LtGen Haibatullah Alizai describes the last days in Kabul as Afghanistan's government collapsed. It's a long article, but well worth reading as an example of how fast and how completely a collapse can occur. Here are a few excerpts describing some of the actions and decisions during the debacle.
To many, the two-decade effort to create a stable, democratic Afghanistan was already a lost cause by the spring of 2021, one that cost 2,400 U.S. lives and $2.3 trillion. But to Alizai, the beginning of the end really came on April 14, 2021.
That’s when President Joe Biden announced a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, starting on May 1 and ending September 11.
Alizai, at the time commander of Afghan Special Operations Forces, was in Kandahar leading an operation against the Taliban when he heard the news of Biden’s decision on the radio.
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Biden’s announcement not only meant would there be no more U.S. troops in the country - of which there were only about 2,500 left at the time. It also meant there would be no more contractors to repair Afghan helicopters, night-vision goggles, and all other accessories and equipment they had.
“It became a big challenge for us,” Alizai said. “We were not expecting that it would be stopped that way. We thought there will be some flexibility with this from the US side, that okay, if the troops are leaving, the companies stay in Afghanistan to make our helicopters and aircrafts run smoothly and help us with conducting operations. Unfortunately, it didn't happen.”
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By May, U.S. airstrikes began to taper off, down to 72 sorties from a 2021 peak of 142 in January. On May 4, the Taliban launched a new offensive in Helmand and six other provinces. Local Afghan leaders, seeing the Taliban advance and now knowing the U.S. was about to cut and run, began negotiations on their own, Alizai said. That exacerbated the unfolding collapse and led to the last five days of the Afghan government, during which Alizai served as the last Army Chief Of Staff.
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Alizai was dealing with seven or eight Afghan Army corps commanders across the country who weren’t fighting back.
“There was not a call that ‘we have fought in this area,’” Alizai said. The only thing the commanders were telling him was “‘we can’t resist.’”
Alizai was angry. He was angry at the commanders who were not fighting, but also at those commanders who had ignored a plan he put on their desks months before to prevent the collapse.
It boiled down to withdrawing Afghan forces from between 85% and 90% of the country and consolidating in four to six places, forming a defensive bubble around Kabul. Otherwise, with his forces too thinly spread out and local leaders working deals with the Taliban, there was no way to stop the onslaught.
“The analysis I put on the President’s table, and the [Afghan National Security Council]’s table back in June became reality,” he said. “No one was fighting. And everyone wanted to find a way to negotiate with [the] Taliban, and surrender. And it became a subculture.”
It started, he said, from local forces, then to the National Police and the National Army.
“The only troops that never surrendered to Taliban, never negotiated with Taliban, was the SOF community,” he said.
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Despite the rescue effort that began two days earlier, there were still more than 125 Afghan special forces troops, belonging to CTBT 03, left behind at Kandahar Airfield, where the Taliban were trying to get to them.
The Americans were asking Alizai if he could send a C-130 to rescue those troops, who faced certain death if captured by the Taliban.
At first, Alizai refused to help.
There was no one left, he told them.
But they were persistent.
“They said, ‘you need to do this,’” Alizai recalled. “'You can do it.’”
Exhausted and without any strength left, Alizai relented.
“I tried my best to help our brothers,” he said. “We have done a lot of things together in the last 20 years. Breaking the bridges [sic] is not a rational way. Now that we have lost the gamble, I don't want to lose the partners and friends.”
Alizai said he first had to find pilots. And the aircraft.
There were two C-130s at HKIA. One was good to go, but it was loaded with more than 200 people, many of them families of pilots waiting to leave Afghanistan.
The other Herk had recently suffered an engine failure.
Faced with a difficult decision, Alizai ordered everyone off the operable Herk.
“I told them I could have that one pick up the SOF guys,” Alizai said he told the Americans.
But first, he wanted some Marines to accompany him.
That request was turned down. Then the pilots had one.
“They told me 'we will go with the condition you fly with us,’” said Alizai, who began to weigh some uncomfortable options.
There is no maintenance in Kandahar. No fuel either. A mechanical problem in Kandahar would be “a total suicide.”
They could also be caught by the Taliban.
“Just imagine if something happened in Kandahar, what would happen to us?” he pondered. “But I took that risk.”
So at around 10:30 p.m., the C-130 rumbled down the long runway at HKIA and headed south toward Kandahar.
There was a lot of shooting upon landing, said Alizai, with one bullet hitting the Herk’s nose.
But Alizai said about 125 Afghan SOF troops clamored aboard, and by about 1 a.m. they returned to HKIA, the rescue mission a success.
In the interim, however, everything had changed.
There's much more at the link. Interesting and recommended reading.
LtGen Alizai now lives in Maryland, where he continues efforts to try to organize Afghan resistance to the Taliban government in that country.