WASHINGTON — The State Department did not do enough planning ahead of the collapse of the US-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 departure of US forces from Kabul in August 2021. The US evacuated some 124,000 Afghans from the country.
The Republicans, in turn, accused Biden of failing to take responsibility for the intelligence failures that led to the Taliban takeover of the country and for the scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport, where 13 US soldiers and some 170 Afghans died in a suicide bombing.
Biden was defiant when asked on Friday if he would admit that the United States made mistakes before and during his withdrawal.
“Do you remember what I said about Afghanistan? I said al Qaeda would not be there,» Biden said. “I said we would get help from the Taliban. What is happening now? What is happening? Read your press. I was right.»
In July 2022, the US killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in a drone strike on his Kabul home, part of what the Biden administration calls an “on the horizon” capability to strike at the group after withdrawal. But a United Nations monitoring team reported in May that al-Qaeda considers Afghanistan «a safe haven» and that the Taliban had failed to honor previous commitments on counterterrorism.
“Al-Qaida is keeping a low profile, focusing on using the country as an ideological and logistical hub to mobilize and recruit new fighters while covertly rebuilding its external operations capacity,” the monitors said in their report.
According to Friday’s report, a State Department task force helped remove nearly 2,000 Afghan citizens in July and early August 2021, weeks before the August 31, 2021 deadline the United States set for withdrawal. . They were eligible for processing under a special US visa program for Afghans.
But State was «unable to establish a broader task force as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated,» the report says.
And because the military planned an evacuation of US civilians and Afghan allies, «it wasn’t clear who in the department had the lead,» he says.
“The decisions by both President Trump and President Biden to end the US military mission in Afghanistan had serious consequences for the viability of the Afghan government and its security,” the review says. «Those decisions are beyond the scope of this review, but the (review) team found that during both administrations there was not enough high-level consideration of worst-case scenarios and how quickly they might follow.»
As the Taliban seized key cities much faster than most US officials expected and the fate of Kabul became uncertain, the report says, State Department staff began receiving an «overwhelming volume of calls and incoming messages» from legislators, other government agencies, and the public. asking for help to save people trapped in the country.
Staff working to facilitate the evacuation also faced confusing guidance that was out of step with real-world conditions at the time, according to the report.
The state has heeded the lessons of Afghanistan’s failures to evacuate people before and during the subsequent war in Ukraine and as a crisis unfolded in Sudan, according to a senior State Department official who briefed reporters Friday. . The official spoke on condition of anonymity based on 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 respond to future challenges and fulfill our missions around the world.»