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How Does The Taliban Victory Look To An Afghan Who Fought Alongside The U.S.?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How does the Taliban victory look to an Afghan who fought alongside the United States? This morning we reached a man who did. For his safety, we call him only Mohammed because he is living in Kabul. He's a longtime Air Force colonel. He was in his country's military academy back in 1979, just as Afghanistan's four decades of war began, and he saw it all before he retired in 2019. For many years, Mohammed served beside U.S. forces despite his doubts about the government they supported.

MOHAMMED: I thought there was a really big mistake - mistake was that the United States of America, they trusted the people who shouldn't be trusted because they were former mafia, drug smuggler, human trafficking. They steal money, and they just think about their self, not the making of government and making the nation. And I told every American who I talked with - I told them the problem in Afghanistan is the same like Vietnam, like in the South Vietnam government. I studied history. The main problem in the Vietnam was the South Vietnam corrupt government - of Americans. And the same was in Afghanistan. I told that this corrupt government will be a big problem. Everything will be waste in the end, the sacrifice of the American, the spending of the taxpayer money, everything. It will be just wasted in the end, and it became true. Today, I am witness of it.

INSKEEP: U.S. officials have said a number of times that they believed there were 300,000 Afghan troops and police and other armed forces, but there were some analysts who said it wasn't nearly that many people, that there were fewer soldiers while their commanders collected the pay of the soldiers who didn't exist. Do you believe there were 300,000 people fighting for the defense of Afghanistan at the end?

MOHAMMED: So in the papers, it was true. In the paper...

INSKEEP: On paper.

MOHAMMED: Yeah, yeah, in the paper. In the reality, maybe, it was not true. But the main point is that the leadership - the leadership is more important than the subordinate because the willingness comes from the leadership. The hope is given to the subordinates from the leadership. And also, that trust to the future, it comes from the leadership. It seems like to inject it to the personnel - when the leadership has no trust, no belief in the future or the future of the structure of the government, it is not possible to enforce or to expect subordinate to fight in the way in which we wish. So in Afghanistan, it's happened, like, the same way. When the subordinates saw that the leadership is busy with so many other things, there is no expectation from subordinate to fight.

INSKEEP: Given all you've said, were you surprised when the Taliban won so quickly in recent days?

MOHAMMED: It's more than surprise, more than surprise, because when I heard the province - my province is surrounded, I was surprised. When I heard that the Kabul corps gave up the fighting, it was surprise to me.

INSKEEP: The entire army corps did give up, yes.

MOHAMMED: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Because the commander of the corps and the leadership of the government and some ministers, they did deal with the Taliban.

INSKEEP: They did deals. They cut deals for themselves, you're saying.

MOHAMMED: Yeah, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

INSKEEP: Is your family safe?

MOHAMMED: Thank God, yes.

INSKEEP: Some people have been rushing to the airport trying to get out. Have you been?

MOHAMMED: No. Because I know that without official documents, it will be not possible.

INSKEEP: What do you plan to do?

MOHAMMED: I can't say something about my plan because when you have no possibility to do something, what can you - plan something?

INSKEEP: There's nothing you can do. That's what you're telling me.

MOHAMMED: Yes.

INSKEEP: I suppose you have the experience of living under the Taliban. You survived it then.

MOHAMMED: See; to stay survive, it is one thing. To live like a human being, it is another. I hope you got my point.

INSKEEP: I did.

MOHAMMED: To stay survive, it is one thing, yes?

INSKEEP: Yes.

MOHAMMED: To have a life, it is another thing.

INSKEEP: What do you fear?

MOHAMMED: All of my children are educated. I have daughters, sons. And I just consider about their future so they will have opportunity to go work or not.

INSKEEP: Do you think people who are educated will be targets?

MOHAMMED: I'm not sure. I don't - I can't say that because it is not possible to kill the whole nation. It never happens, to kill the whole nation.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MOHAMMED: It is not possible.

INSKEEP: Do you think Afghanistan is any better for the last 20 years that the United States forces were there?

MOHAMMED: Oh, yes, it was better, and our expectation was to be much better because the amount of the wealth of - and the money which came to Afghanistan in the past, it could - to change Afghanistan completely to a different country. But because of the corrupt government and corrupt people, we lost that opportunity the past 20 years. That is thousands of thousands of - maybe million girls went to the schools. They had opportunity to go to university, schools and other things. They were social, active, and they were active in every part of the social life, and it was a lot of changing.

INSKEEP: What hope do you have for the future?

MOHAMMED: If - see; in the reality, the hope never works. The reality is different. But if we come to the hope, I hope a better Afghanistan for my children and for others - the young generation to have a good Afghanistan. But hope is hope. It's always - not become true. The hopes always stay just hope.

INSKEEP: Colonel, thank you very much for taking the time.

MOHAMMED: Thank you, too.

INSKEEP: And good luck to you. Be safe.

MOHAMMED: Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "LEGO")

INSKEEP: Mohammed is a retired Afghan Air Force colonel who is in Kabul.

(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "LEGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.