National Security

How Could US Generals Have Been So Wrong On Afghanistan?

Their premise was flawed.

Image Credit: NBC News/YouTube

Most members of the US national security establishment under recent presidents have got Afghanistan all wrong. That includes this chief executive in July.

“The Taliban is not the south — the North Vietnamese army. They’re not — they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy … of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable,” said Joe Biden last month. But he’s not the only one.

They got it wrong because their premise was wrong. They thought that we, with our allies, could take a medieval theocracy and turn it into downtown main street USA by force of arms. It was never, ever, going to happen no matter what the military situation was. Check out these gems.

“The Afghan army is increasingly effective,” Mad Dog Mattis told Congress in July 2010 when he was nominated for commander of U.S. Central Command. He said Afghan military force, alongside U.S. forces, were “the worst nightmare for the Taliban.”

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In December of 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates told press that Afghan troops were “responsible for security in Kabul,” “performing well” and would “continue to improve.” Cue 2012. General John Allen, then the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told the House Armed Services Committee, “We remain on track to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a safe haven for Al Qaida and will no longer be terrorized by the Taliban…as the potential unifying influence in Afghanistan, the Afghan forces are better than we thought they were, and they’re better than they thought they were when tried in combat.”

In November 2014, Gen. John Campbell told media, when asked if Afghan forces could fight, that “whenever the [Afghan security forces] get involved with the Taliban, the Taliban cannot hold ground, they can’t hold terrain…I’m telling you what I’ve seen,” Campbell continued, “the change from a couple of years ago to today. They do have the capability to protect themselves. They are the strongest institution in Afghanistan.” Same month, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said, “The Afghan National Security forces are winning, and this is a hugely capable fighting force who have been holding their ground against the enemy.”

But one guy got it right. One guy had the guts to speak up and not put a happy face on the grim reaper. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told press on Sunday that he’s been saying Afghan military was an ineffective force since 2012. “I mean, we’ve been warning – my little agency – for the last almost 10 years about issues with the ANDSF, that’s the Afghan security forces’ capabilities and sustainment. All the signs have been there,” he said. But nobody listened to him. They’re listening now.

David Kamioner
meet the author

David Kamioner is a veteran of U.S. Army Intelligence and an honors graduate of the University of Maryland's European Division. He also served with the Pershing Nuclear Brigade and the First Infantry Division. Subsequent to that he worked for two decades as a political consultant, was part of the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort in Louisiana, ran a homeless shelter for veterans in Philadelphia, and taught as a college instructor. He serves as a Contributing Editor for LifeZette.

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