August in Kabul
America’s last days in Afghanistan
Carlton VIC: Melbourne University Press, 2022
Paperback 304pp RRP $34.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, September 2022
Released on the anniversary of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, this highly-readable work looks at a variety of individuals in the days preceding 31 August 2021. Fortunately for the reader, there is ample background provided – in some cases going back as far as the 1980s. The narrative is broken into three period during August 2021.
As the Allies prepared to leave Afghanistan, their support to the Afghan Army dwindled away to virtually zero. Four tiny hilltop outposts in Maidan Wardak Province were left without food, water ammunition and medical back up. The Taliban were able to wait until the soldiers were no longer a viable force before overrunning the four posts. The second scenario involved a worker in media relations in the presidential palace, who knew he would be a Taliban target and had a family he did not want to leave behind. A third involved a young girl, whose two siblings were already in Germany, and the confronting fragile environment she experienced in Kabul and the deteriorating relationship with her father and older brothers in her home.
As the Taliban drew closer to Kabul and key infrastructures came under their control, Afghan soldiers walked away from Resolute Support Mission Headquarters in Kabul after having rid themselves of their uniforms and dissolved into the Kabul general population. The young girl could no longer go to classes and her father offered her as a Taliban bride for protection for the rest of his family. Meanwhile the Taliban were releasing inmates from the Bagram Prison that held many of their leaders.
The Doha Agreement, signed on 29th February 2020, guaranteed the US withdrawal by 2021, and the Taliban knew they only had to wait rather than continuing fighting. They continued to exploit everything to their advantage while they waited. As families made their way to the Kabul Airport in mid-August, the description of the traumas and difficulties they faced were indeed heart-breaking. The reader is privy to the duty of the US Marines who were flown into Kabul for ‘crowd control ‘at the airport. The bomb blast at Abbey Gate, and the deaths of those falling from one airborne aircraft, reminded us of the TV news footage we had seen twelve months earlier.
Andrew Quilty flew back into Kabul on 13th August determined to record the last days of the Allied occupation. As a result of many interviews, his choice of ‘cameos’ provide an excellent and very personalised account of the days in Kabul as they passed last August.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.