Why Didn’t They Fight? Inside the Collapse of the Afghan Army

August 19, 2021Dustin Jones
Afghan army why didn't they fight

An Afghan army soldier pleads with his commander not to turn his weapon over to the Taliban. Photo from Twitter.

Inside Kabul, they were sure the city would hold.

On Friday, Aug. 13, an Afghan National Army colonel inside the capital told Coffee or Die Magazine that Kabul would take three to four months to fall to the Taliban. The same day, one former Army Special Forces soldier turned military contractor said he would be surprised if it fell at all.

Two days later, the Taliban seized the city with hardly a shot fired, which left the world wondering: Why didn’t the Afghan forces fight?

As one person working with militias in a northern Afghan city told Coffee or Die, “They got sold out.”

The colonel in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was given the order to stand down as the Taliban approached. He said the same can likely be said for other Afghan security forces across the country. The colonel believes a deal may have been struck weeks or months in advance.

“I think there is something [that might have been] signed by our civil leadership with Taliban, USA and NATO,” he said. “We lost all of the districts without fighting, and it surprises me the most.”

Dennis Todt, the military contractor who believed Kabul would stand, had similar thoughts. He said he believes the districts and provinces fell because of a lack of support and leadership, coupled with corruption at all government levels. 

This photo on Twitter was described as a Taliban “parade” to mark Afghanistan’s Independence Day, Thursday, Aug. 19.

Several media outlets, including, have reported that Afghan police have not been paid for months by the Ministry of Interior. The same may be true for the army.

“The issue of legitimacy is very important,” Enayat Najafizada, founder of the Kabul-based think tank known as the Institute of War and Peace Studies, told Foreign Policy.

The Afghan security forces have come under intense scrutiny following the fall of Kabul and the rapid pace with which the Taliban seized the country. The lack of resistance brought the military’s integrity, courage, and fighting capabilities into question.

The Pentagon and President Joe Biden have repeatedly said the fall of Afghanistan and the weight that it bears falls solely on the shoulders of the Afghan people. 

“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden told the world Monday. “The events we see now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan.”

According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, more than 64,000 Afghans have died serving in the military or police force from 2001 to 2019. This suggests the Afghan people have done some of the fighting, and statistically most of the dying, in the war in Afghanistan. 

A recent video circulating across social media shows an Afghan soldier pleading with his commander to keep his weapon instead of turning it over to the Taliban. “I will not give up my gun, Commander. I will not give it, even if I die, till my last breath,” the soldier said. 

Former President Ashraf Ghani, who fled to the United Arab Emirates before Kabul fell, instructed Afghan soldiers to stand down to avoid bloodshed, the Afghan National Army colonel said. He believes similar orders were given to forces in provinces that surrendered districts and cities to the Taliban without a shot fired.

“August was a shock for all Afghans, especially for the ANA,” he said. “Nobody thought that we [would] lose so many provinces in such a short time…we thought, ‘We will lose some of the far districts, like 10 or 15 of them,’ but it turned into a disaster.”

The only area free from Taliban control as of Aug. 18 is Panjshir province, a mountainous region northeast of Kabul that has historically never been taken by outsiders. Anti-Taliban fighters are gathering in Panjshir to answer calls for resistance by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh and freedom fighter Ahmad Massoud. The flag of the Northern Alliance has allegedly been raised over the province for the first time since 2001, indicating that the people there are prepared to fight for Afghanistan. 

Read Next: What Was Life Like Under Taliban Rule in the 1990s?

Dustin Jones
Dustin Jones

Dustin Jones is a former senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine covering military and intelligence news. Jones served four years in the Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He studied journalism at the University of Colorado and Columbia University. He has worked as a reporter in Southwest Montana and at NPR. A New Hampshire native, Dustin currently resides in Southern California.

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