The Reasons for the Collapse of Afghan Forces
August 17, 2021
The sudden collapse of the Afghan central government and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) has occurred with stunning speed. It has clearly been driven by the fact that both President Trump and President Biden not only announced deadlines for the withdrawal of U.S. military support, but they then cut that support to levels where Afghan forces could not survive and where many Afghan politicians and government figures were willing to stand aside or surrender.
It also, however, is the collapse of a house of cards that took some twenty years to build and that was driven as much by failures at the civil level as the military level. It is a bipartisan failure, and one that was ultimately driven by a U.S. inability to provide objective and effective assessments of the developments in the Afghan government it was trying to aid and of the Taliban threat.
This analysis attempts to list the many factors that made both defeat and a sudden collapse possible, and it attempts to make it clear that any valid analysis must examine all of these factors and not simply the events that have taken place in the months since President Trump first set a deadline for U.S. and allied withdrawals in February 2020 or during the weeks in July and August 2021 that gave the Taliban control over most of the country.
It does highlight a wide range of issues and actions for which the U.S. must take responsibility, but it also highlights the fact that many of the failures were caused by Afghans. It also focuses on a lesson that is all too clear from other successful insurgencies that range from the rise of communism in Russia and China to the collapse of Vietnam – and most other successful insurgencies since the end of World War II. No outside power can help a failed government that cannot help itself.
This report entitled, The Reasons for the Collapse of Afghan Forces, is available for download at https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/210816_Cordesman_Sudden_Collapse.pdf?8G.OilPH6D9mfPnqBJ4HpitDeh1k2Xaw
Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the United States Department of Defense and the United States Department of State.