Afghanistan: How US media reacted to Taliban seizing Kabul - and what it means for Joe Biden

President Biden has come under fire for his role in allowing Taliban fighters to take control of Afghanistan, in what has been dubbed a “humiliating moment for the West”

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US President Joe Biden has been condemned for his handling of the Afghanistan crisis by media outlets across the country and the UK.

Taliban fighters swept into the capital city of Kabul on Sunday (15 August) night after President Ashraf Ghani fled, leaving thousands of citizens and foreign nationals desperately trying to escape.

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The Taliban gaining control of Afghanistan has been dubbed a “humiliating moment for the West”, with the situation labelled as the biggest foreign policy catastrophe in 65 years.

What have media outlets said?

The Taliban’s takeover comes after almost 20 years of a US-led coalition leading the country and the withdrawal of foreign troops, which enabled fighters to take the last major city, Kabul, on Sunday.

The US Embassy has since been evacuated and the American flag has been lowered, while other Western nations have now closed their missions and are flying staff and civilians out of the country.

Almost all major checkpoints in Kabul were under Taliban control by Monday (16 August) morning and Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued an advisory saying the ‘civilian side’ of the airport had been ‘closed until further notice’, with the military in control of the airspace.

Chaotic scenes have been captured at Kabul Airport as Afghans scramble to catch flights, with the unfolding events being likened to the evacuation of the embassy of Saigon in 1975.

President Biden has come under fire for his role in allowing Taliban fighters to take the capital after withdrawing US troops from the area, saying he couldn’t justify an "endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict".

The President’s statement that he is “washing his hands” of the situation was condemned by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which said it should “go down as one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief at such a moment of American retreat”.

An opinion piece by the WSJ’s editorial board states: “President Biden’s statement on Saturday washing his hands of Afghanistan deserves to go down as one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief at such a moment of American retreat.

“As the Taliban closed in on Kabul, Mr Biden sent a confirmation of US abandonment that absolved himself of responsibility, deflected blame to his predecessor, and more or less invited the Taliban to take over the country.”

The paper added that Mr Biden’s “Saturday self-justification exemplifies his righteous dishonesty”, after the leader had said: “One more year, or five more years, of US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.”

However, the WSJ claimed that “Afghans were willing to fight and take casualties with the support of the US and its NATO allies, especially air power,” adding that “a few thousand troops and contractors could have done the job and prevented this rout.”

‘An indelible stain on his presidency’

The President has also faced criticism from traditionally left-wing media including CNN and the New York Times, which described the US retreat from Afghanistan as a “political disaster”, saying he had failed to “orchestrate an urgent and orderly exit”.

Elsewhere, a column in the Washington Post said the current situation in Afghanistan “is on Biden” and his actions will leave “an indelible stain on his presidency”.

The USA Today echoed these thoughts saying that the catastrophe that is now unfolding is happening “on his watch”, while an editorial in the New York Post dismissed the President’s claims that he ‘inherited’ his predecessor Donald Trump’s withdrawal plans, claiming this is a “lie”.

Similar feelings have been expressed about the US leader by the British Press, with The Sun saying Mr Biden “ignored repeated warnings, then withdrew crucial air support for the Afghan army it has spent billions arming over 20 years”.

The Financial Times said the abandonment of Afghanistan by the US raises doubts over the country’s commitment to its supposed foreign allies, while the decision by Biden to withdraw American troops was branded the “biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez” by The Times.

Families of soldiers who died on previous tours of Afghanistan have criticised both the US and the UK governments’ handling of the withdrawal from the nation, saying the Taliban’s intent to takeover was clear.

Graham Knight, father of 25-year-old RAF Sergeant Ben Knight who was killed when his Nimrod aircraft exploded in Afghanistan in 2006, said the British government should have moved more quickly to get civilians out.

The 69-year-old said: “We’re not surprised that the Taliban have taken over because as soon as the Americans and the British said they were going to leave, we knew this was going to happen.

“The Taliban made their intent very clear that, as soon as we went out, they would move in.

“As for whether people’s lives were lost through a war that wasn’t winneable, I think they were.

“I think the problem was we were fighting people that were native to the country. We weren’t fighting terrorists, we were fighting people who actually lived there and didn’t like us being there.”

Afghan citizens are desperately trying to flee the country (Photo: Getty Images)Afghan citizens are desperately trying to flee the country (Photo: Getty Images)
Afghan citizens are desperately trying to flee the country (Photo: Getty Images)

What could the fallout mean for Biden?

By withdrawing troops from America’s longest conflict, Mr Biden has undone 20 years of work and sacrifice, and is shouldering the blame for the current crisis in Afghanistan.

Afghans, soldiers and many others closest to the conflict have long been sceptical of the President’s view that the Kabul government could maintain the security of the country alone.

When he ran for office, Mr Biden told CBS in 2020 that the US should only have troops in Afghanistan "to make sure that it’s impossible for the Taliban and for Isis or al-Qaeda to re-establish a foothold there".

But with the capital now in chaos, it could see Mr Biden lose the support of those who put him in power to deliver on the promise of getting America out.

Robert Hannigan, former director of GCHQ, said that “groups that want to attack the United States or the west will feel emboldened by this”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “We’re now going to be working with a – essentially – a hostile power and that will make knowing what’s going on there more difficult than ever.

“I think generally across the world, groups that want to attack the United States or the west will feel emboldened by this.

“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower, the greatest military in the world, and President Biden has said America is back, but frankly the pictures we’re seeing rather undermine that at the moment and I think that will be fodder for terrorist groups who want to see the humiliation of the United States, even if it’s short-term and it passes.”

John Bolton, former national security adviser to Donald Trump, also warned of potential future terrorist attacks, describing the withdrawal of Western troops as a “big mistake”.

He told the Today programme: “From the perspective of the US and its allies, this puts us back in the pre-September 11 2001 environment.

“It seems almost inevitable that when Taliban does take final control it will allow Isis, al Qaida and other terrorist groups we haven’t even heard of yet to again find sanctuary in Afghanistan, and if that’s the case we run the further risk of those terrorist groups plotting attacks on the US and our partners, and it’s just intolerable that we’ve allowed this to happen.

“This is a big mistake. The presence of the American and Nato forces in Afghanistan was small, it was an insurance policy against the potential of future terrorist attacks and now we risk paying a very, very severe price.”

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