Media outlets across the political divide in the US and Britain have united in their condemnation over America’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis amid what is being billed the biggest foreign policy catastrophe in 65 years.
The Wall Street Journal condemned Joe Biden’s statement ‘washing his hands’ of the situation, saying it should ‘go down as one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief at such a moment of American retreat’.
As the Taliban seized Kabul, a CNN columnist said the ‘debacle of the US defeat and chaotic retreat in Afghanistan’ was a ‘political disaster’ for the US President and slammed his ‘failure to orchestrate an urgent and orderly exit’.
And an opinion writer in The Atlantic said there was enough blame attached for the Afghanistan crisis to ‘fill a library of books’, condemning the ‘betrayal’ of the Afghan people as he placed the ‘burden of shame’ on Mr Biden.
Meanwhile a New York Post editorial said Mr Biden’s claims that he ‘inherited’ his predecessor Donald Trump’s withdrawal plans were a ‘lie’ and the situation is ‘as humiliating an end as the rooftop scramble in Saigon in 1975’.
An opinion piece in The New York Times claimed that Mr Biden would ‘go down in history, fairly or unfairly, as the president who presided over a long-brewing, humiliating final act in the American experiment in Afghanistan’.
A Washington Post column said the situation ‘is on Biden, and it will leave an indelible stain on his presidency’, while a piece in USA Today said ‘this catastrophe is appearing on his watch, and he will have to take his lumps’.
Fox News ran a comment from Republican Senator Joni Ernst condemning the ‘slap in the face to the thousands of men and women who served in this war’ and a ‘total abandonment of a country and its people’ by Mr Biden.
Columnists in the British Press also hit out at Mr Biden today, with The Sun‘s editorial saying he ‘ignored repeated warnings, then withdrew crucial air support for the Afghan army it has spent billions arming over 20 years’.
Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat wrote in The Times that it was the ‘the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez’ in 1957, while a columnist for the i condemned the ‘betrayal of Afghanistan’s people’.
The Financial Times said the ‘abandonment of Afghanistan raises doubts over the depth of US commitment to supposed allies’, while Mark Almond wrote in the Daily Mail that Islamist fundamentalism is now ‘back on a roll’.
US President Joe Biden, pictured at the White House last week, has been criticised by media across the political divide
People flee as smoke rises after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel in Kandahar, Afghanistan
It comes as least five people were killed at Kabul Airport and three stowaways reportedly fell to their deaths from one airborne plane as thousands of Afghans try to get on flights out amid increasingly chaotic scenes.
The Taliban swept into the capital yesterday after the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled, ending a two-decade campaign in which the US and its allies had tried to transform the country.
The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western nations have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians.
Almost all major checkpoints in Kabul were under Taliban control by this morning and Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the ‘civilian side’ of the airport had been ‘closed until further notice’ and that the military controlled the airspace.
Condemning the comments of Mr Biden in recent days, a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by ‘The Editorial Board’ said today: ‘President Biden’s statement on Saturday washing his hands of Afghanistan deserves to go down as one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief at such a moment of American retreat.
‘As the Taliban closed in on Kabul, Mr Biden sent a confirmation of US abandonment that absolved himself of responsibility, deflected blame to his predecessor, and more or less invited the Taliban to take over the country.’
It added that Mr Biden’s ‘Saturday self-justification exemplifies his righteous dishonesty’. The President had said: ‘One more year, or five more years, of US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.’
But the WSJ claimed: ‘Afghans were willing to fight and take casualties with the support of the US and its NATO allies, especially air power. A few thousand troops and contractors could have done the job and prevented this rout.’
Analysis published on CNN’s website by Stephen Collinson stated that the ‘debacle of the US defeat and chaotic retreat in Afghanistan is a political disaster for Joe Biden’, adding that his ‘failure to orchestrate an urgent and orderly exit will further rock a presidency plagued by crises and stain his legacy’.
Mr Collinson continued: ‘A stunning Taliban blitzkrieg followed more than 20 years of US and allied policy failures, misunderstandings of Afghan politics and culture, public war fatigue and the culpability and corruption of the failed state’s leaders.
‘And while Biden’s political and geopolitical rivals rush to exploit his mistakes, the true magnitude of the crisis can only be judged in the human tragedy of a people again subject to Taliban persecution.
‘And a failure to fulfill the now apparently near-impossible tasks of evacuating all the Afghan translators, workers and fixers on whom the US relied and who now face Taliban retribution would besmirch America’s conscience and global reputation.’
Meanwhile George Packer in The Atlantic said there was ‘plenty of blame to go around for the 20-year debacle in Afghanistan – enough to fill a library of books’.
He continued: ‘Perhaps the effort to rebuild the country was doomed from the start. But our abandonment of the Afghans who helped us, counted on us, staked their lives on us, is a final, gratuitous shame that we could have avoided.
‘The Biden administration failed to heed the warnings on Afghanistan, failed to act with urgency—and its failure has left tens of thousands of Afghans to a terrible fate. This betrayal will live in infamy. The burden of shame falls on President Joe Biden.’
And a New York Post editorial accused the President of misleading the public, saying: ‘President Biden says he ‘inherited’ President Trump’s withdrawal plans, but that is a lie.
‘He could have taken more time, tried to at least secure the capital, and left a small peacekeeping force. Instead, we pulled out in the dead of night, so quickly we had to send troops back just to make sure our embassy was safely evacuated. It’s as humiliating an end as the rooftop scramble in Saigon in 1975.’
Elsewhere in the New York Post, columnist Kyle Smith wrote: ‘The utterly nauseating and unnecessary abandonment of Afghanistan to its fate recalls a similar humiliation at the hands of Islamist radicals in the Jimmy Carter administration.
‘President Biden’s profligate spending policies are unleashing inflation that is sparking voter distrust so noticeable that even NPR is sounding the alarm.’
In the New York Times, David E. Sanger stated: ‘Rarely in modern presidential history have words come back to bite an American commander in chief as swiftly as these from President Biden a little more than five weeks ago.’
He quoted Mr Biden saying: ‘There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States in Afghanistan.’ The President added: ‘The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.’
And Mr Sanger wrote: ‘Mr Biden will go down in history, fairly or unfairly, as the president who presided over a long-brewing, humiliating final act in the American experiment in Afghanistan.
‘After seven months in which his administration seemed to exude much-needed competence — getting more than 70 per cent of the country’s adults vaccinated, engineering surging job growth and making progress toward a bipartisan infrastructure bill — everything about America’s last days in Afghanistan shattered the imagery.’
Max Boot, columnist for the Washington Post, said that pundits including him ‘love to praise bipartisanship in public policy’, but that the the ‘calamity in Afghanistan shows the dark side of bipartisanship’.
He said it was a ‘disaster that was produced by four administrations, two Republican (George W. Bush, Donald Trump) and two Democratic (Barack Obama, Joe Biden)’.
Mr Boot continued: ‘But while 20 years of mistakes had a cumulative impact, there was nothing inevitable about the outcome: The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan less than a month before the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
‘Strengthened by the copious U.S. weaponry they have captured – and by the prestige that comes with having humbled a superpower – the Taliban will now be more dangerous than ever. This is on Biden, and it will leave an indelible stain on his presidency.’
And Paul Brandus, an opinion columnist in USA Today, pointed out that he did not expect the long-term impacts on Mr Biden to be as severe as might be suggested.
He wrote: ‘Biden is in charge now, this catastrophe is appearing on his watch, and he will have to take his lumps. That’s the way it goes. Life, and politics, are often unfair.
‘Yet as bad as things look for Biden today, I wonder just how much long-term damage this will actually do to him. In late April 1975, as the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army closed in on Saigon, Ford’s Gallup approval stood at 39 per cent – he had been hammered by his post-Watergate pardon of Nixon – yet by the end of June, just two months later, it was 52 per cent.
‘Americans were sick of Vietnam, at the time the longest war in American history, and the president said enough was enough. Ford’s election bid the next year failed, but it wasn’t because of his refusal to go back into Vietnam. The pardon and a rough economy did him in.’
Over on Fox News, Republican Senator Joni Ernst said: ‘The rushed and haphazard withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is not the ‘strategic shift’ President Biden sold to the American people. Instead, it’s a total abandonment of a country and its people – and a gift to the Taliban.
‘What the world could soon witness is a nation controlled by the same bloodthirsty terrorists that sponsored Usama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the attacks on our homeland 20 years ago. It is a slap in the face to the thousands of men and women who served in this war.’
And Sunday Night in America host Trey Gowdy said on his Fox News show last night: ‘We’re just weeks away from the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on our country. Three thousand lives were taken that day.
‘Thousands of lives taken that day and thousands of lives have been lost since in defense of our nation. Tens of thousands of our sons and daughters have been injured. And more than a trillion dollars of your money has been spent in Afghanistan alone. And we are left to wonder why.’
In the British Press, Tom Tugendhat in The Times said the fall of Kabul was the ‘biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez’.
He added: ‘The operation to seize the canal in 1956 symbolised the end of Britain’s global ambition and refocused us on Nato and alliances. It showed conclusively that the US could limit our actions and change our policy.
‘The fall of Kabul will be remembered for similar reasons: not just its abject failure, but also because it revealed the nature of US power and our inability to hold a separate line.
‘The redeployment of 2,500 US troops, half as many as it takes to crew a carrier, ended 20 years of British effort in Afghanistan and left thousands of British citizens under Taliban jurisdiction.’
In The Daily Telegraph, blame was attached to America, with Nick Timothy writing: ‘It is ludicrous to think Britain – alone or in concert with all the militaries of Europe – could or should have fought a new Afghan war alone.
‘First Donald Trump did a deal with the Taliban promising the withdrawal of troops by May this year. Then President Biden declared he had ‘zero responsibility’ to Afghanistan, insisting his sole obligation was ‘to protect America’s national self-interest’. As his predecessor might have put it: America first.’
He added: ‘This is a humiliating defeat. But if withdrawal was inevitable, its manner was not. By planning earlier, or withdrawing later, the allies could have given themselves time to evacuate their nationals safely, and establish a co-ordinated resettlement scheme for vulnerable Afghans including those who had worked with Western militaries, embassies and aid organisations.’
Meanwhile Mark Almond wrote in the Daily Mail: ‘What makes this debacle different from the Americans’ hasty retreat from Saigon in 1975 is the existence across the West of small cells of radical Islamists who will be inspired by our humiliating retreat from Kabul.
There were no Vietcong cells in London waiting to be activated then. Today things are different. The humiliation of the West in Afghanistan has set Islamist fundamentalism back on a roll.
Writing in the Guardian yesterday, Simon Tisdall said: ‘What will it take for Joe Biden to admit he is disastrously wrong about Afghanistan? The US leader struck a defiant pose last week.
‘Sounding like a slightly desperate Olympics coach, he told Afghans it was their country. If they want it, they have to fight for it. In American politics-speak, this is called tough love. Without the love.’
And Ian Birrell said in the i that the Taliban resurgence was ‘the latest dismal chapter in the woeful recent history of Western intervention’, adding: ‘The United States foolishly set a date for departure.’
He continued: ‘The withdrawal, begun by a Republican president and speeded up by his Democratic successor, is driven by domestic concerns rather than the slightest consideration for people they are leaving to suffer. It is a betrayal of Afghanistan’s people, of our wider strategic interests and all those troops killed or maimed fighting for its future.’
The Financial Times editorial was also scathing of the American response. It said: ‘A desire in the White House to wrap up nagging foreign policy problems so it can focus on China is understandable.
‘But the abandonment of Afghanistan raises doubts over the depth of US commitment to supposed allies, and its determination to see military entanglements through to the bitter end. As one of the north Atlantic alliance’s biggest and most costly foreign policy priorities of this century implodes, those lessons will not be lost on Beijing.’
US troops fired shots into the air at Kabul Airport today as Afghans climbed up the outside of airbridges trying to flee
Hundreds of Afghans desperately scale the walls of Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul today as they try to flee the country
The US Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and civilians after the Taliban walked into Kabul’s presidential palace
The Taliban seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week, despite the billions of dollars spent by the US and NATO over nearly two decades to build up Afghan security forces
And Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express looked at the figures involved, saying: ‘Over the last 20 years, Britain is estimated to have spent almost £40billion in Afghanistan, while 456 of our brave personnel have lost their lives in the struggle, yet those heroic sacrifices tragically look like they were made in vain.’
Finally, in The Sun’s editorial, the newspaper said: ‘We pray our 600 hero Paras can safely evacuate the 4,000 UK citizens and allies without further violence. Enough British blood has been spilt. But what a pitiful, shaming and humiliating sight it will prove to be.
‘Having made the disastrous decision to pull out, Sleepy Joe Biden and his administration were caught napping by the speed of the Taliban advance. Failure to realise Afghan cities would fall so quickly was a monumental error by US intelligence.
‘Biden ignored repeated warnings, then withdrew crucial air support for the Afghan army it has spent billions arming over 20 years. It was an action which borders on the criminal. A total and unnecessary moral failure which left Britain powerless.’