Kabul Falls and the Taliban Nears Full Control of Afghanistan

Kabul’s Fall, the ANDSF’s Collapse, and Lessons Learned from 20 Years of Security Assistance in Afghanistan



August 16, 2021

Kabul Falls and the Taliban Nears Full Control of Afghanistan

Security Assistance Monitor, August 2021

In a matter of a few short weeks, the Taliban have swept across nearly all of Afghanistan, retaking the capital Kabul and forcing the collapse of the U.S.-backed government. As provincial capital after provincial capital fell, the Taliban faced little resistance from the Afghan National Defense and Security forces (ANDSF), leading many to question how the 300,000 strong force, backed by nearly two decades of intensive U.S. military aid, could have collapsed so swiftly. 

The stunning defeat of the ANDSF is a stark indictment of the U.S. defense institution building effort in Afghanistan and begs serious questions about the wider American security assistance enterprise. A recent report from SAM – Evershifting Goalposts: Lessons Learned from 20 Years of Security Assistance in Afghanistan – sought to extract lessons learned from the failure of the US and its international partners to create an effective and sustainable Afghan defense sector capable of preventing a Taliban takeover of the country.  

The report’s findings are all the more relevant following the evaporation of the ANDSF in the face of Taliban advances. Among the most important lessons learned identified by the study were the failure of the U.S. to create a contextually relevant force, perverted institutional incentives wrought by ambiguous American objectives and commitments, and persistently ineffective mechanisms of assessing ANDSF abilities. 

No doubt that the ANDSF’s quick defeat will elicit serious self-reflection amongst US defense planners and security cooperation professionals. In the meantime, the fate of the Afghan people remains deeply uncertain, with many thousands now internally displaced or seeking to urgently leave the country. 

To read the full report on lessons learned from 20 years of security assistance in Afghanistan, click here

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Post

New York Times, August 8

Despite defense officials saying that there were no plans to take action beyond limited airstrikes. “Over the past three weeks, the United States has used armed Reaper drones and AC-130 aerial gunships to target Taliban equipment, including heavy artillery”

NPR, August 6

In a new article, NPR gave its four takeaways from the Visiting Forces Agreement, which outlines US-Philippines security cooperation. Until recently President Rodrigo Duterte had been threatening to exit the deal.

Associated Press, August 10

Modern U.S. security assistance and military intervention relies on a massive cohort of private contractors that lack traditional public-sector oversight. As the U.S. pulls rapidly out of Afghanistan, these contractors are struggling to get to safety.

New York Times, August 7

Every year, the Colombian military discharges 10,000 soldiers “who leave with small pensions, little education… and limited experience navigating the civilian world.” Like the Colombian soldiers implicated in the assassination of former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, many of them end up turning to mercenary work for money.

Middle East Eye, August 11

Amnesty International and Project Ploughshares, two human rights groups, maintain that Canadian arms sales to Saudi Arabia are “fundamentally flawed” and violate international law by ignoring key pillars of the 2019 Arms Trade Treaty, of which Canada has signed.

Biden administration defends arms sales to Egypt

Axios, August 11

During a hearing for the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for the Middle East, top Pentagon officials defended U.S. arms sales to Egypt as senators questioned whether or not arms sales to the country still serve U.S. national security interests.

Egypt’s US envoy slams ‘deceived’ legislators’ bid to block aid

Al-Jazeera, August 12

Motaz Zahran, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, suggested in a series of tweets from the Egyptian embassy’s account that U.S. legislators are being “deceived by lies and falsehoods” propagated by individuals from a “terrorist organisation” as they try to cut some of Washington’s $1.3 billion in aid to Cairo.

Hearing on Security Assistance in the Middle East

C-SPAN, August 10

At a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, State Department and Pentagon officials testified on U.S. security assistance in the Middle East. During the session, lawmakers discussed Israel, Egypt, and growing Chinese and Russian influence in the region, among other topics.

Research, Analysis, and Opinion

The China-US Arms Trade Arms Race

The Diplomat, August 6

Jacob Parakilas, using Nigeria as a case example, demonstrates how when it comes to the global arms race, China “has not yet reached parity with the U.S. — or Russia or Europe — in terms of selling its domestically-produced arms to foreign customers.”

As U.S. Leaves Afghanistan, History Suggests It May Struggle to Stay Out

New York Times, August 10

Ben Hubbard uses historical U.S. interventions in Iraq and Lebanon to suggest that the United States may not be able to keep troops out of Afghanistan for very long if the current security trends continue. 

Move the US-Iraq Relationship Out of Crisis Mode

Defense One, August 9

Bilal Y. Saab writes that U.S. security assistance to Iraq should focus on institution building and equipment maintenance rather than arms transfers.


Data Fact of the Week:

Security Assistance, U.S. Troop Levels, and the ANDSF Eng Strenght in Afghanistan

The graphic above illustrates the changes in the U.S. presence and security assistance in Afghanistan since 2001, as well as the overall size of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).  

In the span of just a few short weeks, the Taliban have seized complete control of Afghanistan, a stunning defeat of the U.S.-backed ANDSF that the U.S. has spent 20 years and $90 billion developing. 

From the U.S. Government


State Department

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