A video obtained by CNN of the Taliban executing 22 Afghan commandos as they surrendered has exacerbated criticism of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan ordered by President Joe Biden.
The massacre, which human rights groups have described as an apparent war crime, adds to the many questions being asked about the Afghan military’s capacity to defeat or even contain the Taliban now that the US is pulling out.
Responding to the news of the executed Afghan commandos, GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a US Air Force veteran who flew missions in Afghanistan, in a tweet said, “This is horrible-yet it’s the reality of announcing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Removing the peacekeepers and leaving the Afghan people without support is a grave mistake, Mr. President.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday called Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal a “global embarrassment.”
The incident took place on June 16 in the town of Dawlat Abad in Faryab province, which is close to Afghanistan’s border with Turkeministan. The Taliban dismissed the video as a fabrication. But the Red Cross confirmed that 22 bodies were retrieved, and CNN spoke with witnesses and verified several videos of the incident.
The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan – set to be complete by the end of August – marks an end to the longest conflict in US history. But the US pullout does not mean an end to violent conflict in Afghanistan, which has seen consistent fighting for roughly four decades. The Taliban last week said it’s taken over 85% of the country, and with regional militias popping up across Afghanistan there are worries that the war will escalate after the US departure.
“Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized if it continues on the trajectory it’s on,” Gen. Austin S. Miller, who stepped down as the top US commander in Afghanistan on Monday, said earlier this month.
Biden announced the plan to withdraw troops in April, and has fervently defended the move amid escalating concerns about the future of Afghanistan with the US departure nearly complete. Proponents of Biden’s withdrawal contend that the pullout was long overdue, making the case that the costs of staying in Afghanistan far outweigh the benefits.
“Let me ask those who wanted us to stay: How many more – how many thousands more of America’s daughters and sons are you willing to risk? How long would you have them stay?” Biden said in a speech last Thursday.
But critics have characterized the withdrawal as a hasty retreat that endangers local populations – especially women – and effectively hands the country over to the Taliban.
Biden has rejected the notion that it’s “inevitable” the Taliban will fully regain control of Afghanistan. “I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting war,” the president said on Thursday.