White House releases after-action reviews on Afghanistan withdrawal.
Photo: Families walk towards their flight during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 24, 2021. (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/Marine Corps)
The documented lessons learned from the Afghanistan withdrawal became publicly available for the first time on Thursday with the White House’s release of its after-action reviews.
The review places significant blame on the Trump administration for its handling of the Afghanistan war and drawdown agreement with the Taliban, which the Biden administration ultimately decided to abide by, according to a 12-page summary posted to the White House’s website.
The complete, classified version of the after-action review was provided to lawmakers on Thursday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a briefing.
The first page of the report offers a roundup of actions taken in Afghanistan by the previous administration, including drawing down the U.S. personnel presence from 10,000 troops to 2,500, signing an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw by May 1, 2021, and pressuring the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban fighters from prison.
“As a result, when President Biden took office on January 20, 2021, the Taliban were in the strongest military position that they had been in since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country,” according to the report.
The Biden administration announced in April 2021 that all troops would be withdrawn from the country by that September, having negotiated with the Taliban to hold off beyond the originally agreed upon May 1 date. But it wasn’t until months later that a coordinated effort began to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies, including those who worked in some capacity with the U.S. government and had applied for special visas.
“Ultimately, the Administration made a decision to engage in unprecedently extensive targeted outreach to Americans and Afghan partners about the risk of collapse,” officials wrote in the report. This effort, the report continued, included “numerous security alerts and tens of thousands of direct phone calls and messages to U.S. citizens in particular to leave Afghanistan, but to not broadcast loudly and publicly about a potential worst-case scenario unfolding in order to avoid signalling a lack of confidence in the ANDSF or the Afghan government’s position.”
Despite their attempts to avoid creating a panic, the Taliban’s advance on Kabul on Aug. 14 destroyed any chance of an orderly drawdown.
What happened next — during the second half of August 2021 — cascaded into a frantic evacuation of more than 120,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, culminating in an August. 25, 2021, suicide bomber attack at the airport’s main gate. The following day, an errant U.S. strike on what was suspected to be another ISIS target killed 10 civilians, including seven children.
The Biden Administration has acknowledged that its top intelligence officials did not correctly anticipate how fast the Taliban would seize control of Afghanistan as U.S. troops prepared to withdraw, nor did they realize that the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces would crumble under Taliban pressure as quickly as they did.