In this Aug. 16, 2021, file photo hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane along the perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: Shekib Rahmani / AP

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Maureen Ramsey served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan from June 2005 to January 2007. She retired after 32 years of active, Army Reserve and civil service in the Army serving stateside as well as in Germany, Japan, Korea and Afghanistan. She is a Gold Star Wife and a Blue Star mom. She lives in Lubec.

The Taliban’s headway in Afghanistan over the past few years, and in particular the last several months, calls for a thorough investigation and audit of our intel and defense agencies as well as our decision-making processes. The forecasting on the current mess was totally off the mark.

I sure would like to know if the U.S. had U.S. human intelligence assets on the ground or if we were relying on hearsay from others. The rout of Kabul, a   week within the taking of Kandahar, was very predictable and should not have been a surprise to anyone. The number of planes (recall, Afghanistan is landlocked) and the time needed to transport embassy staff as well as some   70,000 people to safety was easy to calculate. That the U.S. would use a   lengthy bureaucratic process as an excuse not to immediately evacuate those who aided the U.S. by putting their lives on the line is immoral and inexcusable.

I am not an intelligence specialist. However, I was a deployee on the ground in Afghanistan and am a part-time student of Central Asian history and of the rise of the Taliban, al-Qaida and other extremist groups.  

Following the 9/11 attack on the U.S. and the Taliban’s refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden, our initial goal in invading Afghanistan was three-fold: capture/kill Osama bin Laden and his cohorts; dismantle al-Qaida; and deny al-Qaida a safe haven for operations by removing the Taliban from power.

We have failed on the last two counts. We never dismantled al-Qaida — it laid low in Afghanistan and Pakistan, visibly resurfacing in Iraq and Syria. Recent events on the ground in Afghanistan demonstrate the Taliban is as powerful as ever. As a result, today innocent people who only wanted to live and grow in peace will die.  

Some folks say we have poured enough time, dollars and American lives into the country — that we   trained over 300,000 Afghans for its army. That’s not quite accurate.

As of   July 2020, Afghan defense forces were manned with 185,478 personnel; its police force another 103,224. Many are illiterate teens who don’t speak the dialect of their trainers. Missing from the discourse are the thousands of Afghans who have been wounded and the more than   64,000 Afghans who died while fighting Taliban.

Also, not mentioned are the billions of dollars that went to contractors and others. Let’s get a comprehensive audit of the funds spent. Let’s get our numbers squared away and be able to explain them before throwing figures around.

Afghanistan is a tribal country, not the typical nation state as we are accustomed to working with. Yet, when we invaded, we expected to shape it up to our 20th century standards, something that even the British and Soviets were not able to achieve. Old tribal wounds, rivalries and aspirations reemerged even as we promoted democratic principles. As one of my former colleagues remarked, “We’re trying to bring a land immersed in the 14th century into the 21st without going through any of the steps between.”

Many Afghans bought into what we were selling.  

Etched into my consciousness are the Afghan women who came to our compound everyday covered in burkas to protect them from being identified as working for the Americans. One day about mid-morning, they put on their burkas, left the compound then returned a while later with wide smiles and holding up   purple fingers. Those purple fingers signified that they voted; most for the first time.

In a country where even now   less than half (43 percent) of the entire country can read and write, young men and women, boys and girls began to regularly attend school held in tattered tents. I can remember three teens not in burkas laughingly running together down a rural street.  

I recall one of our unit’s engineers worked hard training local Afghans to repair and maintain their city’s electrical system. It had been inoperable and in disrepair since the Soviets withdrew. Within a few weeks, city lights were back on.

That representation by women and various ethnicities was incorporated into the   Afghan constitution is something we can take some credit for.  

We knew about the Taliban’s history of brutality to fellow Afghans, especially women and girls, and of its not abiding by promises to western entities. Yet, our politicians   agreed with the Taliban on our withdrawal — so much for our goal to remove it from power.

Approximately   60 percent of Afghans, an entire generation under age 25, never knew the horror of living under the Taliban. They were just learning about the world — that they could dream and could have a bright future. They trusted the U.S. because we gave them hope. Now, we have abandoned them. Shame on us.

Exit strategy? What a joke! How can we ever call ourselves honorable again?