The alternative would have likely seen living conditions drastically deteriorate, food and other types of riots breaking out, ISIS-K attacking plenty more ‘soft’ targets, and an intense domestic pressure campaign commencing to lobby Biden into at least forcefully breaking the Taliban’s blockade before withdrawing.
US President Joe Biden did the right thing by allowing the Pentagon to hand over Kabul to the Taliban following former Afghan President Ghani‘s unexpected departure than to assume full responsibility for the capital’s security. The Washington Post reported that it was America’s choice to do so since the Taliban allegedly let them decide which of the two should fill the security vacuum there. This was a wise choice despite being unpopular with the American public and signaling to the US’ allies that it won’t hold out to fight for them until the end.
The alternative would have resulted in an even greater disaster for the US because it would have been solely blamed for any ISIS-K attacks that took place there and would have ultimately withdrawn anyhow given Biden’s fortitude to stick to his initial decision to leave before September 11th at the latest. In fact, that scenario would have necessitated a sudden influx of even more US troops, increasing the financial costs and also creating many more targets for the terrorists to attack. It might then have been easier for self-interested domestic forces to pressure Biden into extending the withdrawal deadline indefinitely and directly clashing with the Taliban.
Either way, the US was going to leave Afghanistan, and the only question was how much it was willing to pay in physical and reputational costs for doing so. Retreating to the Kabul Airport allowed America to defend its most immediate interests of facilitating the panicked evacuation of its citizens and their allies as best as it could under those difficult conditions brought about by its complete intelligence failure in this war over the past two decades. The cost-benefit calculations evidently weighed towards preferring the humiliation that everyone recently saw than risking the potentially much worse “mission creep” that might have happened instead.
Imagining that the US would have retained control of Kabul, it would then have been regarded by the international community as fully responsible for its four million besieged people whose physical supply lines would have been choked off by the Taliban’s self-described “anaconda” strategy. Living conditions would have drastically deteriorated, food and other types of riots might have broken out, ISIS-K could have had plenty of more opportunities to attack “soft” targets, and an intense domestic pressure campaign would have commenced to lobby Biden into at least forcefully breaking the Taliban’s blockade before withdrawing.
It was a lose-lose situation either way after the US irresponsibly let everything get to this point in the first place so Biden chose the so-called “lesser of two evils” by sucking it up and taking the slings and arrows that followed. His administration, however, could have done a much better job explaining this cost-benefit calculation to the American people but either panicked, was incompetent, and/or felt that it might have been too demoralizing to officially admit that the world’s most powerful military had gotten itself cornered after failing so terribly to objectively assess the situation there in the last half-year of the war.