U.S. Leaves Afghan Military "Abandon And Alone" : Consider This from NPR The U.S. military will be fully out of the country by August 31. The Taliban already control more than half of it. A U.S. intelligence assessment reportedly says the Afghan government could collapse in as little as six months.

Some members of the Afghan military feel "abandoned and alone," Commanding General of the Afghan Army Sami Sadat tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.

Additional reporting this episode from NPR's Diaa Hadid.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.

The U.S. Almost Out Of Afghanistan. What Happens There Next?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1014785735/1015751475" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The U.S. continues to pull out of Afghanistan - and fast.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRES JOE BIDEN: Our military commanders advised me that once I made the decision to end the war, we needed to move swiftly to conduct the main elements of the drawdown. And in this context, speed is safety.

CORNISH: Speed is safety. President Biden said that last week when he announced the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan will end on August 31. Troops are departing so quickly that earlier this month some members of the Afghan military accused the U.S. of leaving its center of operations, Bagram Airfield, secretly in the middle of the night. The Pentagon disputed that and said high-level Afghan officials were looped in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Mr. President, have you had...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Mr. President, does the U.S....

CORNISH: One thing no one disputes, not even the president, is that the Afghan military is about to be left on its own to face a Taliban force that is stronger than at any point since 2001.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Do I trust the Taliban? No, but I trust the capacity of the Afghan military who is better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting war.

CORNISH: It is a fact, though, that in some areas U.S.-trained Afghan forces are surrendering or fleeing the country, and the Taliban is sweeping in faster than anybody expected.

BILAL SARWARI: I think the pace of these mass surrenders, as well as the fall of major districts, is not only surprising; it's quite shocking because much of it is without a fight.

CORNISH: Bilal Sarwari, a journalist and analyst who's been closely following the fighting, told NPR that the Taliban has been systematically recruiting fighters from different ethnic groups, especially in the northern part of the country. And in some places, that means Afghans aren't surrendering to invaders but to family members and community elders.

SARWARI: People at the district village level said, well, why should we be fighting? At the end of the day, we are the ones living with the Taliban, living in villages with our own families. So why should we fight?

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - after 20 years, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan are all but over, and a new phase in the battle for control of the country is just beginning.

From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Tuesday, July 13.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Afghanistan is a big place, roughly the size of Texas. Forty million people live there. And the Taliban - well, they now control more than half of it, including almost all the borders. The U.S.-backed government mainly controls big cities and a large central area near the capital, Kabul. Recently, there have been reports of U.S. intelligence estimating that once the U.S. is fully out of the country, the Afghan government could fall in as little as six months.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RYAN CROCKER: I'm not sure that it's likely the government will fall in six months. But, right now, it's the Taliban who has agency here. We gave ours up.

CORNISH: Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, spoke to NPR this past week. He spent decades as a diplomat in the Middle East and Asia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CROCKER: I think that it's entirely possible the government can hold if the Taliban decides not to pursue an all-out offensive. And that's what I meant here - that it isn't the government that's going to be making that decision. It isn't us. It's the Taliban. We are going to have to wait and see what they do.

CORNISH: The stakes are high in Afghanistan for women and girls. In the last 20 years, girls in Afghanistan have been going to school at higher rates. Women have been better represented in government, and their life expectancy has increased by 10 years. Now, those gains have been modest and uneven, mostly concentrated among women in cities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: And even in cities, the progress has been tenuous. In March of this year, Afghanistan's largest city, Kabul, instituted a ban on singing in public for girls 12 and older.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: A social media campaign grew in opposition - #IAmMySong - with women and girls singing in defiance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: After the pressure, Afghan authorities said the original policy was just a mistake, an ill-designed pandemic safety measure. But the original memo enacting the policy, well, it was reviewed by the Associated Press, and it did not mention the pandemic or any other health concerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: In a press conference last week, a reporter from Afghanistan pressed Biden on women's rights there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Afghans have hurt women. Any message - good message for Afghan women in future? Because they have achievement - they are really concerned about their achievement.

BIDEN: They are very concerned, with good reason.

CORNISH: Biden seemed to acknowledge how perilous things are. He recalled a meeting he had once with a group of girls at a school in Afghanistan when he assured them that the U.S. would soon leave their country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: And the young woman said, you can't leave. You can't leave. It was heartbreaking. You can't leave, she said. I want to be a doctor. I want to be a doctor. I want to be a doctor, and if you leave, I'll never be able to be a doctor. Well, that's why we spent so much time and money training the Afghan security forces.

CORNISH: The U.S. will continue to support women and girls, Biden insisted, through its diplomatic and humanitarian support of the Afghan government.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Thank you all so very much.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Have you spoken with any Taliban officials on the withdrawal?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: And what about those Afghan security forces, the ones the U.S. has spent so much time and money training? Well, this week, NPR reached Sami Sadat, commanding general of the Afghan army.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SAMI SADAT: In Nimruz Province in southwestern Afghanistan, just a couple of kilometers off the Iranian borders. And towards the west and towards the south of where I am is 150 kilometers Pakistani border. So this is not the best place to be right now.

CORNISH: Sadat told NPR his forces were preparing to clear pockets of Taliban from some villages in that area, but more Taliban were continuing to come into the country from Pakistan across the border to the south. He spoke to Mary Louise Kelly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Just to make sure I'm hearing you correctly, you're saying there are Taliban fighters crossing the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan, and that's part of who your forces are fighting now?

SADAT: That's correct. From Pakistan, the Taliban crossed armed with a lot of IEDs and landmines and vehicles and other means. There's a number of al-Qaida fighters coming into Afghanistan recently. I've never seen so much al-Qaida fighters in my area of responsibility. There has been this resurgence of al-Qaida battle groups coming back to life, creating, like, radio communication centers, creating facilitation nodes to support some of the Taliban fighters.

KELLY: So this is very active fighting. Your forces are engaged every day?

SADAT: Oh, yes. So two nights ago, where I am right now, a thousand Taliban from Farah Province, from across western Afghanistan, made a push on one of our brigade headquarters. The battle was very intense. In the first few minutes, they conducted three vehicle-borne IED attacks on our soldiers. Unfortunately, I have had casualties and injuries on my side. Of course, they have failed, and many of them got killed, but this is the fight of today. You would see massing of Taliban into a thousand in southwestern Afghanistan and then making a run for some of our forces.

KELLY: Why are some Afghan forces surrendering to the Taliban and sometimes without a fight?

SADAT: I think, Mary Louise, there is a sense of abandonment amongst the Afghans from when the U.S. left. They feel abandoned and left alone. The other reason is the massive propaganda conducted by the Taliban. It's playing into their ear. The third reason is really logistical support. Afghanistan is a very large country. The territory is very big. Conducting ground operations to resupply some of your areas - the terrain is very bad. So in my assessment, there's three things have been, like, the main reason why some of the forces couldn't hold their ground. But this is not in a scale that would worry some of the strategic locations of Afghanistan. So all Afghan forces are still holding.

KELLY: Are they? I mean, I am seeing reports that the Taliban has seized a third of the country's provincial districts.

SADAT: I think the district centers have been seized, but a lot of the strategic assets, like the hydropower dams, the urban areas, the economic centers, is still with the Afghan forces. There was worry...

KELLY: Does the Taliban...

SADAT: ...About it.

KELLY: ...Not now - have they not made huge gains along the borders, including the border with Iran, close to where you are?

SADAT: Not in my area of responsibility, but they have made some gains in Farah and Herat Province. And that was quickly retaken by some of the local leaders, you know, accompanying the security forces. In Farah, we still have a large area of our border with Iran controlled by the Taliban, but they're seeing people moving in to take that back.

KELLY: I want to follow on something you said, which was you think one factor here is Afghan forces feeling abandoned. The U.S. is now saying all U.S. forces will be out by August 31. How does it feel to you? Do you feel like you're on your own in this fight now?

SADAT: I kind of do, and I've - I kind of felt that when the Taliban and the U.S. agreement came to fruition and the limitation of the airstrikes and - I will miss them, you know? And I have some of my best friends and some of my best battle comrades. But I understand they have their own country. I have my own country. They have other things to do in the world, and I need to be responsible for what we're doing here.

KELLY: Despite your efforts, if things get worse instead of better, if the worst comes to pass and your government falls, what responsibility do you think the U.S. bears?

SADAT: Well, I don't think for a second that our government will fall. And I - of course, you know, things are at stake, and they're dangerous. And I think we have lost part of our country and some of our districts. We want to fight back from our cities. We want to remobilize in our cities and go back and attack. And if we lose, then that's...

KELLY: And I'm asking that, in part, because you'll have seen the reports of U.S. intelligence estimates saying Kabul could fall in as soon as six months after U.S. forces are fully out.

SADAT: I disagree with that assessment. I believe Kabul will become much more stronger in the next few months. The central government is linked with the communities, and people will grow stronger. There is a possibility that some of our cities might - may fall into the hands of the Taliban, but we want to continue fighting, you know? If a city falls, we will attack from another city. If a district falls, we will attack from the cities. We will never give up, you know? We will continue to fight. And I think it's only time that we will convince the rest of the world that we could win this fight, and we should win this fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Commanding general of the Afghan army Sami Sadat speaking to NPR from southwestern Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JOHN KIRBY: Well, I certainly can't speak to the details that the general gave you, but I would tell you a couple of things. One...

CORNISH: On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told NPR that if he had to describe the situation in Afghanistan in a single word, it would be concerning. But he said the Pentagon believes with the Afghan military's 20 years of training in air force and advanced weaponry, it is, quote, "not inevitable" that the Afghan government will fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KIRBY: But whatever the outcomes are, good or bad, I think when we look back, we're going to be able to tell ourselves it came down to leadership - Afghan political leadership, Afghan military leadership. They have all the advantages. It's really just a matter now of whether they're willing to use those advantages in the field to prevent that sort of outcome from happening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.