In American football, when a player fumbles the ball, his team loses the chance to advance across the field. Even worse, the power dynamic of the whole game shifts if the opposing team gains possession of the ball. The failed withdrawal from Afghanistan was a costly fumble not just for the U.S. but also for the Afghan people. Lives were lost, diplomatic relations deteriorated, and China gained an ally. We knew $7.1B in U.S.-funded military equipment that was left behind fell into the hands of the Taliban. 

Americans should know that the fall of Afghanistan has had major geopolitical implications far beyond the borders of this devastated Middle Eastern country. The U.S. cannot afford to ignore these implications. Figuratively speaking, we have to recover the ball, so we aren’t stuck playing defense against an increasingly aggressive Russia and China.  

The U.S. government along with the State and Commerce Departments are sticklers when it comes to exporting military equipment to other countries, especially those that are on the Countries of Concern (CoC) list. However, following the botched withdrawal, much of that advanced military equipment and weapons did not make it back to the United States. The Taliban seized on this opportunity to use the equipment for other conflicts across the globe. 

Regardless of your views on U.S. military aid to Ukraine, we have a bigger concern with what type of U.S. military equipment may be in Russia’s arsenal. We know that Russia has become even closer with Afghanistan, specifically the Taliban, after the U.S. withdrawal a year and a half ago. Even though some deny that the Taliban are providing weapons to Russia, we can’t help but wonder if the recruited Afghan soldiers brought their own U.S. military equipment to the fight against Ukraine. 

But it’s not just Russia that is benefiting from these weapons; the Taliban are diversifying their outreach into other parts of the world. NBC News reported that U.S. weapons surfaced in Kashmir, a highly contested South Asian region between Pakistan and India. This is significant, as the U.S. already has an unstable relationship with Pakistan, in part because the U.S. is building coalitions and partnerships with their adversary, India. This is driving Pakistan closer to China.

In The Chinese Military Power – 2022 report, China calls out Pakistan as their international partner. The Foreign Affairs Minister of Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has called China its second home. Furthermore, in recent days, the Financial Times reported a potential financial crisis in Pakistan due to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suspending disbursements of a $7 billion assistance package which was halted last year. Coincidently, this comes right before Pakistan’s elections, where the current prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, is being challenged by former ousted prime minister, Imran Khan, who is widely popular among Pakistanis and is outspokenly anti-America.

While the U.S. continues to stumble over itself on the global stage with weak foreign affairs and relations policies, China continues to build up its circle of allies. We need a long-term strategy that includes increased diplomatic and economic pressures. We must strengthen our alliances across the world, especially in key countries. And most importantly, we need to hold our adversaries accountable for their actions. 

Sometimes in a football game, the highlight reel shows how key plays changed the dynamic and direction of the whole game. The fall of Afghanistan was a key moment in the global power game — and a bad one for the United States. Our rivals are effectively capitalizing on our catastrophic exit from the country, and we seem to have no effective response. Our leadership — and the American people — need to fully take stock of how our failure in Afghanistan shifted momentum globally. We must avoid fumbles like this in the future, and implement a winning strategy instead.