It began with individual outposts in rural areas where starving and ammunition-depleted soldiers were surrounded by Taliban fighters and promised safe passage if they surrendered and left behind their equipment. As posts collapsed, the complaint was the same: There was no air support or they had run out of supplies and food.
But even before that, the systemic weaknesses of the Afghan security forces — which on paper numbered somewhere around 300,000 people, but in recent days have totalled around just one-sixth of that, according to US officials — were apparent. These shortfalls can be traced to numerous issues that sprung from the West’s insistence on building a fully modern military with all the logistical and supply complexities, and which has proved unsustainable without the US and its Nato allies.
Soldiers and policemen have expressed resentment of the Afghan leadership. Officials turned a blind eye to what was happening knowing full well that the Afghan forces’ real manpower count was far lower than what was on the books, skewed by corruption. In interview after interview, soldiers and police officers described moments of despair and feelings of abandonment.
On one front line in Kandahar, the Afghan security forces’ inability to fend off the Taliban came down to potatoes. After weeks of fighting, one box full of slimy potatoes was supposed to pass as a unit’s daily rations. “These french fries are not going to hold these front lines!” an officer yelled. By Thursday, the line collapsed, and Kandahar was in Taliban control by Friday.