The sudden seizure of Kabul by the Taliban after a lightning offensive has triggered sharp criticism of U.S. policy in Afghanistan from both allies and adversaries.
U.S. President Joe Biden defended the U.S. military withdrawal on August 16, blaming the Taliban’s takeover on the Afghan government and arguing that it was in U.S. national interest to end America’s longest war.
While conceding that the Taliban took control faster than he had expected as Afghanistan's military collapsed, Biden insisted there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.
“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building,” Biden said in a national address from the White House. "After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
Biden said Afghanistan’s political leaders gave up and the Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.
“If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,” Biden said. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”
Many disagree with Biden's decision amid allegations of poor planning that led to chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport as the U.S. military and its allies try to evacuate their nationals and Afghans who worked alongside international forces.
In Washington, the president faces growing criticism, especially from Republicans in Congress, with critics saying that the United States' reputation as a global power had been badly tarnished.
Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN on August 15 that the situation in Afghanistan is "an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions” and Biden will have “blood on his hands.”
"We are going to go back to a pre-9/11 state. A breeding ground for terrorism,” McCaul said.
In another interview with NBC, he said U.S. global standing “has been tremendously diminished because of this disaster.”
Criticism has been pouring in from the international community as well, not least from Washington's allies who were involved in the NATO mission in Afghanistan over the past two decades.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, whose military was for years involved in combat operations against the Taliban, said the West's intervention was a job only half-done. The former British Army officer maintained the 20-year intervention by U.S.-led forces "wasn't a waste," but he accused Western powers of being short-sighted in policy matters.
"If it's a failure, it's a failure of the international community to not realize that you don't fix things overnight," he told the BBC, citing "a failure to recognize that military might on its own" could not completely resolve the situation in Afghanistan.
"Half the mission on its own...was entirely successful," he said, pointing to the removal of the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the death of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, which he said made the world safer.
But "that doesn't mean that the next 20 years are going to be the same," Wallace added, echoing concerns about the impact of the hard-line group's resurgence on world security.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at an August 16 meeting with her CDU-CSU party leadership, said that NATO's decision to pull out after almost two decades of deployment was "ultimately made by the Americans," and that "domestic political reasons" were partly to blame. Germany must urgently evacuate up to 10,000 people from Afghanistan for whom its has responsibility, Merkel said.
CDU leader Armin Laschet, who is the party's candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor in September elections, called the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan the "biggest debacle" that NATO has suffered since its founding in 1949.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Secretary of State Antony Blinken on August 16 that the "hurried withdrawal" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan had a "serious negative impact," but pledged to work with Washington to promote stability in the country.
Much has changed in the two decades after the Taliban was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban nearly 20 years ago, and some analysts have expressed concern that gains areas such as women's rights and the rights of the Hazaras minority group, will quickly disappear.