Biden's Aides Were 'Too Afraid' to Question His Decisions in Run-Up to Chaotic Afghan Exit
17:04 GMT 22.08.2021 (Updated: 16:36 GMT 08.12.2022)
© REUTERS / KEN CEDENOU.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security advisor Jake Sullivan listen as President Joe Biden delivers remarks on evacuation efforts and the ongoing situation in Afghanistan during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 20, 2021.
Biden's job approval rating has plunged as he's facing stiff criticism of his handling of the chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan and evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies after the Taliban retook control of the country last week.
US President Joe Biden's aides were "too afraid" to question his decisions made in the run-up to the pullout of American troops from Afghanistan, The Telegraph cited sources close to the administration as saying.
The 78-year-old POTUS is said to have ignored warnings that ordering the withdrawal of forces ahead of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks would not leave the military enough time to evacuate Americans and allies from the country.
“People are simply too afraid to tell Biden [and] Jake Sullivan [his National Security Adviser], they're wrong. It's one thing to crack down on leaks [as Mr Biden has done], it's another thing to allow a mistake like this”, one former defence official, who reportedly is in regular contact with top White House aides, told the publication.
“This White House is very disciplined, especially when it comes to leaks and such. But the downside of discipline is if you're running things like an autocracy, and you broker no dissent internally, that's not what the purpose of a White House staff is".
While some were "too scared" to push back, others urged the "stubborn-headed" president to keep open the Bagram Air Base due to the fact that that it has more runways than the now-besieged Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Their efforts proved futile: the airfield was abandoned by Americans in early July after nearly 20 years as they shut off the electricity and slipped away in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander.
Having shut down the Bagram Air Base, which was subsequently captured by the Taliban* as the group approached Kabul last Sunday, the Biden administration is grappling with the slow pace of evacuations from Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Biden, who has been accused of being "out of touch with reality", stood by his decisions, saying there was never a time, in either in the past or the future, that American forces could have left Afghanistan without chaos.
He also claimed that no Americans were being prevented from reaching Kabul Airport for evacuations, only to be "fact-checked" by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said the Pentagon was unable to safely escort Americans to the airfield, admitting that some of them had been "beaten" and "harassed" by Taliban fighters.
POTUS was also contradicted by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, after the former claimed that the US had reached its goal of getting rid of al-Qaeda* in Afghanistan.
“We know that al-Qaeda remains… we have talked about it for some time”, Kirby said, adding that the US “intelligence gathering ability in Afghanistan is not what it used to be”.
The State Department is now said to be pushing Biden to extend the 31 August deadline for withdrawal, as the US and its allies are struggling to evacuate thousands of compatriots and Afghans fearing for their lives.
On 15 August, Taliban insurgents seized the last government-controlled border crossing, leaving Kabul Airport as the only route out of the country. Shortly thereafter, they captured the Afghan capital after the city surrendered without a fight, and the internationally-recognised president, Ashraf Ghani, fled for the UAE.
The sudden fall of the city, which the US intelligence community didn't anticipate would happen for at least a month, triggered panic among Afghans and foreigners, who rushed to the airport seeking to exit the country.
The evacuation process has been chaotic: at least 20 people have died in the past seven days in and around Kabul Airport, according to an anonymous NATO official speaking to Reuters.
Crowds of desperate Afghans have flocked to the airport every day over the past week, complicating the evacuation process of diplomatic staff and civilians as well as at-risk Afghans - those who once worked for the US or NATO.
The Taliban has blamed the US for the mayhem at the airport, saying the West could have had a better evacuation and troop withdrawal plan.
US citizens have now been advised to steer clear of Hamid Karzai International Airport as the situation deteriorates, and the airport was said to have been closed for 48 hours on Saturday in order to process those already inside.
*The Taliban and al-Qaeda are terrorist groups banned in Russia and many other countries.