“Nemo resideo.” It’s a phrase arguably as old as warfare itself. The Latin is most often translated to English as, “Leave no man behind.”
It’s a principle America needs to apply, today, with one linguistic tweak:
Leave no one behind.
The concept is a familiar one in U.S. military culture and lore. It’s ensconced as part of the U.S. Army Rangers’ creed: “I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.” It’s also part of the soldier’s creed and the airman’s creed.
We take care of our own. Whether it’s a comrade killed, wounded or trapped, or a civilian in need of rescue. We don’t leave them behind. We don’t abandon them to a fate to be determined by the enemy.
We’ve seen the principle applied in action — often successfully, sometimes not, and sometimes at the additional cost of life — on battlefields in far-flung locales including North America, Europe, the Pacific, Southeast Asia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
That’s the one on America’s plate right now. And, in particular, on the plate of President Joe Biden.
I’m not here today to beat up Biden for how America’s exit from Afghanistan was mishandled. At this point, that’s basically a given: The administration removed the military before ensuring safe transport for those who would be vulnerable once the troops left. They didn’t use the secure air base at Bagram while it was still secure, leaving many thousands in a crush to get into the airport at Kabul.
This was a botched exit.
That doesn’t mean leaving was a bad idea. It seems people of varying political stripes can agree on a couple of things: First, we mostly seem to agree that the time to get out of Afghanistan has come, 20 years after we went there in hot pursuit of Osama bin Laden and those who harbored him. Many of the Taliban taking up arms today weren’t even born yet.
And second, the exit has not gone well. Who’s to blame? Biden? Any one of his presidential predecessors over the past two decades? All of them, to one degree or another? It’s a fair question.
That’s not what matters today.
What matters today is getting our people out. And damn the Aug. 31 deadline that’s been set as some sort of line in the sand.
Biden needs to abandon that deadline.
The new deadline should be: whenever we are duly satisfied that we have our people out.
As of this writing, thousands of refugees and U.S. nationals are struggling to run a Taliban gauntlet to get to the airport in Kabul, a much less defensible space than the Bagram air base that the U.S. abandoned in the force drawdown that preceded the Taliban’s walkover of an Afghan army that was clearly not up to the task, despite years of training and state-of-the-art U.S.-supplied equipment.
But we still have the capability, from weapons to aircraft to drones to vehicles to boots we can put on the ground, to exert control over the situation in Kabul — and, while we are at it, destroy much of the $80 billion in left-behind military equipment that has been allowed to fall into Taliban hands.
President Biden needs to order an aggressive approach to getting it done. That doesn’t mean starting another 20-year war — it means deploying the full force of the resources at our disposal to bring this one to a more graceful end, and protect the people we are responsible for protecting.
We can’t take everyone who wants out. This should not turn into a mass migration event. But we can, and must, evacuate every last U.S. citizen and Afghan family who can be confirmed as being at risk as a result of partnering with the U.S. over the past 20 years.
It will take more time than some people want to spend doing it. It will come at a cost. But the cost of failing is greater. Many thousands of civilian lives are at stake. We have the mightiest armed forces the world has ever known, with the best people and the most sophisticated technology.
We should be able to secure one airport, and the roads leading to it.
We should leave no one behind.
Nemo resideo, Mr. President. Nemo resideo.
Tim Whyte is the editor of The Signal.