Falsehoods, Fecklessness, Misdirection & Miscalculation: The Fall of Afghanistan

Has the chaotic draw-down of American forces and Embassy staff hindered United States capability to lead in the future?

Peter Winn-Brown
11 min readAug 20, 2021

“American exceptionalism has been shown in so many ways to be a bankrupt concept. We are not strong. We are not capable. We are not principled.” (1)

Vanessa Gezari. Long-term Afghan War reporter for The Intercept.

The Taliban overrun Afghan capital Kabul and enter the Presidential palace.

Honesty, candour, integrity and trust are big words at any time for any person or group to live up to and to maintain.

In politics however, a politician should(?) live and die (politically speaking) by their honesty, their candour, their integrity and the trust they engender. For these are the qualities that separate the great politicians, the history-makers if you will, from the also-ran’s.

Looking back a short time I wasn’t always convinced by Joe Biden in the run-up to the 2020 election. I didn’t feel he had all the ammunition and relevant armoury to defeat such an unprincipled adversary as Donald Trump.

I thought he would get eaten alive by Trump the unprincipled, the voracious barracuda!

But he showed me I was wrong, and thankfully we saw the back of Trump, a man wholly undeserving of the office he attained; a man whose only moral imperative was the state of the Almighty US dollar and his personal reputation and bank account!

And to see Trump gone, whether it be a permanent departure or not, was a happy event for many! Me included.

Biden’s opening speeches were startling, moving and, for me anyway, surprisingly forceful; full of moral fervour and the kind of inherent goodness that one sees these days only in Hollywood movies, but that one always hopes secretly dwells still, buried somewhere deep in the American political psyche, just awaiting resurrection.

Biden is a fairly quietly spoken man (in public) I would say, and not a man prone to the crazed, unhinged, extemporaneous outbursts of his predecessor. His quiet calm, his measured words during his first few weeks in office gave me hope that America might have turned the corner. That Biden might prove to be a leader apart; a moral and a political leader both.

But now, a mere few months later, deep fissures distort the moral framework of President Biden. That any leader, let alone one that might lay claim to being the leader of the free world, can stand and deny any moral responsibility for a people left blatantly, callously, obviously and, yes, carelessly by what are largely American failures just tells me that America has totally lost all credibility; it’s standing in the global political sphere is dropping like a stone and as a nation no longer has the right to claim to be a global leader.

The chaotic scenes at Kabul airport; the complete lack of American leadership, politically, diplomatically and militarily, has shocked me. And I know I’m not alone!

Allies be warned! America is NOT back! America is still M.I.A. and cannot, and should not be trusted to do what they say. America first is still alive and kicking sad to say, and that does not bode well for America’s supposed allies or for America’s place in the world.

Trust is the vital ingredient in any international agreement, whatever form that agreement takes, and America has repeatedly gone behind their allies backs and undermined existing relationships. As much as Joe Biden would like it to be otherwise, at some point all repeatedly maligned partner in any relationship will turn round and say enough is enough. You cannot be trusted, and right now America’s word is mud.

That Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor, can go on national TV and call this a ‘successful draw-down of the US Embassy’ with a straight face, something which was patently, obviously, completely, utterly untrue to anyone who saw those scenes, was just beyond me and perfectly illustrates the point. To just flat out deny what the whole world has seen to be true, then turn round and say that black isn’t black anymore because we say it isn’t, is just a dumb move. Period.

Your credibility has taken flight!

That Biden can then defend that catastrophic draw-down — “I stand squarely behind my decision” — and try to shift the blame for the Kabul debacle, rightly called by German Chancellor candidate, Armin Laschet, as ‘the biggest fiasco in NATO’s history,’ onto the Afghans themselves: “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” shows that American morality and eulogising starts and ends with Americans themselves and does not extend beyond the nations borders.

Afghan lives are quite plainly secondary by comparison to any American life. Their worth being little more than a throw away remark by a President who shirked the facts and dismissed his moral responsibility for the chaos his nation had largely imbued.

Politically though, I’m sure Biden’s forceful stance sounds great to many Americans! It may well be what they wanted to hear. It probably reads even better for those Americans who won’t bother or even wish to delve into the words of their President any deeper. And in the bleakest parts of my being I can sort of understand that need for wishful ignorance. But it’s just another lie.

We all like to believe in the words of our leaders, even if sometimes those words snag, picking at the edges of the unpalatable morsel’s of truth as the words are masticated and digested; they pull at the chords of one’s national pride in a way that just doesn’t feel quite right somehow; words that leave you feeling uncomfortable, unable to take ‘the old, one-two’ political rhetoric punch on the chin without wincing a bit more than normal.

But I’m not American. And as much as I want to believe in the words of our political leaders, I do feel the need to delve a bit deeper. So let’s fact check that remark Joe!

Brown University puts the numbers of Afghan armed forces deaths at 69,000 since the war began in 2001. In the same time period 3,500 coalition lives (about 2/3 of them American) have also sadly lost their lives. A further 51,000 Afghan civilians have also died.

Now, I’m not taking a cheap shot at any member of any armed force anywhere who has risked or even lost their life doing their duty. Let’s be clear; they are heroes, one and all. And each and every one has earned the right to be called such.

But Joe’s remark, so heartfelt and impassioned, was patently misleading. Afghan forces died at roughly the rate of 20:1 compared to coalition forces. To say otherwise is nothing more than political slight of hand designed to cover up the failings and shortcomings of a jaded diplomatic and military system, that retains an overinflated sense of it’s own importance, performance and value, and hides those failings behind a smokescreen of, at best, misleading statements.

Afghan armed forces gave up the same number of lives each and every year of the conflict as the coalition forces did across the whole period.

Does that make them unwilling to fight Joe?

I’d say not!

Fact checked! And Joe, you might not have outright lied, but you put enough political spin on that fact to send it into an uneasy orbit!

But maybe I’m being too harsh on Joe Biden. He is after all, just the latest in a long line of American Presidents going all the way back to Bill Clinton (2), whose repeated lies and failures have misled the public, failed their troops in the field and masked the facts beneath a constant, unwavering stream of political clap-trap.

At The Long War Journal, yes, an American publication folks, they reserve a particular kind of animosity for those at the top of the American military and political systems. Their latest podcast (2) is a quick fire run through of the massive and ever-growing litany of failures that has dogged the US led invasion of Afghanistan right from the onset in 2001.

If you don’t want to take these uncomfortable truths from me, then listen to this podcast from two guys who have lived and breathed Afghanistan these last two decades. Widely regarded as giving the most accurate (it’s their maps, and not those widely inaccurate and misleading graphs given out by official sources, that you will find giving the latest updates in the TV studios of CNN) and telling facts of America’s longest war, The Long War Journal is a must read (and listen) for anyone searching for the truth beneath the veneer of political American spin.

But more than the honest assessment of the experts at LWJ, we now have the The Afghanistan Papers, obtained by the Washington Post’s intrepid investigative reporter Craig Whitlock. I have Whitlock’s book on pre-order and await it’s arrival with a mixture of emotions ranging through sadness, anger, disbelief and shock, leaving me unsure which might surface first and linger longest. Either way, it will make for some uneasy reading that perhaps we should all subject ourselves to before too long.

Maybe we place too much trust in our leaders to do the right thing. After all, the ‘right thing’, whatever that means, is a very subjective, often emotive thing. My right thing might be your anathema! That said, one thing that we can all agree on is that we should demand and we should expect honesty from our political betters.

The trust we put in them with our vote is tantamount to a contract. By voting for an official we trust that they will do all in their power to achieve the ends that they sold themselves on, and in return for giving them that power in we should expect, at the very least, forthright candour; an honest assessment of their travails that we can put our faith in, whether it all goes to plan or not. Honesty isn’t always pretty, but we should be told the facts warts and all because it is our right as free citizens in free nations.

None of us are perfect! None! But those elites at the top of the tree should rightly be held to greater accountability than those of us scrabbling about in the shade cast by the larger branches and boughs of said tree. It doesn’t mean that they are perfect, and nor should we demand or expect perfection of them. When they win we should hail them, and when they err we should be able to metaphorically chastise them, by withdrawing our vote or holding them publicly to account.

However, to err is one thing; to deliberately and knowingly lie and deceive those in whom we have placed our trust, not once, but time after time, is something of a different magnitude altogether.

As Joe himself might say, ‘let’s be clear here…,’ I don’t think Biden is a bad man at all. I think he is probably a thoroughly decent, well meaning individual who just happens to have got caught up in an unstoppable political machine that churns out networks of shady, hazy half-truths and half-facts that are engineered to be just palatable enough that the voting public can swallow them whole without the need for anaesthetic.

Maybe it’s just unavoidable if you get to the top of that tree, no matter how decent you are underneath all the political mumbo-jumbo and rhetoric. But it shouldn’t be inevitable. It shouldn’t be unavoidable. We should expect and demand better.

When all this furore has died down and the dust has settled I hope that not just America, but Britain and NATO as well, have the gumption to hold in-depth enquiries into the failings of the Afghan War and then be strong enough to stand up and take the hit, if it does indeed prove that there have been the catastrophic series of failings that much of the current evidence suggests.

To some extent the British shortcomings, as well as many of those of NATO, are linked unequivocally to America’s failings. This was after all a US led venture that was poorly planned and executed right from the get-go. But neither Britain or NATO can hide behind America’s skirts forever. They have to shoulder their part of the blame for the overwhelming calamity that this war has turned out to be.

The people of Afghanistan never asked to become the victims of a ruthless Taliban cult with it’s cold, heartless, twisted Islamic fervour forcibly hoisted upon them. But they have borne the worst excesses of that regime nonetheless.

The people of Afghanistan were not asked if they wanted to harbour the terrorist group al-Qaeda and it’s warped Islamic ideals. But they have borne the worst of the consequences of just living in that veritable terrorist safe-haven nonetheless.

The people of Afghanistan never asked for the privilege of being invaded by the US led coalition. But for 20 years they have borne the worst excesses of this conflict nonetheless.

And now, as it all falls apart, yet again the people of Afghanistan did not ask to be abandoned by the Allied troops who protected them when their own forces could not, but they shall bear the worst excesses of the Taliban 2.0 nonetheless.

And all this to say nothing of the ordinary soldiers on the ground. Both Allied and Afghan. The men and women who believed in their mission. Who believed they were truly making a difference. Who gave their limbs, their eyes, their fingers and their toes, their sanity, and far too often their lives, to live up to an ideal they believed in. An ideal peddled by leaders who did not at any point tell them the truth of what they were fighting for.

What of them? Now that it becomes clear they were all lied to all the way down the line. What of them?

Yes, it’s money that makes the world go round we’re told, and no doubt that it is the arms manufacturers, the arms dealers, the factories, the middle men, the political hangers on and all of the corrupt politicians who’ve taken backhanders down the long two decades of the Afghan War who’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

“Hey! So the war is over! But there’ll be another along soon! No need to sell the yacht awhile!”

But surely that isn’t how this world is supposed to go round is it? Or am I being too idealistic? A little bit too niave perhaps?

That maybe so. I’m sure there are many out there who would say so.

But what irks me most is that it’s always those at the bottom of the pile who pay the greatest price despite the fact they are the ones least equipped to pay it.

Politicians and military elites often times lie, cheat and profit from war at the expense of the poor and the needy, all to fulfil their supposed lofty ideals brimming with righteousness, ethical aims and their fervent desires to make the world a better place. They do so, they tell us, to protect their great nations from harm and to make their borders safe from those who would harm them and their people.

But in the end they rarely achieve anything at all other than making the rich richer and the poor much, much poorer.

Then when the shit hits the fan they lie some more, ducking down to avoid the spray while some other poor schmuck gets it full in the face because they’re unable to get out of the way.

While the politicians shrug it off, just move on to the next lie, to the next war, to the next cover-up without so much as a hitch in their step, the poor are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

Where are all the honest politicians? Did they ever really exist, or am I once again being overly naive?

Where is the politician with true, unbreakable integrity? The one who will serve up the dish hot or cold, just as it comes, without the piquant sauce hiding the carnivorous flies?

Where is the politician that we can truly put our trust in wholeheartedly, without reservation and know…just know, that he/she will do all in their power to help and truly make things better? But who will have the strength of character, the candour, the forthright honesty to give it to us straight, without the spin, whether things went right or whether they went awry?

Does such an animal exist? Did it ever exist? I have my doubts…

  1. Quote taken from Intercepted podcast with Jeremy Scahill; 18th August 2021.
  2. Generation Jihad podcast from The Long War Journal. Episode 55. Afghanistan Falls.; 17th August 2021.



Peter Winn-Brown

The past can illuminate the present if we shine the light of inquiry openly, truthfully, with attention to detail & care for the salient facts.