Desperate Afghans and compliant Americans

The fallout from the fiasco of our Afghanistan policy continues unabated. Americans endure the assault on their sensibilities triggered by stories of human misery unfolding in Afghanistan and the absence of a discernible strategy or notion of accountability. The Afghanistan debacle has exposed a dismal lack of basic competence from our political and military leadership, leaving many Americans to wonder if the Biden administration has suspended decency and discredited one of our last noble institutions. 

Desperate Afghans

Winter is about to arrive in Afghanistan. Winters can be cruel there, and Afghans have their own complicated supply chain issues right now. The Taliban is straining to shock a pulse into the moribund economy while millions face mounting shortages of food, fuel and other necessities. Electrical outages can last 48 hours or more for those fortunate enough to be on the grid. Many schools are closed. Over 2,000 medical clinics have shuttered as the health care system teeters on the verge of collapse.   

Almost all Afghans live hand-to-mouth. There are few cupboards stocked for the winter. According to the World Food Programme, “more than half of Afghanistan’s population is facing acute hunger…and food security has all but collapsed.”  In September 2021, the WFP estimated that only 5% of Afghan families have enough to eat. Save the Children finds over 5 million Afghan children “are now just one step away from famine.”  The most recent shock to the sensibilities was the story of the father selling his 9-year-old daughter for food.  
Home heating fuel is scarce and expensive, forcing many Afghans into a ‘firewood or food’ dilemma. Many Kabul residents would burn compressed plastic water bottles and rubber tires for heat during the coalition presence because wood was expensive and hard to find. In some cases, dried waste would be used.  Kabul air quality in January and February is notorious for its foul-smelling black particles floating in the air. Now many Afghans adjust to an even bleaker new normal.

Then there is the fear of tens of thousands of Afghans of the knock at the door.  During the war, many who were our partners underestimated the threat, did not apply for a special visa quickly enough, or simply did not have the financial resources to escape.  

They hide now and hold their breath. No one knows when the Taliban revenge purge will be sated. Private efforts to get people out continue, but they are expensive, fraught with danger, and are crowded with varied actors and agendas where the slightest issue can derail weeks of planning. Despite their shortcomings, these groups are accomplishing more than the ineffectual Biden administration, which appears to have moved on, hoping the debacle fades from our collective memories. 

Compliant Americans

In the immediate aftermath of the Afghan collapse, the Veterans Administration reported a massive spike in calls to their crisis lines as veterans struggled to process what was playing out daily on their screens.  Some 35,000 calls were placed on the VA’s suicide hotline in the middle of August.  Vets were perplexed by the doublespeak coming from uniformed leaders and Biden administration officials, and it touched a nerve.  

In the military, there is an obsession with planning and accountability. No detail is too small, nothing is to be overlooked, and your a— is accountable. You learn this the first day you put on a uniform and soon realize it is what sets the military apart from other institutions. The vets could see the catastrophic failure on the one hand, while the Pentagon leadership proclaimed successes and deflected blame. It did not compute.  

And then there is the matter of the people we left behind. This is the most unforgivable part of the disaster. The veterans know this. Many consider it a betrayal of bedrock values. Its unprecedented scale and real-time transmission pushed many to the edge.

The Afghanistan failures have once again exposed the chasm between a large swath of American society and those sworn to defend it. There has been a growing concern among vets that time-honored principles are being undermined by the confluence of a dominating progressive agenda pushed by elites who never served and senior military leaders more focused on promotion and political agendas than service to the Nation. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s witch-hunt for extremists in the ranks, the Joint Chiefs’ pandering to the Biden administration’s progressive agenda, a zero-tolerance vaccine mandate, and the Afghanistan debacle weaken the institution. The vets understand this, and that is why the crisis lines are working overtime.

We, the people, cannot allow our duplicitous elites to coldly turn the page on the epic human suffering they caused while acting as if events are somehow beyond their control. We cannot stand idly by while the co-opted uniformed leadership forces the rank-and-file to either submit to the capricious demands of a ruling elite or be vanquished from service. 

Where is the long gray line on these Biden administration travesties? Where are the American people?

• Ron MacCammon is a retired Special Forces Colonel with more than 27 years of service. He worked for the State Department in Afghanistan 2011-2015.

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