What Just Happened in Afghanistan?

September 2021 No Comments

Speaker(s): Malkasian, C. (CNA); Schroden, J. (CNA)

Date: 9 September 2021

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Carter Malkasian (CNA) and Dr. Jonathan Schroden (CNA) as part of its SMA CENTCOM Speaker Session.

The Taliban was able to retake Afghanistan because of several factors including: a) grievances against the Afghan Central Government by its citizens, b) the Taliban’s ability to launch military operations from the Afghan-Pakistan border, c) the military failures of Afghanistan’s National Security Force (ANSF), and d) the Taliban’s religious connection to Afghanistan’s population. Dr. Malkasian emphasized that while these factors contributed to the Taliban’s victory, other factors such as the psychological effect on ANSF soldiers of seeing their comrades rout and the quick withdrawal of US support contributed to the collapse of the Afghan Central Government. However, if some aspects of the war were handled differently in its earlier stages, then it may have had a different outcome. Also, the deal with the Taliban in 2020 did not include enough written promises from Taliban leaders. The lack of written commitments may make it more difficult to enforce elements of the deal. Dr. Malkasian commented that it will take years until the full effect of the United States’ military withdrawal can be fully measured. 

Dr. Schroden commented that narratives claiming the ANSF collapsed within a week, that it had all the supplies needed to be successful, and that they did not want to fight, were all false and overly politicized. In fact, there was a 4-5 year period when the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan was relatively small and the ANSF could have been strengthened enough to control the country on its own. However, strategic incoherence between leaders in Washington and the US military lead to confusion by leaders on the ground in Afghanistan on how to carry out active missions. Once the Taliban began to increase its offensive in 2006, the US military made several tactical errors including, focusing on the quantity of soldiers and firepower over training and quality, focusing on the speed of operations rather than their sustainability, and trying to model the ANSF after the US Army. Dr. Schroden argued that these tactical decisions along with the Taliban’s convincing narrative that their victory was inevitable led to the collapse of the ANSF. While the Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan appeared fast, it was actually gradual and occurred over a long period of time.

Speaker Session Recording

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Briefing Materials

Schroden Biography


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