US admits Afghan pullout helped arm Ukraine
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted on Thursday that the much-criticized withdrawal from Afghanistan, which he called “America’s longest war,” helped Washington redirect resources to Ukraine just months later.
Appearing at the State Department for a year-end press conference, Blinken painted a rosy picture of Washington’s diplomatic accomplishments. The exit from Afghanistan, which happened in August 2021, came up because one reporter took issue with Blinken’s claim of strong relationships with US “allies and partners,” some of whom she said were critical of how that US handled that operation.
Consultations were “sustained, they were intense, and we strongly took note of everything that we heard from allies and partners in advance of the decisions that President [Joe] Biden made and that we made,” Bliken insisted, arguing that claims otherwise are “not born out by the facts.”
Though the reporter had asked about lessons of that withdrawal in “dealing with Russia and China,” Blinken proceeded to argue that “if we were still in Afghanistan, it would have, I think, made much more complicated the support that we’ve been able to give and that others have been able to give Ukraine” against Russia.
The last US soldier departed from the Kabul airport on August 31, 2021. The US-backed Afghan government had collapsed without much of a fight two weeks earlier, leaving the Taliban in control of the country – as they had been in 2001.
While the cost of the 20-year conflict has been estimated at over $2 trillion, the US spent almost $73 billion in 2021 dollars on training, equipping, maintaining and supplying the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), most of it from the Pentagon budget. The bulk of ANDSF weaponry and equipment ended up in Taliban hands.
By comparison, the Russian Defense Ministry estimated earlier this week that total Western aid to Ukraine this year amounted to over $97 billion. The Pentagon alone has spent at least $20 billion in direct “security assistance” to Ukraine since February 2022, by its own admission. Other US government departments, NATO and EU members accounted for the rest.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky visited Washington in person on Wednesday, receiving a pledge from Biden to fund Kiev for “as long as it takes” and a $1.85 billion packet of weapons and ammunition, including a battery of Patriot air defense missiles. Zelensky also addressed a special joint session of Congress, with a plea to approve another $45 billion in aid for 2023. The Senate did so the following day.