What has happened in Afghanistan is not over. It is not permissible, excusable, forgivable. We cannot pivot away. What America just saw is gross betrayal. We continue to see it. Resignations are due.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, lifetime Biden staffer, not only failed – as did Secretary of Defense Austin, Chairman Milley, National Security Advisor Sullivan, President Biden, and Vice President Harris – but failed spectacularly when they need not have. Then – like his boss – he ducked his failures.
What did they do? In July 2020, more than a year ago – Congress voted overwhelmingly to prevent an unconditional pullout, language in the National Defense Authorization Act. Nevertheless, in January 2021, Biden gave up, no serious attempt to get the Taliban and Afghan government together, just punt.
Biden said in April; all US troops would be out by the 20th anniversary of 9-11, optics. If things did not come off smoothly, the default was to blame Trump. No forethought went into the obvious. See, e.g., Biden announces withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 9/11; Biden will withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021.
Trump had pursued conditional withdrawal, tick-tock toward peace before the removal of the US military. Congress supported that approach. What would happen if withdrawal was non-conditional –cut and run?
Answer: The Taliban would plan to retake all 34 provinces, converge on Kabul near withdrawal.
What would happen to US civilians if the government collapsed – as even President Biden realized, asking Afghan leadership to push the idea they could hold on, “whether true or not?” How would thousands of Americans safely get out of a Taliban-controlled country?
Answer: Cut and run (no conditions) withdrawal would complicate everything, making it more dangerous and planning vital. State, with statutory responsibility for evacuating American citizens (AMCITs), would need a clear, multi-month extraction. AMCITS would need ample time (several weeks) to get to Bagram AFB, two runways, good force protection, under total US control.
More, State knew how many were in country – from two sources, the embassy’s F77 report, which showed between 15,000 and 40,000 Americans there, and second the embassy’s Mascot system, voluntary but detailed. Both lists were imperfect, but offered a way to find AMCITS, none left behind.
The Obama Administration had set up a bureau at State to manage extractions. Trump elevated it to get 100,000 AMCITS home in 2020 (COVID). This Crisis and Contingency Response Bureau (CCR) was ready.
What else would need to be done? The perimeter around Bagram AFB would reinforcement, Kabul’s perimeter protected if that airport was back up. While State had responsibility, Defense would support.
By way of example, when Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, setting up the police training facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, my mission included coordinating with Defense. We arranged nine C-130s ferrying roughly 1500 vetted Iraqi police recruits in and out of Jordan monthly. Coordination was vital, White House National Security Council central, State in lead. It worked.
Since the US and NATO had relied on hundreds of thousands of Afghans who had worked directly for the US, NATO, NGOs, and contractors over 20 years, they needed to get safely out. In such situations, State sets up a country-specific Crisis Task Force to assist extraction, giving people time to register.
Once the multi-month operation commenced, all would be safely withdrawn, most allies vetted at the embassy, Bagram ASB, or Kabul Airport, based on documents, contacts, and interviews – mass effort. With an initial pool of 20,000 SIVs filed in 2021, State would need perhaps 200 visa application reviewers, meaning employees of Consular Affairs plus contractors.
While hurdles were high, State would lead, Defense support, Interagency help coordinate concentric circles of travel and SIV refugee placements. NATO allies would be included, assuring none left behind.
So, what happened? The exact opposite. The Secretary of State, hoping to avoid evacuation responsibility, secretly abolished the CCR bureau in July, suggesting Defense manage the mayhem. The state delayed notifying Congress, prepared to say Consular Affairs (underwater) could do it. CCR leadership warned the Secretary, and when ignored, resigned.
More than two dozen seasoned Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) converged – via the dissent channel – to protest the coming disaster, appealing to the Secretary to halt the mayhem. He ignored them.
No methodically staged, multi-month extraction process got planned. AMC and allies were left to fend for themselves. Bagram AFB and Kabul perimeter were given to the Taliban. No effort was made to get Americans or Afghan allies to Kabul.
State’s F77 report, which showed between 15,000 and 40,000 Americans in-country, was hidden. When questioned, State made no mention of it, or its tendency to underestimated – nor of the Mascot system.
The state made no mention that the US military ISAF commander had directly confronted the acting Ambassador in Afghanistan in early summer – and been shown the door. They made no mention that they had put only four embassy consular personnel on 20,000 Afghan SIV visa applications in 2021.
The state made no effort – until crisis – to understand how many NATO personnel, Afghan allies helping NATO allies, Afghans who had helped the US existed. Incredibly – unlike any prior operation – they set up no Crisis Task Force, where those seeking help could register. One never existed.
What else? Having failed at every turn, they began to lie. State and Defense pulled in behind the President, who was also lying. No methodical planning was done, and all know it. Americans still in-country may number thousands, or hundreds, all marked. Same for allied Afghan lives, cheap to Biden.
Ditto for women and girls, who will – without Taliban contrition, apology, or empathy – be subject to unspeakable treatment, on a level and scale not understood by the West. No empathy, no apology.
Finally, continuation of lies should incense every moral American. The sense that officials within this White House, State, and Defense can just pick up and go one, that all is well, pivot to new issues, change the subject, walk away when the opposite is true, is beyond comment. That is all that can be said because Americans deserve better. No amount of spin changes facts. If honor matters, resignations are overdue.