A failure of duty caused by lack of planning, coordination, and communication left hundreds of Americans and tens of thousands of allies in Afghanistan after a botched withdrawal from the country in August 2021, a new Senate report says.
The U.S. will have to deal with the fallout of this failure for years to come, Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, writes in the new report, issued by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, Feb. 3.
“The failure of senior Biden administration leadership to plan for this fateful day resulted in a rushed evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Americans, third-country nationals, and Afghans. It left behind hundreds, possibly thousands, of American citizens, tens of thousands of Afghan partners, and a legacy of American betrayal of allies,” says the report, titled, appropriately, “Left Behind: A Brief Assessment of the Biden Administration’s Strategic Failures during the Afghanistan Evacuation.”
The report is based on myriad interviews, testimony, and statements. It also references leaked documents from the Biden administration, reported by Axios.
On Aug. 17, at the height of evacuation efforts, senior State Department officials leading the evacuation task force indicated there were 10,000 to 15,000 Americans in Afghanistan, according to an F-77 report, the Senate’s new report says. The F-77 report was the result of U.S. State Department directives to embassies and consulates to submit an annual report on the estimated number of Americans in its respective area of responsibility. This report, the Senate’s study says, “plays a pivotal role in planning for and conducting evacuations.”
“By Aug. 31, when the president ordered an end to evacuation operations, State and [Department of Defense] had evacuated approximately 6,000 American citizens. Even taking the most conservative estimates from the F-77 report, this meant the United States left at least a few thousand people behind.”
In October, Carolina Journal, in a lengthy story, quoted President Biden, who said, “Now we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave. Most of those who remain are dual citizens, long-time residents who had earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan.”
“The bottom line: 98% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave,” Biden had said.
That statement appeared dubious, at best.
N.C. Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, went as far as telling CJ that Biden, if he had served in the military, should be court-martialed.
“It’s poor leadership taken to a new low level,” said Szoka, who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Army and whose legislative district includes Fort Bragg, home to the 82nd Airborne Division and 18th Airborne Corps.
“During the withdrawal,” the Senate report released Thursday says, “many senior leaders in Washington failed to recognize or adapt to worsening conditions on the ground. Meanwhile, those in the field, who could not wait, were forced to develop impromptu plans without guidance from senior leadership.
“DoD’s rapid departure from Afghanistan and President Biden’s decision to cease air support for the Afghan security forces produced problems later in the withdrawal. The United States abandoned Bagram Air Base on July 4, without even telling the Afghan base commander. In the process, the administration abandoned a facility that could have been critical to a better evacuation. At the same time, cutting support to the Afghan National Security Forces eliminated their ability to properly defend the country and set the conditions for the rapid fall of Kabul.”
The absence of U.S. forces left other U.S. personnel in Afghanistan exposed.
Jeff Newton, an Emmy-winning military reporter, videographer, and storyteller, covered the military and Fort Bragg for The Fayetteville Observer in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He covered the war in Bosnia and stories throughout the world. He shuttled between Iraq and Afghanistan, including, at one point, living in Afghanistan for 11 consecutive months, returning to the U.S. for maybe a couple of months each year.
Biden, Newton told CJ last year, could have reset the clock on Afghanistan.
“He could have reinforced with troops for a proper exit,” said Newton, who managed reporting teams for 60 Minutes, the National Geographic channel, and VICE TV. “[Biden] could have sent State Department people in to process thousands and thousands of visas since January when he got into office. We could have told them we’re going to need a couple more months and just dealt with it.
“Everybody says the Taliban would have started attacking Americans,” Newton told CJ. “Well, the Taliban was killing all the (Afghan) Army that was supposed to hold the country anyways. They never stopped doing that.”
Newton compared the botched exit to the moments before the Titanic sunk in the North Atlantic. Upon seeing the iceberg, Newton’s scenario goes, the captain decides it’s time for him to take his leave. ‘Good luck,’ he might have said, and ‘I hear the band is great.’
“Nobody spent any time saying, ‘Let’s secure these three air bases — Bagram, Kandahar, and Kabul. … [L]et’s make sure the people we want to get out — or off the ship — get off the ship before the captain does.
“Instead, the captain and all of his crew left early and then left the people on the ship to manage the exit themselves. They had to (add) 6,000 troops to the airport afterward, and they claimed what a great job that they did for it. They sent in a new captain and more people to finally try to get as many people off as they could and in the end claimed what a success it was.”
In October, Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighting the administration’s botched withdrawal, which cost the lives of two service members with North Carolina connections. Thirteen service members, including a Fort Bragg soldier and Camp Lejeune Marine, died while supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the Department of Defense announced Aug. 28.
The lawmakers, including Sen. Thom Tillis, and Rep. Richard Hudson, wanted to know how many Americans remained in Afghanistan. At the time, they wanted to know more about the 124,000 people evacuated from the country and about when Congress will receive updates about Special Immigrant Visa applicants, a congressional news release says.
Regarding the visas, the report says that, “Despite credible and substantial forewarning that the Taliban was advancing across the country, the Biden administration took minimal steps to improve processing under the SIV program. Instead of taking decisive executive action, the administration dithered, wasted time, and subsequently blamed Congress for the inability to expeditiously process SIVs at that time.”
It’s clear, the report concludes, that senior leadership in the Biden administration “failed to effectively plan, coordinate, and execute an orderly withdrawal and evacuation.”
“People will debate for years to come about the ‘why and ‘when’ of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan,” says the Senate report, which looked at the “how.”
“From the beginning, the interagency and specific departments ignored the warning signs of a Taliban takeover and wasted … precious days of planning and evacuation. Only hours before the Taliban captured Kabul did the interagency decide to start the evacuation.
“This failure of leadership cost U.S. military personnel lives and has left tens of thousands behind to an uncertain fate under Taliban control. Thousands of people — Americans, their allies, and those friendly to Americans — who wanted to leave Afghanistan amid the chaos after the Taliban takeover are still in the war-torn country. They’re afraid for their lives and for the lives of their friends and families, now subject to a brutal Muslim regime.”
The report includes several recommendations for the administration, such as developing a new system for accounting U.S. citizens overseas and improve transparency and coordination efforts with Congress.