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Taliban fighters in Kabul. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty

As images of desperation emerged from Kabul on Monday, President Biden contended that Afghan capital had fallen to the Taliban because the country's leaders and troops lacked "the will to fight."

Why it matters: The U.S. was utterly unprepared for Kabul to fall as quickly as it did, leaving American troops struggling to secure the airport and evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan civilians who aided the U.S. war effort.

Even the most pessimistic forecasts had anticipated a months- or years-long struggle after the U.S. exit before the Taliban advanced on Kabul. Instead, it fell before the U.S. could even complete its withdrawal.

  • “The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated," Biden conceded, blaming Afghan leaders who "gave up and fled the country" and Afghan forces who "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," Biden said during an address Monday.

"I never believed we’d see this kind of frenzied evacuation," says Annie Pforzheimer, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Kabul from 2017-18.

  • “I never thought I’d see the day that our embassy would have to leave alongside the troops.”

Breaking it down: Pforzheimer attributes the rapid collapse first and foremost to Biden's decision to accept Donald Trump's deal with the Taliban — albeit with a four-month extension — while making it clear that the U.S. timeline was set in stone, no matter what happened.

  • The administration underestimated the psychological impact of Biden's statements essentially washing his hands of the war, she says. "That was heard by the people, by the Afghan military, which lost heart, and by the Taliban, which gained strength and dominance."

Just five weeks ago, Biden had insisted that Afghan forces were "as well-equipped as any army in the world." That equipment has now largely fallen into Taliban hands.

  • Even after a U.S. investment of $86 billion, the weaknesses of the Afghan forces were glaringly obvious, despite claims to the contrary from U.S. generals, Craig Whitlock reports in the Washington Post.
  • Some U.S. trainers spent their time teaching recruits not to fight, but to read and write. Desertion was rampant. Some "soldiers" only existed on paper. Highly trained special forces proved effective but insufficient.
  • The often brutal warlords the U.S. accepted as partners out of a belief they could mobilize thousands of fighters looked equally toothless in the face of the Taliban surge, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Michael McKinley writes in Foreign Affairs.

The U.S. also appears to have underestimated the Taliban, which prepared extensively for the devastating offensive, positioning its forces and weaponry near cities and building a sense of inevitability as it advanced, notes the Wilson Center's Michael Kugelman.

  • President Ashraf Ghani’s government engendered little loyalty from the troops or the population and failed to effectively rally opposition to the Taliban.
  • Without the level of U.S. air support and technical assistance they'd come to expect, and aware of swift Taliban victories in other cities, many soldiers laid down their arms and fled or attempted to blend into the population.

The bottom line: "In the end, the military that we constructed was not the one that could fight this kind of fight against the Taliban," Pforzheimer says.

Go deeper

Oct 14, 2021 - World

Pakistan Airlines halts flights to Kabul citing "heavy-handedness" of Taliban

Passengers board a Pakistan International Airlines flight in Kabul on Sept 13. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

Pakistan International Airlines on Thursday halted flights to Kabul after what it called "heavy-handedness" of Taliban authorities, Reuters reports.

Driving the news: The suspension comes after the Taliban ordered PIA to slash ticket prices, warning that the company's Afghan operations could be blocked if it refused to do so, per Reuters.

Updated 18 hours ago - World

Islamic State claims responsibility for deadly bombing in southern Afghanistan

The mosque after the explosion in southern Kandahar province on Oct. 15. Photo: Murteza Khaliqi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a massive blast that tore through a crowded Shiite mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Friday, killing at least 47 people and injuring dozens more, AP reports.

Why it matters: Friday's attack was the deadliest to strike Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrew its troops from the region and is the second major attack on a Shiite mosque in a week, underscoring the Taliban's growing security threat from other militant groups.

Updated 5 mins ago - World

Reports: Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and were due to travel to another destination when the gang struck in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.