Is America Buried in the Graveyard of Empires?

Written and narrated by Darin Gaub

A military planner/strategist often contends with the fact that much of what they do ends up on a shelf as a plan, only for use when needed. Most of the time these plans are not needed; and it’s equally important to know that we don’t want them to be needed. For when they are, something bad has happened. During my time as an officer in the United States Army, I served for a time as an operational and strategic planner, and often drew the task of writing plans in support of Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO). Some of those plans were specifically built for Afghanistan while I worked out of a Bagram headquarters in 2011. Like many veterans and those still on active duty, I never thought the world would witness the catastrophic collapse of Afghanistan in less than two weeks. It’s a rare moment when the best laid plans are impacted by decisions no planner can control or contemplate.  

There are many considerations that must be accounted for when something as complex as a  noncombatant evacuation becomes necessary. Simply put, one has to account for political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, and time constraints that can seem  and sometimes are, insurmountable. What is necessary though, is to rely on the principles behind the  operation and seek to gain every possible advantage in one of the most dynamic and challenging  operations any military can undertake. America’s greatest advantage is the willpower and ingenuity of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who put everything on the line to save people.  

Unfortunately, the violations of some of the principles that apply to NEO operations were  completely disregarded at the strategic level related to the current withdrawal from Afghanistan. The abject disregard to these principles has left the US in a dangerous and precarious position. 

  1. Never place a date on your final withdrawal – that emboldens your enemy.  
  2. Never abandon your most strategic foothold prior to the evacuation of all civilians. The primary example would be Bagram Airfield, a location where I spent two of my four tours. Kabul International  Airport is not the place to conduct an NEO mission, we knew that years ago, we knew it two weeks ago. It is clear to the world now. 
  3. The military leaves last, only after all American citizens have departed. In this case, I would  include those Afghans who should have been part of the plan.  
  4. Never cede the initiative to the enemy and do little to take it back.  
  5. Always know that an NEO mission is watched by the world and we’re being watched. 

As a planner I know accounting for every possible scenario and circumstance is impossible, especially when working with thousands of civilians, many of whom don’t even speak a common language. The goal is to account for as much as you can, and never deviate from foundational principles. Over the past two weeks, the Biden administration took a hard left turn, just prior to the application of those  principles, as such chaos and panic has ensued, allowing the Taliban to claim its control over Kabul. 

Our enemies around the globe are emboldened, and our allies are disheartened. They are both right. As a nation, we violated many of our most basic principles when conducting large scale NEO missions. The haphazard withdrawal, and the surrender in Afghanistan is worse than Vietnam, and the consequences will be long lasting, and likely never recovered from. It will take years, maybe decades to get through the hard lessons learned from failed leadership at the highest levels of government. It seems likely that in the last two weeks, America has joined its history with the British and the Soviet Union in the graveyard of empires. 

Perhaps it’s best to summarize by using the words of someone working hard to help as many as they are able:  

“God help us for abandoning our Afghan allies. A slaughter will soon ensue. Pray for the women and girls as they will suffer unimaginable horrors. Our international warrior brothers are aghast. Our European allies are turning away in disgust. We’ll keep trying to get as many as we can out.”  (Author’s name withheld)  

The greatest violation of principle is this: “Leave No One Behind.”  We are leaving thousands behind, and for this we should be ashamed.

About Darin Gaub: Darin is an international leadership executive, professional trainer, and veteran whose work has focused on sound strategy development, organizational management, and service-oriented leadership. He is an inspirational and dynamic leader with a focus on recognizing talent and building future-thinking leaders and managers. He is rooted in organizational development, budgeting, and decision-making processes that drive success. As a career Army Officer, he was respected by peers and his troops for his ability to balance the spirit of army regulations with the challenges of life overseas and on the battlefield. With a passion for policy and good governance, he is a co-founder and executive director for the Restore Liberty initiative which seeks to unite liberty organizations around the foundational concepts of self-governance and the full restoration of the Constitution. He resides in his native state of Montana where he continues to honor his military colleagues as the Coordinator for all Army Military Funeral Honors.