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Hikmat Noori is an Afghan journalist reporting on the conflict, politics, development and culture in Afghanistan

Less than 24 hours after the collapse of the Afghan government on Aug. 15, and with then-president and commander-in-chief Ashraf Ghani having fled the country to seek political asylum, many Afghan soldiers were left to dazedly navigate what was suddenly their new reality. They had been asked by their commanders to surrender their weapons. They were told that the war against their sworn enemy, the Taliban, had been lost.

Disarmed, scattered and in hiding across the country, many soldiers in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) tuned into their portable radios to make sense of the chaos unfolding around them. And amid it all came the voice of U.S. President Joe Biden. “The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. … We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future,” he said in a speech to the American people about the U.S. military’s withdrawal. “... American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”

“But we fought, and we fought for them and their values,” an embittered member of the Afghan security force told me in the days after the fall of Kabul. “We kept fighting even when they wouldn’t.”

The soldier, who did not wish to be named because of concerns for his safety, told me that he and his comrades at a base in northern Afghanistan were asked by their commander to give up their arms. Many obliged, but others, including the soldier I spoke with, refused to accept defeat and went rogue. Three months later, he remains in hiding, forsaken by his American allies. He does not trust the Taliban’s post-takeover offer of general amnesty, and he says that Taliban troops have been raiding his family’s homes looking for him.

There is, to be sure, some truth to the narrative that the Afghan forces deserve blame for the collapse of the Afghan government. The rapid and successive fall of districts across Afghanistan is proof of that: In April, Afghan forces controlled 129 of the nearly 400 districts, but that was reduced to a mere 73 districts by July 23, according to live tracking by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. And indeed, as Mr. Biden suggested, many of these districts were handed over to the Taliban without a fight.

But it would be disingenuous to place all of the blame on Afghan soldiers without acknowledging the institutional and political failures of the Afghan and U.S. administrations. While many districts were reportedly surrendered through negotiations facilitated by village elders in an effort to avoid civilian casualties, many others were handed over only after the soldiers failed to receive reinforcements from the Afghan government. Many Afghan forces, including local police, fought to the death where they could, but in several instances they were sitting ducks with even basic supplies cut off. “They didn’t even send us bread. How can we be expected to fight?” the soldier told me.

Mr. Ghani’s government failed to create a national strategy or prepare his military for the postwithdrawal Taliban insurgency, despite several indications over the years of what was possible. His administration had also consistently refused to address years-old factors that had weakened its integrity in the eyes of the public – including endemic corruption, inexperienced leadership and overall lack of political cohesion – and dimmed any sense of anti-Taliban unity.

His leadership appointments were largely political and self-serving, driving an ethnonationalist agenda in a diverse state held together by shifting compromises and the duct tape of shared Afghan values and goodwill. This only served to widen sociopolitical cracks in necessary institutions and encourage political manipulation and corruption, while also creating wedges in what could have been a strong, multiethnic alliance against the Taliban.

The Afghan government’s failures, though, should not distract from its betrayal by its U.S. allies in both the Trump and Biden administrations. “Contrary to President Biden’s assertions to this effect, the United States did not give the ANDSF everything the force needed to be independently successful against the Taliban,” wrote Jonathan Schroden, director of CNA’s Countering Threats and Challenges Program, in a paper for the West Point Combating Terrorism Center. There were three key elements that the ANDSF did not have after the U.S. withdrawal began, he added: logistical sustainability, timely reinforcement and leadership.

By the time the United States had completed 90 per cent of its withdrawal in early July, it had already removed all of its air-support assets and the vast majority of its advisers, as well as contractors who were maintaining air force and military equipment. This resulted in a significant reduction in operational capacity, which occurred despite several warnings from U.S. commanders and military experts. Needless to say, this also contributed to the expeditious collapse of the Afghan forces.

“President Biden needs to be honest with his citizens, and admit that they, the Americans, lost the war, not us,” that anonymous soldier told me. “They let us down.”

For Afghan soldiers, who had been trained by their American counterparts and provided operational and moral support during the 20-year mission, it was as if “the rug was pulled from under them.” It would be a disservice to roll them up in that same rug and bury them with the full weight of blame for the tragedy that has taken place in Afghanistan.

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