WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department failed to plan adequately prior to the collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan, according to a 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 former President Joe Biden for their efforts before and after US forces withdrew from Kabul in August 2021. The USA evacuated An estimated 124,000 Afghans out of the country.
Republicans, in turn, accused Biden of not taking responsibility for intelligence failures leading up to the Taliban takeover of the country and for the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport, where 13 US soldiers and about 170 Afghans died in a suicide bombing.
Biden expressed defiance when asked Friday if he would admit the US made mistakes before and during its exit.
“Remember what I said about Afghanistan? I said al-Qaeda wouldn’t be there,” Biden said. “I said we would get help from the Taliban. What’s happening now? What’s up? Read your press. I was right.”
The US in July 2022 killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawari in a drone strike on his home in Kabul, part of what the Biden administration has described as “over the horizon” ability to target the group after the pullout. It’s a United Nations surveillance team reported in May that al-Qaeda considers Afghanistan a “safe haven” and that the Taliban had failed to honor previous counter-terrorism commitments.
“Al-Qaeda is keeping a low profile and is focused on using the country as an ideological and logistical hub to mobilize and recruit new fighters while covertly rebuilding its external operational capabilities,” the report said.
According to Friday’s report, a State Department task force helped pick up nearly 2,000 Afghan citizens in July and early August 2021, weeks ahead of the August 31, 2021 withdrawal deadline set by the US. They were eligible for processing under a special US visa program for Afghans.
But the state “failed to set up a broader task force as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated,” the report said.
And with the military planning to evacuate American civilians and Afghan allies, “it was unclear who was in charge at the ministry,” it said.
“President Trump and President Biden’s decisions to end the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan had serious implications for the Afghan government’s viability and security,” the review said. “These decisions are beyond the scope of this review, but the (review) team found that during both terms, senior management did not adequately consider worst-case scenarios and how quickly they could materialize.”
As the Taliban took key cities much faster than most US officials expected and the fate of Kabul became unclear, State Department officials received an “overwhelming volume of incoming calls and messages” from lawmakers, other government agencies and the public, according to the report We are asking for your help in rescuing the people trapped in the country.
According to the report, staff facilitating the evacuation also faced confusing instructions that were not tailored to real-world conditions at the time.
The state learned lessons from Afghanistan’s mistakes in evacuating people before and during the ensuing war in Ukraine and as a crisis unfolded in Sudan, according to a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on Friday. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity, according to ground rules established by the department.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a letter to staff that the review was “vital in building a stronger department, better prepared to respond to future challenges and fulfill our missions around the world.”
The Biden administration released parts of the long-awaited state report, which was completed in March 2022, on the Friday before the July 4 bank holiday weekend, but withheld most of the report from release. It had released However, a review of the withdrawal by the National Security Council the day before Good Friday and over Easter weekend declined to release internal Pentagon and State Department assessments. The Pentagon report is still classified.
Officials declined to say why they released the report just before a bank holiday weekend.
Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on the administration to release the full report. “This is another apparent attempt to hide the Biden administration’s guilt in the chaotic and deadly evacuation from Afghanistan,” he said in a statement.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the report or McCaul’s testimony, but noted that government officials responded to bipartisan inquiries and provided “thousands of pages of information.”
“That means transparency,” she said. “That means being there, answering and answering difficult questions.”
This version corrects that 13 US soldiers, not just Marines, died in the 2021 suicide attack on Kabul Airport.