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The Botched US Exit From Afghanistan

The last few weeks have witnessed a plethora of activities happening in Washington – including the Pentagon leaks, the TikTok saga, former President Donald Trump’s indictment and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy – that overshadowed a significant development: a report about the botched exit of the U.S. from Afghanistan.

On April 6, the Joe Biden administration publicly released a 12-page report, drawn from top-secret State Department and Pentagon reviews sent to Congress, which not only elicited a bitter controversy between Democrats and Republicans but also blatantly exposed the incompetence and complete failure of the American paraphernalia during the withdrawal of the American forces from Afghanistan in August 2021. However, in this report, little responsibility is attributed to President Biden for the actions taken in Afghanistan. Instead, the blame has been shifted onto the Trump administration for the chaotic and messy withdrawal of U.S. personnel and assets from Afghanistan. Furthermore, the report claims that “President Biden’s choices for executing a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor.”

In the scathing review, the Biden administration lambasted its predecessor, the Trump administration, for its insufficient preparations in implementing the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the Taliban.

Despite President Biden’s commitment to uphold the deal, the review highlighted the Trump administration’s failure to plan for its execution adequately. “During the transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration, the outgoing administration provided no plans for conducting the final withdrawal or evacuating Americans and Afghan allies. Indeed, there were no such plans when President Biden came into office, even with the agreed upon full withdrawal just over three months away,” the report said.

‘No one other than Biden is responsible’

As expected, Republicans and Trump have retorted very severely on this report. First, Trump reacted harshly by counter-accusing the Biden administration of playing “a new disinformation game” to distract from “their grossly incompetent surrender in Afghanistan.”

He also alleged on his social media site, “Biden is responsible, no one else!” Similarly, a large number of Republican lawmakers have been criticizing the contents of the report – kicking off a new verbal brawl between Democrats and Republicans on this matter.

As the United States began its long-awaited withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, the government of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani crumbled, and the Taliban seized control of the capital city of Kabul. In the ensuing chaos, American troops, relegated to the vicinity of the city’s airport, evacuated scores of American nationals and desperate Afghans in a dangerous two-week operation. However, the rescue mission was marred by a devastating suicide bombing perpetrated by the Afghanistan branch of Daesh, which claimed the lives of at least 175 people, including 13 members of the U.S. armed forces.

The report claimed that faulty policies regarding who was permitted to board evacuation flights out of Afghanistan had been identified by aid groups and evacuees as a primary source of the chaos that ensued during the withdrawal. Among those left in limbo were Afghans who had provided vital support to the U.S. military, such as interpreters and other personnel, and were at high risk of retribution from the Taliban. The failure to provide clear guidelines for the safe evacuation of these vulnerable individuals has been widely criticized. In addition, the searing image of scores of desperate Afghans chasing a U.S. military plane as it departed from Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport, some even clinging to the aircraft’s landing gear before plummeting to their deaths, has come to symbolize the wild and fraught nature of the withdrawal. The footage provoked widespread condemnation of the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis, spotlighting the human toll of a hasty and disorderly retreat from the country.

Blame game

Now, through this report, the Biden administration has blamed the Trump administration and the intelligence apparatus for this disastrous exit from Afghanistan. However, the report exposes two significant flaws in handling the whole episode: One, the highly defective assessment of the Taliban’s military capabilities by the U.S. intelligence agencies, and two, the lack of proper planning and coordination between the State Department and the Pentagon. According to the report, there were overly rosy assessments from the intelligence community regarding the capabilities of the Afghan forces in countering the Taliban’s possible attacks. For example, the summary report noted the review of the U.S. intelligence community in May 2021 that “Kabul would probably not come under serious pressure until late 2021 after U.S. troops departed.”

“No U.S. agency predicted that the group would take over so quickly, nor that the Afghans would fail to fight for their country, especially after 20 years of American support,” said John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council coordinator, while explaining this point to the media.

To fuel this faulty assessment of the intelligence apparatus, a further lack of interagency coordination and incoherent direction from the White House resulted in one of the worst and most chaotic U.S. evacuation operations in American history. Though the report claims that it had taken candid and extensive consultations with all the stakeholders, including NATO members, before finalizing the exit plan, the botched evacuation drill that was witnessed in the last two weeks of August 2021 tells a different story – an amalgam of incompetence, overconfidence, confusion, incoordination and irresponsibility.

Source : DailySabah