When the Taliban invaded Kabul last month and captured the capital of Afghanistan without a fight, the speed of the collapse of the Western-backed and trained military stunned the world.
But senior officials in the former Afghan government told AFP the lightning-quick victory was not entirely unexpected, and was the result of fundamentally failed leadership, rampant corruption, slick Taliban propaganda — and a crushing “betrayal” by US-led forces with their hasty withdrawal.
A top official close to the center of power said he attended an emergency meeting with his senior ministers and military and spy leaders just two days before Taliban forces invaded Kabul on Aug. 15.
“We were told we had enough weapons, ammunition and financial resources to hold Kabul for two years,” said the official, who claimed $100 million in cash was available to secure Kabul.
“It didn’t protect the city for two days,” he said.
The official, who like most sources AFP spoke to for this article, did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals, said he was not surprised by the capitulation.
“Ministers lied to Ghani and told him that everything was fine so that they could keep their jobs and their privileges,” he said.
As the Taliban rampaged across the country, the inner circle debated policy reforms.
“We haven’t set our priorities right,” he added.
“As the cities fell, one after the other, the National Security Council met to discuss recruitment and institutional reform.”
Taliban forces moved across the country in just two weeks, capturing provincial capitals, often without a bullet being fired.
Another top ex-government official said no one at the top showed leadership.
“None of them spoke to the media to reassure our men. None of them went into the field,” he said.
Ghani also made fundamental strategic mistakes, the close adviser added.
“I suggested we leave the south because we didn’t have enough manpower to defend it in the long run.
“But the president disagreed. He said all of Afghanistan belonged to the government,” he said.
But for the Afghan army it was an impossible task to go against the Taliban everywhere.
Despite billions of dollars in US-led military support, equipment and training, the military’s capacity had been eroded by years of rampant corruption.
Senior officers feasted on what they could, stealing salaries from lower ranks and selling fuel and ammunition supplies.
The situation worsened after Washington struck a deal with the Taliban for a troop withdrawal agreement in February 2020.
“We have been betrayed,” said Sami Sadat, a general recognized for his bravery against the Taliban, who was deployed to lead special forces in Kabul just days before the fall.
Without the critical protection of US air support — and with the former government’s own air force grounded after foreign contractors maintaining the fleet were withdrawn by Washington — the military lost its strategic advantage.
“The Taliban were encouraged,” Sadat told the NewsMadura.
“They could feel the victory… Before that deal, the Taliban had not won any significant battles against the Afghan army. After the agreement? We lost dozens of soldiers a day.’
The final days of the fighting were “surreal,” Sadat added.
“We engaged in intense ground firefights against the Taliban as US fighter jets circled above us, basically spectators,” he wrote.
Sadat rejected US President Joe Biden’s claim that the Afghan had sometimes collapsed “without trying to fight”.
“We fought bravely to the end,” Sadat said. “We have lost 66,000 troops in the last 20 years, which is one-fifth of our estimated fighting force.”
For the soldiers on the front lines, they saw little reason to die when top leaders fled.
“When the Taliban reached the gates of Kabul, the soldiers knew the president was leaving – that’s why they didn’t fight,” said a former senior army officer who asked not to be named.
At the same time, the Taliban made clever use of media reports to persuade soldiers to surrender, further sapping morale.
“We had already lost the war on social media,” said the first presidential confidant.
“The Taliban told the soldiers that they were fighting needlessly because an agreement had already been signed at a higher level.”
Abandoned and exhausted, soldiers saw little point in fighting.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)