U.S. officials are engaged in cross-agency recriminations as they grapple with failures of intelligence, execution, and imagination that preceded the sudden collapse of Kabul and the chaotic evacuation underway.
President Biden, in his speech to the nation on Monday, pointed to the May 1, 2021 U.S. withdrawal deadline that former President Donald Trump‘s administration negotiated with the Taliban – as well as the failure of U.S. trained Afghan forces to fight.
‘Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,’ Biden said. ‘If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.’
Biden administration officials are pointing fingers at various agencies who failed to properly plan for or anticipate the sudden Taliban takeover of Kabul
He stood by the determination to pull out as the ‘right decision.’
Diplomats have said they were relying on intelligence assessments that the collapse of Kabul was less than imminent – although the Intelligence Community briefed lawmakers in July about the ‘accelerating’ pace of Taliban gains.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said at a Pentagon press conference late last month, even amid Taliban gains across provinces: ‘And there is a range of possible outcomes in Afghanistan. … A negative outcome – a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan – is not a foregone conclusion.’
That estimation of the Afghan government’s strength also influenced the White House position, as President Biden publicly announced a total withdrawal of U.S. forces by Sept. 11th, then moved up the date by weeks.
A White House official singled out Milley’s public assessment, calling it ‘utter bunk,’ CNN reported.
‘We have noted the troubling trend lines in Afghanistan for some time, with the Taliban at its strongest, militarily, since 2001. Strategically, a rapid Taliban takeover was always a possibility,’ said a senior intelligence official Sunday.
Defense officials have said they prepared for worst-case scenarios, and have expressed frustration that State Department officials didn’t speed evacuation actions.
Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby, a former State Department spokesman under President Obama, said the administration did plan for Taliban gains.
He spoke to CNN Tuesday about the chaotic departure flights from Hamid Karzai airport that reportedly left eight people dead.
‘Could we have predicted every single scenario and every single breach around the perimeter of the airport with only a couple of thousand troops on the ground?’ Kirby said. ‘Plans are terrific and we take them seriously, but they are not and never have been perfectly predictive.’
Former Donald Trump national security advisor John Bolton told the network Tuesday that both Trump and Biden made the strategic mistake of withdrawing from the 20-year war.
This image distributed Courtesy of the US Air Force shows the inside of Reach 871, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III flown from Kabul to Qatar on August 15, 2021
Pentagon assessments of the durability of Afghan national forces are also coming under scrutiny. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the military had planned for contingencies involving a Taliban takeover
‘It’s been a catastrophe and I’m afraid it’s going to get worse. I think Biden does bear primary responsibility for that although you see now fingers being pointed saying Trump didn’t leave us with any plans. We’ll have to see how that shakes out,’ he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified in June that he didn’t expect an ‘immediate deterioration in the situation’ as the U.S. undertook its drawdown.
“Whatever happens in Afghanistan, if there is a significant deterioration in security — that could well happen, we have discussed this before — I don’t think it’s going to be something that happens from a Friday to a Monday,’ he said – although what ultimately unfolded was a sudden Taliban takeover in a matter of days.
A foreign policy ally said Biden’s advisors would never have let him take off for Camp David last Friday, as the president did, had they anticipated the sudden collapse, the Washington Post reported.