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The Taliban won the people’s trust

Former Afghan police official Khoshal Sadat, who left the country in June

When US forces withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban seized the country, President Biden placed the blame squarely on Afghan soldiers, says Michael Barbaro in this podcast for The Daily. “He said they gave up, many of them without a fight.” The reality is rather more complex, says Afghanistan’s former highest-ranking police official, Khoshal Sadat. Local people, whose support was crucial, had been losing trust in the Afghan army and police force for years. And the Taliban had been steadily gaining support.

The trouble was that policemen were appointed by the Kabul elite. They were corrupt. They took cuts from drug dealers. And they didn’t understand the local people they were supposed to help. I remember an operation in the countryside, says Sadat, when Afghan police stole some chickens. It doesn’t sound like much, but the villagers were furious. “I don’t know if you know much about Afghan rules and houses and families, but that’s their life. You have a cow. You have 10 sheep. You have an acre of land. And you have chickens.” The police didn’t understand the importance of that, but the Taliban’s leaders did. They convinced Afghans “they were for the people” and the police fell out of favour.

Eventually, Sadat quit. “I said to President Ghani, the way you’re running these operations, I cannot support you.” He left the country in June and is willing to give the Taliban a chance – “If they keep themselves away from international terrorist groups, if they allow human rights, if they respect women.” Well, says Barbaro, “you’ve ticked through very big ‘ifs’ there”. Yes, replies Sadat. “But what other options do we have?”

Listen to the podcast here.