The Unwinnable War: America’s Blind Spots in Afghanistan
The Unwinnable War: America’s Blind Spots in Afghanistan
Op-Ed / Asia 1 minutes

The Unwinnable War: America’s Blind Spots in Afghanistan

In August 2021, Afghanistan was thrust back into the headlines. Taliban forces rapidly closed in on Kabul, and the United States began making its final military withdrawal. Suddenly, the world was confronted with images of desperate people squeezing their way into Kabul’s airport for a chance to flee. Almost overnight, nearly everything that the United States and its allies had accomplished in 20 years of fighting, spending, and building in Afghanistan disintegrated. For the one million or so Americans who had taken part in those failed endeavors, and for the millions of young Afghans who had grown up under a Western-backed democracy, flawed though it was, such losses were head spinning. With their livelihoods imperiled, and with many fearful for their lives, hundreds of thousands of Afghans sought to leave the country, posing a new challenge for withdrawing Western forces.

The United States didn’t expect to mount such a large evacuation, or at least not so quickly. Over ten days, the U.S. military and its allies airlifted about 120,000 people, including 80,000 Afghans, from Kabul, mostly to military bases in the Middle East, from where they eventually left for the United States and elsewhere. The effort was chaotic. For those without a U.S. passport or visa, often the only ticket out was a personal connection to someone who could pull strings with U.S. personnel on the ground. American veterans, former diplomats, aid workers, and journalists scrambled to find passage for vulnerable Afghans. Many Afghans who wanted to leave were turned away. Amid this crisis, many Americans who had served in Afghanistan were angry that the evacuation was so haphazard and left behind so many Afghans they believed to be at risk.

One of those Americans was Elliot Ackerman, who served in Afghanistan as a marine and later as an adviser to Afghan counterterrorism teams under a CIA-led program. In the final weeks before the U.S. withdrawal, he joined a series of impromptu efforts to help evacuate small groups of Afghans. Ackerman used his connections to the U.S. military and other agencies involved in the evacuation to help Afghans get into Kabul Airport and onto planes. In The Fifth Act, Ackerman describes these efforts, interweaving the account of the withdrawal with his combat experiences and views on what went wrong with the war.

The full article can be read on the Foreign Affairs' website.

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