WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department did not plan enough before the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan, according to a Biden administration review of the department’s performance during the chaotic evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies.
The review repeatedly blames the administrations of former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden for their efforts before and after the August 2021 departure of US forces from Kabul. The United States evacuated approximately 124,000 Afghans from the country.
Republicans in turn have accused Biden of failing to take responsibility for the intelligence lapses that led to the Taliban’s takeover of the country and scenes of chaos at Kabul airport, where 13 US soldiers and about 170 Afghans are died in a suicide bombing.
Biden was defiant when asked Friday if he would admit that the United States had made mistakes before and during its withdrawal.
“Do you remember what I said about Afghanistan? I said al-Qaeda wouldn’t be there,” Biden said. “I said we were going to get help from the Taliban. What happens now? What is going on? Read your press. I was right.”
In July 2022, the United States killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in a drone strike on his home in Kabul, in what the Biden administration calls an “out of the box” capability. ‘horizon’ to target the group after the withdrawal. But a United Nations monitoring team reported in May that al-Qaeda considered Afghanistan “a safe haven” and that the Taliban had failed to live up to previous commitments to fight terrorism.
“Al-Qaeda maintains a low profile, focusing on using the country as an ideological and logistical hub to mobilize and recruit new fighters while covertly rebuilding its overseas operations capability,” the observers said in their report.
According to Friday’s report, a State Department task force helped extricate nearly 2,000 Afghan citizens in July and early August 2021, weeks ahead of the August 31, 2021 deadline set by the United States for withdrawal. They were eligible for processing under a special US visa program for Afghans.
But the state “failed to establish a broader task force as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated,” the report said.
And because the military was planning an evacuation of American civilians and Afghan allies, “it was unclear who in the department was in charge,” he said.
“President Trump’s and President Biden’s decisions to end the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan have had serious consequences for the viability of the Afghan government and its security,” the review said. “These decisions are beyond the scope of this review, but the (review) team found that over the course of both administrations, there was not enough senior-level consideration of worst-case scenarios and how quickly these might follow.”
As the Taliban took key cities much faster than most U.S. officials expected and Kabul’s fate became uncertain, according to the report, State Department personnel began to receive a ” overwhelming volume of incoming calls and messages” from lawmakers, other government agencies and the public. pleading for help to save people trapped in the country.
According to the report, staff working to facilitate the evacuation also had to contend with confusing guidelines that were unsuited to real-world conditions at the time.
The state took lessons from Afghanistan’s failures when evacuating people before and during the ensuing war in Ukraine and as a crisis developed in Sudan, according to a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on Friday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with ground rules established by the department.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a letter to employees that the review was “vital to building a stronger department that is better prepared to meet future challenges and fulfill our missions around the world.”
The Biden administration released sections of the long-awaited state report, which was completed in March 2022, the Friday before the July 4 holiday weekend, though it withheld most of the report from the publication. It had released a National Security Council review of the withdrawal the day before Good Friday and Easter weekend, but declined to release the internal Pentagon and State Department assessments. The Pentagon report is still classified.
Officials declined to say why they released the report just before a holiday weekend.
Representative Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on the administration to release the full report. “This is yet another blatant attempt to hide the Biden administration’s culpability in the chaotic and deadly evacuation from Afghanistan,” he said in a statement.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on McCaul’s report or statement, but noted that administration officials responded to bipartisan requests and provided “thousands of pages of ‘information’.
“It’s being transparent,” she said. “It’s being there, answering and answering those tough questions.”
This version fixes the fact that 13 US soldiers, not just Marines, died in the 2021 suicide bombing at Kabul airport.