What’s happening now in Afghanistan is appalling, but what follows will be worse, says Fleet Street Fox
Joe Biden said yesterday was a bad day.
A hundred people blown apart, troops and civilians bleeding and drowning together in a city’s sewage, while being denied escape to the US president’s shining city on a hill. And for some people, the worst thing that happened was some dogs and cats couldn’t catch a plane.
A bad day for humans, on all fronts.
But Biden is wrong. Because this is just the first day of what comes next, which has the potential to be much worse.
And while people on all sides are apportioning blame for what’s already begun, it’s worth raising our eyes to the horizon to see what’s on the way.
Biden has vowed to hunt down the masterminds of the suicide bombings at Kabul Airport and the makeshift international embassy at the nearby Baron Hotel. That is a promise of continued military engagement, intelligence gathering, and reliance on the Taliban.
Republicans are bemoaning the billions of dollars’ worth of military kit left behind. A video has emerged of Taliban fighters successfully turning a US helicopter on and taxiing to a helipad, but failing to get it airborne. More than half of that kit will soon rust, and become a billion-dollar pile of nuts and bolts, for want of skilled maintenance and technological understanding, never mind air filters, the lack of which will soon stop engines in dusty conditions.
Some, though, will get airborne, if only for a while. The Taliban may be men with a medieval mindset, but every Plantagent king would have salivated over a Black Hawk helicopter until he figured it out.
We may even send engineers and military trainers to help the Taliban get those birds in the air, because after the West pulls out of Afghanistan, it’ll descend into a civil war in which our former enemy will suddenly be the good guys.
AFP via Getty Images)
If the latest head sprouted by the hydra that is ISIS can operate, plan, and attack in the heart of Kabul when it is overrun by Taliban and filled with Western diplomats, spies, and special forces, it has the men and willpower to fight long after we depart.
To ISIS-K, the Taliban are godless weaklings who aren’t tough enough. To the Taliban, this newish enemy are apocalyptic whackjobs keen on seizing the territory they’ve spent 20 years fighting for.
Throw in al Qaeda and its many offshoots, with hardened jihadists from the Middle East to Russia and funding from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and Afghanistan represents an opportunity for ideologues, theocrats, and exploiters to scrap it out.
They may be arguing over centuries of Islamic schism, or the country’s vast mineral wealth, or be decent folk trying to overthrow the Taliban, but more war is on the way. With it will come increased lawlessness, safe havens, and training grounds for terrorists. The Taliban has forged contacts with Western governments through years of negotiation, and for all their horrors may be the best horse for us to back – both politically and financially, with drone attacks and special forces operations.
If not, we’ll back one of the others. Either way, our troops will still be targets, whether they’re in Wiltshire or Wisconsin.
At the same time, all the thousands of Afghans who have worked for the Allies in some capacity and are left behind – interpreters, families, embassy staff, or hopeful job applicants whose names and addresses were left scattered on the embassy floor – will seek some other way out. They will flee to the borders, and many will spend the next decade in refugee camps stalked by terrorists, spies, and disease.
They will send their sons away from being pressed into military service, and some will end up in Calais being offered a seat in a dinghy in return for the family’s life savings, or recruited as drug mules. Children without parents will be trafficked for prostitution.
And when they get here, Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through Parliament will make them criminals. No longer will they have the right to spend years living on £39.63 a week in slum housing or detention centres, and denied the right to work.
Instead, we’ll demand to know why they didn’t apply for a visa from the embassy we abandoned, and why they think ours should be the country to help, after we abandoned theirs. We will greet them with much the same panic as we are now leaving them behind.
Former Royal Marine Pen Farthing has vowed to return to Afghanistan with his animal rescue charity Nowzad, after he has left with staff and animals, who at time of writing are still there.
Without him, those animals would have to fend for themselves, in the same way they did before he turned up. For many people, that is an unacceptable betrayal of those we have taken responsibility for. What he refuses to do to Afghan’s hounds, we are nevertheless doing to the Afghan people – leaving them as we found them, but this time with more awareness of how things could be better.
In the chaos of our rapid withdrawal, few things are clear. Biden left too quick, but Donald Trump made the deal. Biden may have misjudged the Taliban, but Trump let them out of prison. Biden may not be taking enough refugees, but Trump wouldn’t have taken any. Biden could not have delayed or stopped the pull-out without restarting the war.
But what is certain, beyond all doubt, is that within a decade the dogs and cats Pen Farthing and his supporters are devoting every waking minute to will be dead. Our interpreters and their families will be dead, too, and our governments will be best friends with the murderous, criminal gangsters we spent 20 years, and $2trillion, trying to keep at bay.
The refugees who made it will have finished school. Their parents will be paying taxes. They’ll all be speaking multiple languages. And we’ll still distrust foreigners, in case they blow us up, and won’t stop to wonder how they might feel about us.
But you can bet your bottom dollar that, if Pen Farthing ever gets back to Kabul, his animal rescue charity will be better funded and supported than any that is working to help people.
It’s going to be another bad decade for humans. Dogs are so much nicer than we are.