On July 15, I went to the palace to see Mohib. Above the gate tower, a large tricolor of the republic fluttered towards a transparent blue sky. After passing by means of safety, I walked throughout the lengthy, abandoned garden towards the constructing that held the Workplace of the Nationwide Safety Council. I waited within the council’s empty reception room till one in all Mohib’s workers members, a younger lady who had studied in America, introduced me upstairs to his workplace, the place he sat behind his desk. Our dialog was largely off the file. He appeared exhausted as we spoke in regards to the determined combating in Kandahar Metropolis, which had been surrounded by the Taliban.
Just a few days earlier than, there had been a farewell ceremony for Gen. Austin S. Miller, the long-serving U.S. commander. The army had accomplished 90 p.c of its withdrawal, nicely forward of Biden’s deadline. This fast tempo was meant to scale back the chance of assault throughout the retreat, however it had a devastating affect on Afghan safety forces. The U.S. army had spent billions to coach and equip a pressure in its personal picture, closely depending on international contractors and air help. However the Afghan Military’s notoriously corrupt generals stole their males’s ammunition, meals and wages; whereas safety forces had been purported to complete 300,000, the true quantity was possible lower than a 3rd of that. Out within the districts, the military and the police had been crumbling, handing over their arms to the Taliban, who now managed 1 / 4 of the nation.
Ghani had repeatedly insisted that he would stand and struggle. “That is my dwelling and my grave,” he thundered in a speech earlier within the spring. His vice chairman, Amrullah Saleh, and the safety council had been engaged on a post-American technique referred to as Kaf, a Dari phrase which means “base” or “ground,” which envisioned garrison cities related by corridors held by the military and bolstered by militias, just like how President Mohammad Najibullah clung to energy for 3 years after the Soviet withdrawal. “It was very a lot the Russian mannequin,” mentioned Bek, who returned to the federal government because the president’s chief of workers that month. “They’d a superb plan on paper, however for this to work, you wanted to be a army genius.”
Earlier in July, Ghani was warned that solely two out of seven military corps had been nonetheless practical, in keeping with a senior Afghan official. Determined for forces to guard Kandahar Metropolis, the president pleaded with the C.I.A. to make use of the paramilitary military previously generally known as counterterrorism pursuit groups, in keeping with Afghan officers. Skilled for evening raids and clandestine missions within the borderlands, the items had grown into succesful gentle infantry, 1000’s sturdy. They had been now formally a part of the Afghan intelligence service and had been generally known as Zero Items, after codes that corresponded to provinces: 01 was Kabul, 03 was Kandahar and so forth. However in keeping with the officers, the C.I.A. nonetheless paid the salaries of those strike forces and needed to consent to Ghani’s request for them to defend Kandahar Metropolis that month. (A U.S. official acknowledged that the items had been below Afghan management; the C.I.A. declined to touch upon particulars of their deployment.) “They’re very efficient items, motivated, low cost,” Mohib informed me in his workplace, saying Kandahar would have fallen with out them. “They don’t want all kinds of heavy tools. I want we had extra like them.”
However the Zero Items had a fame for ruthlessness in battle; each journalists and Human Rights Watch have referred to them as “death squads” — allegations that the C.I.A. denied, saying they had been the results of Taliban propaganda. I had been making an attempt to trace these shadowy items for years and was shocked to see them, of their distinctive tiger stripes, given glowing protection on the federal government’s social media accounts.
In Kabul, I met with Mohammad, an officer from one of many N.D.S. items that operated across the capital, whom I had recognized for a couple of years. Mohammad had labored as an interpreter for the unit’s American advisers and as an teacher for undercover groups that carried out arrests contained in the cities. He mentioned morale had plummeted amongst his males, now that the Individuals had been leaving. In accordance with Afghan officers, the station on Ariana Sq. was empty by late July. However Mohammad’s staff nonetheless acquired recommendation from the Individuals. He confirmed me messages that he mentioned had been from the C.I.A., urging his unit to patrol areas round Kabul that had been infiltrated by the insurgents. “The airport continues to be at risk,” one message mentioned.