Do the Afghan forces have the “will” to fight the Taliban?

Some U.S. military experts, observing the catastrophic defeats suffered by Afghan forces since May, and particularly in the last week as six provincial capitals have fallen, including the strategic city of Kunduz in the North, make an argument that reflects much of the fourth-grade-level analysis that led to President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Biden simply decided to implement Donald Trump’s February 29, 2020 surrender and withdrawal agreement with the Taliban.

The argument of these military experts is that the U.S. and NATO have provided the Afghan military with all of the training and equipment they need to defeat the Taliban. Whether they will effectively defend the country against the Taliban depends on two things: mikitary capacity and the “will” of the military to fight.

Even after the withdrawal of U.S. close-combat air support, these experts argue, Afghanistan has the necessary military “capacity”.

In short, they are arguing, the U.S. did everything possible to train and equip the Afghan forces. Now, if they suffer defeat, it will be because they don’t have the “will” to fight.


“Afghan security forces teeter on the brink of collapse amid Taliban onslaught, Transcript, PBS Newshour, August 9, 2021 (6:45 PM EDT).

On the PBS Newshour, U.S. Lt.Gen Doug Lute (Ret.) put the argument as follows:

So, we need much more capacity and much more will demonstrated by the Afghan forces so that we don’t see reports of Afghan forces surrendering or abandoning their posts and so forth. So, it’s both capacity and will.

Right, I don’t think the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is inevitable. I think that the Afghan government does have a capacity. It has over 300,000 army and police on station, on the payroll. The question here is whether we can — they can provide Afghan leadership to those Afghan forces that will then stem the tide on the ground.

So the essence of this is Afghan capacity and Afghan will.

Let us, however, inquire further. What are the determinants of that “will”?

We have described the horrific choices facing individual Afghan soldiers and officials:

Soldiers and government officials are faced with terrifying personal choices, as it begins to look like the Taliban will take over.

They and their families are extraordinarily exposed to Taliban reprisals, and may have to make excruciating decisions about whether they can better protect themselves and their families by putting aside their weapons and acquiescing in a Taliban takeover, or by sticking with the government forces and fighting for a future under the existing government.

The surrender and withdrawal of the Americans could well have a decisive impact on their calculus.

–“Afghanistan: A chronicle of defeat and looming collapse–August 8, 2021,” The Trenchant Observer, August 8, 2021.

The “will” that may prove to be be the decisive determinant of the future of Afghanistan is not that of the Afghan soldier or government official, but rather that of Joe Biden and the government and people of the United States.

The Trenchant Observer

The Trenchant Observer has been following Afghanistan closely since 2005, when he worked in Kabul as the Team Leader of group of six lawyers charged with advising the government on modernizing its criminal justice process to better meet international human rights standards.

Use the Search box to the right to find previous articles by the Trenchant Observer on Afghanistan, going back to 2009.

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.