION

Incompetence on display in the fall of Kabul

Rich Kiper
Rich Kiper

As a wounded Vietnam veteran with 26 years of active duty, I watched with great sadness the events beginning Sept. 29, 1975, that led to the fall of Saigon.

As someone who was in Afghanistan in 2002, co-authored a book on the first seven months of the war and was an analyst for four years at the Army Counterinsurgency Center, I watched with great anger the events beginning Aug. 15, 2021, that led to the fall of Kabul.

What is happening in Kabul is the fault of an incompetent president surrounded by ignorant advisers. Biden appointed the secretaries of state and defense, as well as heads of the intelligence community. It is a case of the blind leading the lackeys. 

Biden’s speech to the American people Aug. 16 was despicable. There is a military adage that the commander is responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen. Biden would have none of that. He began by blaming President Trump for an agreement he had made in February 2020. Biden cancelled other agreements, cancelled the wall and allowed thousands of people to enter our country illegally, but he could not cancel Trump’s agreement with the Taliban? His rationale is bereft of logic.    

Although Trump pulled some troops out, he did not pull all of them out. They stayed to help the Afghan National Army.

Biden then blamed the Afghan government and Afghan soldiers. There definitely has been a problem with the Afghan government since we put troops in Afghanistan in October 2001. However, to blame the thousands of Afghans who fought the Taliban for the collapse of the army shows how ignorant Biden is of things military.

The Afghan National Army is certainly not the equivalent of the U.S. Army. I was in Kabul during the first week of ANA training. It was not pretty, but it was the beginning of a force that would fight, but needed support from the U.S. and our allies. 

When Biden made the stupid decision to withdraw our forces on extremely short notice, everything went to hell. The Taliban began attacks throughout the country. There were stories of the Taliban killing Afghan pilots. Biden pulled out contractors who maintained the airplanes and helicopters along with those who provided and fueled those air assets. 

He did not take the advice of the military to secure Bagram air base as a facility where the U.S. could launch air support for the ANA. He was blind to the wisdom of maintaining that base to use against regional troublemakers such as Iran, China and Russia. Maintaining that foothold also would have allowed us to gain needed intelligence from local people as well as from drones and other devices. But, no, Biden was determined to get out of Afghanistan.

His illogical decision forced the U.S. to leave behind an untold amount of weapons, ammunition and reportedly hundreds of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. Whether helicopters and airplanes left behind are still serviceable and how many has not been revealed.

Biden continued by claiming that we have a “counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability.” There is no military definition for “over-the-horizon.” Take it to mean “a long way.”

Biden said he wanted to be able to “act quickly and decisively if needed.” Where in his fantasy world will that be? The closest base for U.S. aircraft is in Qatar, about 1,232 miles from Kabul and about 2.5 hours by jet. That is a lifetime when in contact with the enemy. In Vietnam, many times I called in air support while engaged with enemy forces. Things could have worked out quite differently if I had to wait 2.5 hours. 

Realize that getting somewhere is one thing. Loitering and dropping bombs and getting back to Qatar is quite another thing unless air refueling is available.

Last June, the Department of Defense was seeking bases in the Persian Gulf region that would allow U.S. war planes to conduct operations in the region if required. Those discussions probably are now irrelevant.

Biden’s claim to “the buck stops with me” is disingenuous. He gave no examples of mistakes. 

Biden concluded his speech by turning his back on Americans and the press and walking away.

The people who are really to blame are Democratic voters who hated Trump more than they love our country. A fool trumped Trump.

Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.