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Has Biden handed Afghanistan back to the Taliban?

Yes, is the short answer. The longer answer is below, but first, a recap of the disaster that’s unfurled since the US President decided to pull out the remaining American troops:

The Taliban captured Afghanistan’s third-largest city and a strategic provincial capital near Kabul on Thursday, further squeezing the country’s embattled government just weeks before the end of the American military mission there.

The seizure of Herat marks the biggest prize yet for the Taliban, which has taken 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as part of a weeklong blitz. Taliban fighters rushed past the Great Mosque in the historic city — which dates to 500 BC and was once a spoil of Alexander the Great — and seized government buildings. Witnesses described hearing sporadic gunfire at one government building while the rest of the city fell silent under the insurgents’ control.

The latest U.S. military intelligence assessment suggests Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that, if current trends hold, the Taliban could gain full control of the country within a few months. The Afghan government may eventually be forced to pull back to defend the capital and just a few other cities in the coming days if the Taliban keeps up its momentum.

The onslaught represents a stunning collapse of Afghan forces and renews questions about where the over $830 billion spent by the U.S. Defense Department on fighting, training those troops, and reconstruction efforts went — especially as Taliban fighters ride on American-made Humvees and pickup trucks with M-16s slung across their shoulders.

First things first: That last point in bold is stunning. $830billion is a barely comprehensible amount of money. Ireland’s annual GDP is just $388billion. We’re talking every penny earned in Ireland for two and a half years, and you still might not touch what the Americans spent on training the Afghan army – which is now folding like a cheap suit, regardless.

There are a few things to say here, though: First, and obviously, the mess in Afghanistan is not Joe Biden’s mess. George W. Bush created it, and then both Barack Obama and Donald Trump failed to solve it. In fact, the withdrawal from Afghanistan was not even Biden’s idea – Trump was the one to come up with it. Biden bears no responsibility for the existence of the Taliban, or the previous twenty odd years of bloodshed, which have failed to dislodge them.

But he is not blameless, either. Back in April, he announced that US troops would begin to withdraw on May 1st, and made the timetable for their withdrawal public. That handed the Taliban a timetable for their offensive: Letting them know exactly when the best time to strike would be.

Second, the decision to withdraw, by itself, is worthy of criticism. It was Trump’s idea first, but Biden could easily have reversed it. Interventionism is very unpopular these days, but let us not forget the human costs of letting the Taliban win. Before Bush, for all his faults, drove them into the mountains in 2001, the Taliban had full control of Afghanistan. That had negative consequences for Afghanistan – for example, girls are not allowed any education at all, under their rule – and negative consequences for the world, given that the Taliban supported Osama Bin Laden the way they did.

In the 20 years that the US has spent money and blood in the country, millions of Afghani women have received an education that otherwise would have been denied to them, and might now be denied to their daughters. Countless acts of fundamentalist barbarism, perpetrated against Afghani civilians, were prevented. It is very easy to sit on a couch in Ireland and say we should leave the Afghanis to sort out their own mess. It is an entirely different matter to sit in Kabul, and contemplate the return of the Taliban.

The consequences of such a return will not be confined to Afghanistan, either. If they regain control of the country, the Taliban will certainly seek to expand their influence into Pakistan, and other neighbouring countries. Their ideology is violently anti-western. We will be allowing another state sponsor of terrorism to exist, and that will have consequences, down the line.

In Ireland, of course, none of that matters. The dominant ideology here is anti-American interventionism, dressed up as anti-colonialism. Biden’s withdrawal will be popular here, regardless of the consequences. But it is worth sparing a thought for the people of Afghanistan, who are facing a return – very literally – to the dark ages after twenty years of relative enlightenment.

Biden and his army should have stayed, for the sake of those people. Meanwhile, here’s the EU – committed, you know, to women’s rights, equality, and the rule of law. Unless it ever has to do something about them, in which case, it’s strongly worded letters, all around:

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