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10 Feb, 2022 22:17

Pentagon names culprits behind disastrous Afghan withdrawal

US military points finger at President Joe Biden and other top officials for interfering in evacuation
Pentagon names culprits behind disastrous Afghan withdrawal

The Pentagon’s exhaustive report on the haphazard US departure from Afghanistan has revealed many on the ground blamed constant meddling by American VIPs for “distracting” them from what needed to be done, creating the chaotic scenes that shocked observers at home.

According to the 2,000 page report, obtained by the Washington Post via the Freedom of Information Act request earlier this week, the senior officers in charge of the evacuation were even forced to change plans because of the nonstop interference from afar. The report includes numerous interviews, including testimony regarding the suicide bombing outside the airport that killed 170 Afghans and 13 Americans just days before they were supposed to leave Afghanistan for good after the longest war in US history.

You had everyone from the White House down with a new flavor of the day for prioritization,” Rear Admiral Peter Vasely, the senior US figure in Kabul at the time of the evacuation, told the military interviewer. And it wasn’t just President Biden calling in favors, either – First Lady Jill Biden, members of Congress, journalists, and even the Vatican all weighed in on who needed rescuing the most, according to the rear admiral.

I cannot stress enough how these high-profile requests ate up bandwidth and created competition for already-stressed resources,” Vasely continued, noting that he could “only speculate” regarding whether the confusion and chaos that resulted caused some Americans and friendly Afghans to be left behind.

With thousands of phone calls, texts, and emails descending on Kabul during the 17-day evacuation, Vasely said he had no choice but to pull personnel from other operations to form a “coordination cell” able to process all the communications. 

Social media, he said, only made things worse – giving people the ability to campaign for the military to rescue not just specific people, but specific dogs. 

While Biden insisted with less than a week to go before the US had promised to depart that no American who wanted to leave would be left behind, it soon became obvious that getting everyone out by August 31st would not be possible, and the administration reportedly considered extending the deadline into September – only to be met with a “visceral response” from the Taliban, who were effectively in charge of the country by that point.

The initial plan had been to evacuate American citizens, then lawful permanent residents, and finally Afghans who had helped the Americans during the two-decade occupation of their country. Military leaders had urged the White House and State Department to sign off on evacuation preparations weeks in advance, but complained the stateside authorities had “failed to grasp” the Taliban’s rapid progress toward Kabul, believing they had more time than they actually did.

However, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has defended the administration’s sluggish response, insisting the National Security Council had been meeting on the topic of withdrawing from Afghanistan for “months,” plotting out responses to various crises – except the one that actually occurred. They couldn’t possibly have foreseen how easily the Afghan security forces would be vanquished by the Taliban, she said. 

While the exact number of US citizens left behind vacillated between 100 and 450 depending on when one asked the State Department, a White House official who spoke to the Post believes every American who wanted to leave Afghanistan has had a chance to do so.

It’s not clear whether the Pentagon’s report also included statistics on how many of the Afghans who assisted the Americans in the war effort made it out of the country. Many attracted the unwanted attention of the Taliban when the Biden administration handed out a list of their names to the fundamentalist group so that they could be allowed through the perimeter to the airport. A Pentagon official told Politico at the time that the administration had effectively handed the Taliban a “kill list,” noting the group’s reputation for doing away with their countrymen who assisted the Americans.