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 safety, I walked throughout the lengthy, abandoned garden towards the constructing that held the Office of the National Security Council. I waited within the council’s empty reception room till one in every of Mohib’s employees members, a younger girl 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 preventing in Kandahar City, which had been surrounded by the Taliban.
Only a number of 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 speedy tempo was meant to scale back the danger of assault in the course of the retreat, however it had a devastating affect on Afghan safety forces. The U.S. army had spent billions to coach and equip a drive in its personal picture, closely depending on overseas contractors and air assist. But the Afghan Army’s notoriously corrupt generals stole their males’s ammunition, meals and wages; whereas safety forces had been alleged to complete 300,000, the actual quantity was doubtless 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. “This is my home and my grave,” he thundered in a speech earlier within the spring. His vp, Amrullah Saleh, and the safety council had been engaged on a post-American technique known as Kaf, a Dari phrase that means “base” or “floor,” which envisioned garrison cities linked 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 much the Russian model,” stated Bek, who returned to the federal government because the president’s chief of employees that month. “They had a good plan on paper, but for this to work, you needed to be a military genius.”
Earlier in July, Ghani was warned that solely two out of seven military corps had been nonetheless purposeful, in accordance with a senior Afghan official. Desperate for forces to guard Kandahar City, the president pleaded with the C.I.A. to make use of the paramilitary military previously often known as counterterrorism pursuit groups, in accordance with Afghan officers. Trained for evening raids and clandestine missions within the borderlands, the models had grown into succesful mild infantry, hundreds robust. They had been now formally a part of the Afghan intelligence service and had been often known as Zero Units, after codes that corresponded to provinces: 01 was Kabul, 03 was Kandahar and so forth. But in accordance 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 City that month. (A U.S. official said that the models had been underneath Afghan management; the C.I.A. declined to touch upon particulars of their deployment.) “They’re very effective units, motivated, cheap,” Mohib informed me in his workplace, saying Kandahar would have fallen with out them. “They don’t need all sorts of heavy equipment. I wish we had more like them.”
But the Zero Units had a status 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 attempting to trace these shadowy models 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. models that operated across the capital, whom I had identified for a number 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 stated morale had plummeted amongst his males, now that the Americans had been leaving. According to Afghan officers, the station on Ariana Square was empty by late July. But Mohammad’s workforce nonetheless obtained recommendation from the Americans. He confirmed me messages that he stated had been from the C.I.A., urging his unit to patrol areas round Kabul that had been infiltrated by the insurgents. “The airport is still in danger,” one message stated.