“From its start in 2001 through April 2021, the war in Afghanistan has cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $2.261 trillion, according to estimates earlier this year from the Costs of War Project at Brown University,” Fox News reviews of the disturbingly high figures. All that as the US public now sits back and witnesses US-trained Afghan forces retreat “without a bullet being fired”…
And further as a number of veterans and independent analysts are now pointing out: “The Pentagon spent $88 billion dollars training the Afghan Army for 20 years It collapsed in 1 month.” It remains that “Not one general or politician will face consequences for this.”
Meanwhile as of Friday morning after the Taliban had already captured about a dozen major cities and provincial capitals in a mere week, spurring emergency evacuation efforts to begin at the US embassy in Kabul (in preparation for the inevitable), the Taliban is now in control of the country’s second largest city of Kandahar, along with Herat – the latter being the third largest.
The Pentagon late in the day Thursday confirmed it was sending up to 3,000 troops to assist in the evacuation of diplomatic and other staff from the large Kabul embassy. The embassy typically has thousands of Americans working there at any given moment, including over 1,000 deemed ‘diplomats’.
Thus a significant logistics and security effort will ensue to get most of them to the international airport, also as the US State Department urges any remaining US citizen anywhere in the country to depart immediately, even offering to pay the airfare back to the states.
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Here’s Rabobank’s commentary of the currently unfolding Afghan disaster…
But tumble the cards will, nonetheless, and quicker than people think – and very uncomfortably.
For a physical example, after 20 years of war, $2 trillion in spending, and many lives lost, on 14 April, US President Biden announced a full US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. On 2 July, US forces left Bagram airbase overnight. The comfortable thinkers in comfortable jobs in DC were sure the well-funded, US-trained Afghan army would defeat the Taliban: instead, they fled, or handed their weapons over to them. The Taliban are now threatening Kabul, and the US is sending 3,000 troops back in order to evacuate all of its citizens and its embassy, reminiscent of the 1975 helicopter retreat from Saigon.
This is not a political critique of the decision to withdraw. The key point is that the expensive US presence in Afghanistan was –like the QE that ironically paid for a slice of it– just a house of cards, for all of the comfortable DC assumptions otherwise.
The second point is that the geostrategic ramifications of this event will reverberate for years. Markets could care less: but they may well care about some of the uncomfortable potential outcomes, from renewed terrorism to refugee flows to war: and all the powers in the region, from China to Russia to India to Pakistan to Iran, will have an interest in what happens in the country – as will the US.
On one level, this is a humiliation for a US already being told its position as global hegemon is in tatters. Then again, the States survived the 1975 debacle and came back even stronger. More near term, what is happening in Afghanistan may mean less US flexibility over negotiations with Iran —which has just agreed to join the Shanghai Cooperation Council— though that is far from certain given the obvious US imperative to disentangle itself from the Greater Middle East regardless. More importantly, however, it suggests the risk of the US being far more likely to draw red lines in the Indo-Pacific so the Afghan retreat does not define its approach to security guarantees in that region. And red lines open up fat-tail geopolitical risk scenarios that comfortable markets don’t want to look at.