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Report Criticizes Handling of Afghan Evacuation, Blames Biden Administration

State Department Condemned for Failure to Manage Crisis in Afghanistan

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In a scathing report released by the US State Department on Friday, the handling of the 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan was heavily criticized.

The report highlighted the detrimental impact of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops, as well as his predecessor Donald Trump’s decision, on the former US-backed government’s viability and security. While the report did not explicitly name Secretary of State Antony Blinken, it portrayed his department in a negative light.

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It condemned the department’s failure to bolster its crisis-management task force as the Taliban advanced on Kabul in August 2021 and the absence of a senior diplomat overseeing the crisis response.

The evacuation and withdrawal of US and allied officials, citizens, and at-risk Afghans resulted in chaotic scenes at Kabul airport, with desperate Afghans attempting to enter and individuals clinging to departing aircraft. Tragically, an Islamic State suicide bomber claimed the lives of 13 US servicemembers and more than 150 Afghans outside an airport gate.

The State Department’s 24-page After Action Report, part of an 85-page document, shed light on the shortcomings of the evacuation operation conducted as the last US-led international forces concluded their 20-year presence supporting successive Kabul governments against the Taliban.

Amidst the difficulties posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and reduced security due to the US troop drawdown, the performance of American embassy personnel was commendable, according to the report.

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However, it also emphasized how the rapidity of the troop withdrawal exacerbated the challenges faced by the department. While the White House released a report in April based on the findings of this review and a similar Pentagon study, the critical aspects of the State Department’s review were not included, raising concerns.

“He had to make a decision,” defended White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre when responding to criticism of President Biden’s handling of the Afghan pullout.

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She stressed that the United States had invested vast amounts of money in a seemingly endless war, and Biden’s objective was to put an end to it. Meanwhile, Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Donald Trump, firmly pointed fingers at Biden as solely responsible for the disastrous pullout.

The White House report identified a lack of planning and troop reduction rounds by Trump following a 2020 deal with the Taliban as the cause of the chaotic US pullout and evacuation operation.

However, a senior State Department official refrained from commenting on the internal coordination and the core conclusions presented by the administration in April. The official chose to remain anonymous but did mention that the review, dated March 2022, was made public on the eve of the 4th of July holiday weekend without an explanation.

Before the departure of the last US soldiers on August 30, 2021, a total of 125,000 individuals, including nearly 6,000 Americans, were flown out of Kabul. This occurred as the Taliban tightened their grip on the city after the US-backed government fled.

The review pointed out that the decisions made by both Presidents Trump and Biden regarding the end of the US military mission in Afghanistan had severe repercussions for the Afghan government’s viability and security. It also criticized the insufficient consideration of worst-case scenarios and the quick succession of events during both administrations.

A spokesperson from the White House refuted the conclusion reached by the State Department review, referring to the extensive meetings and exercises conducted during the planning process to explore various evacuation scenarios.

They emphasized that contingencies were envisioned that were actually worse than the worst-case predictions. However, the State Department review maintained that planning for the evacuation encountered obstacles due to the lack of clarity regarding the senior official in charge.

Moreover, they highlighted the failure of senior administration officials to make decisive choices regarding at-risk Afghans and the destinations for Afghan evacuees.

The review further noted that the Biden administration’s reluctance to undertake actions that could be interpreted as losing faith in the Kabul government hindered preparation and planning for the evacuation.

Additionally, the intricate structure of the department’s task force during the early stages of the evacuation proved confusing for many participants, amplifying issues related to knowledge management and communication across various lines of effort.

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