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Many Facets Contributed To The Taliban's Rapid Takeover Of Afghanistan


The Taliban's blitz offensive across Afghanistan is over. Yesterday, the Islamic militant group took over the Afghan capital of Kabul without much resistance. The group's rapid advances have really stunned many experts. So how were they able to do it? Joining us now is retired four-star General Joseph Votel. He served as the commander of U.S. Central Command until 2019.

General, you spoke with my co-host, Noel King, last week, so thanks for coming back this week. Then you expressed hope that Afghan forces in Kabul would provide more resistance to the Taliban's advances. Clearly, that has not happened. So what does that tell you about the situation there?

JOSEPH VOTEL: Yeah, thank you. Thank you very much. Well, I think, like everybody, I'm surprised that this has transpired so quickly. But I think what we are all seeing at this point is kind of a lack of confidence in, you know, in the Afghan forces themselves and their leadership, their government and apparently in their partners here. And I think this drove the Afghan security forces to an approach of self-preservation. And so they were acting more individually than they were acting collectively at this particular point. And, of course, it collapsed quite quickly.

MARTÍNEZ: General, this lack of confidence, should that have been something that the United States should have been more keen to pick up on as they were training the Afghan forces for this?

VOTEL: Well, certainly we've been working with Afghan forces for a considerable amount of time here. And you know, again, I think that they had the capabilities. They certainly had the equipment and training that they required to do this. But in this case, they're just - they were - they had - they chose to act in a different way. And I think a lot of this is because of a lack of confidence in their own government and their own leadership. And, of course, that's resulted in the situation that we are seeing right now.

MARTÍNEZ: Well - no, I understand that, General. What I'm asking is, should the United States been more aware and just acknowledged that the money that was being spent and the time that was put in the training wasn't working and maybe try to come up with a different avenue for this?

VOTEL: Well, I think that - you know, certainly there are a variety of different approaches that could be taken here. I mean, from my perspective, once the decision to withdraw our forces was taken, I think what was required was a more deliberate plan, militarily and diplomatically, built around specific conditions that had to be worked with the Afghan government. And I think that extends to the military forces and making sure that they were up to the challenge that this withdrawal of U.S. and other coalition forces would present.

MARTÍNEZ: General, you served as the commander of Central Command for - from 2016 to 2019. How much responsibility do you think you bear for what we have now?

VOTEL: Well, I think certainly, you know, there'll be analysis of this for some time. And, you know, I certainly take responsibility for the things that we have done and apparently failed to do. But, you know, I guess what I think everyone will have to make a determination for themselves about the worthiness of this effort. You know, in my experience - and I've been going to Afghanistan for a number of years - I tried to do everything that I thought was right. I think the vast majority of U.S. military officers and soldiers served honorably and nobly, answered the nation's call in a time of need. And I think we should take pride in that. And I think they attempted to do that. That this did not turn out the way that we all hoped it would be, I think doesn't diminish that. But certainly, the - you know, there will be a level of accountability that we'll have to accept with this.

MARTÍNEZ: Joseph Votel is a retired four-star general and former commander of U.S. Central Command. He's also a senior fellow on national security at Middle East Institute in D.C.

General, thank you very much for your time.

VOTEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.