Three and a half weeks ago I had breakfast with the Afghan national security advisor in his five-star hotel on London’s Park Lane.
By then, the Taliban advance was on the move, but the group was yet to score any major victories and talk was still of the long game.
Hamdullah Mohib explained how his focus for the coming six months was on strengthening the military and consolidating their powerbase for the inevitable fight ahead.
That wasn’t even a month ago, but nobody around that table foresaw the speed at which Afghanistan would implode.
The finger of blame can be pointed in many directions:
• at Donald Trump for negotiating a bad deal with the Taliban last year;
• at Joe Biden for the secretive and sudden way in which he pulled US troops out;
• at Boris Johnson, Jens Stoltenberg and other NATO leaders for failing to agree a framework to keep forces in the country, even without American support;
• at President Ashraf Ghani for isolating much of his country and alienating provinces and local leaders;
• and at Afghan forces, who after years of training and mentoring, and equipped with trillions of dollars of high-tech equipment, seemingly gave up with little fight.
The truth, I’m afraid, is always far more nuanced in these situations, as much as our natural instinct wants a single fall guy. And this isn’t a one-off.
Last year US forces were pelted with stones as they suddenly upped and left northern Syria, abandoning their Kurdish partners, and many Libyans still feel betrayed after NATO forces removed Colonel Gaddafi from power in 2011 then turned their back as the country descended into civil war.
America’s record of intervening and then leaving is becoming an unwelcome reputation – and the UK, always so desperately keen to be seen as the US’s closest ally, is inevitably burdened with the same brush.
The anger is as understandable as it is widespread. The beleaguered Afghan defence minister tweeted that “they tied our hands behind our backs and sold the homeland, damn the rich man and his gang”.
Any number of former soldiers, many of them now MPs, have spoken on the airwaves of their deep unrest over decisions made in Washington and London – they feel every bit as betrayed as the Afghans that are being left behind.
For all the trillions of dollars of money, thousands of lives lost, and decades spent trying to install democracy and stability in Afghanistan, Britain and America have been beaten by an insurgent force that was prepared to bide its time.
As much as politicians on both sides of the Atlantic now try to justify the withdrawal, abandoning embassies and fleeing to the airport to catch military flights out of the country was not the departure anyone wanted.
The same politicians said there was no military solution in Afghanistan, and they were wrong – there was a military solution, the Taliban took it, and they’ve won.