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What the West should do

A pro-government militia force in Herat. Hoshang Hashimi/AFP/Getty Images

After nearly 20 years, $2 trillion and thousands of lives, America will leave Afghanistan by the end of August, says Daniel Rey in The Spectator. The Taliban is at the gates of key cities and may well topple the government in Kabul. The group’s links to al-Qaeda – the reason for the US invasion – remain strong. President Biden justifies the withdrawal on the grounds that China and climate change are far bigger problems. He says he can’t keep throwing away the lives of “America’s daughters and sons”. Scarpering may be the “least bad option”, but what exactly was the invasion for?

For freedom, says William Hague in The Times. I remember visiting the “beautiful and prosperous” city of Herat a decade ago, and meeting young Afghan women finally able to go to university. Even a “modest” number of soldiers from the US and other Nato nations would bolster the fighting confidence of the Afghan army and make the Taliban take the “interminable peace talks” seriously. The West’s long-term contest with China is “about ideas, not territory”, so what legitimacy would we have if we refuse to defend the freedom we once dangled in front of those students in Herat?

But it’s not all up to the West, says Bloomberg. Afghanistan’s neighbours, like China and India, are negotiating with the Taliban as if its victory is assured. They need to “wake up”: a Taliban victory would make regional drug networks “explode” in size. “A river of refugees will become a flood.” Besides, the Taliban wants international legitimacy and investment, rather than being “isolated and beholden to Pakistan”, as it was during its last period in government. If Asia’s big players apply that leverage, they can make the Islamists share power.

The “tragedy” could have been avoided if the US had stuck to its initial strategy, says Toby Harnden in The Wall Street Journal. In 2001 it sent in a handful of CIA teams to co-ordinate local warlords and “hunt down the perpetrators of 9/11”, al-Qaeda. But then it blocked the new president, Hamid Karzai, from striking a deal with the Taliban, “a practice consistent with Afghan tradition”. As American troop numbers surged from hundreds to 100,000 by 2010, they went from “advisers and allies” to “invaders and occupiers”. Biden needs to return to that “middle course” to stop Afghanistan becoming a space “where terrorists can plot with impunity”. As it is, we’re “lurching from all to nothing”.

“They’re trying to wash their hands of us”

As many as 50,000 interpreters have worked with the US military in Afghanistan, say Holly Honderich and Bernd Debusmann Jr in BBC News. Among them was Zia Ghafoori, who signed up in 2002, when he was 18. After 12 years of service, he, his pregnant wife and their three small children were given US visas. But when they arrived in America in 2014, they were sent to a homeless shelter. “After what I had done for both countries, I was asking myself, ‘Is this what I deserve?’,” he says. He called the army captain under whom he had served on the front line, who invited the Ghafooris to stay at his home in North Carolina.

The family are now US citizens and live “in a modest clapboard home in a quiet cul-de-sac. A large American flag hangs from a pole outside.” The children are fluent in English and tease the former interpreter for his language mistakes. Zia runs a charity helping other interpreters to negotiate the byzantine paperwork needed to come to America. His brother was once beaten and jailed by the Taliban, and he sees the US withdrawal as abandonment” “They’re trying to wash their hands of us.”