On Sunday, as the Taliban entered Kabul—the last remaining major Afghan city not under the group’s control—the President of the country, Ashraf Ghani, fled to Tajikistan, making clear that the U.S.-backed Afghan government had collapsed. Five months ago, in April, President Joe Biden announced that all U.S. and NATO troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Critics have accused the Administration of conducting a rushed, poorly planned, and chaotic withdrawal since then. On Thursday, the U.S. government announced that it would be sending in marines and soldiers to help evacuate embassy personnel. But the speed of the Taliban advance has stunned American officials and left desperate Afghans trying to flee the country. Responding to criticism about his plan, Biden has sought to shift blame to the Afghan government and its people, saying, “They have got to fight for themselves.”
I spoke by phone with my colleague, the New Yorker staff writer Steve Coll, about the situation in Afghanistan. The dean of Columbia Journalism School, Coll is the author of “Ghost Wars” and “Directorate S,” which together chronicle much of the history of the past several decades in Afghanistan and Pakistan. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed why it has been so hard for the United States to train the Afghan army, the different humanitarian crises facing the country, and the Biden Administration’s “outrageous” callousness toward a situation America played a role in creating.