US Was Still Debating Details of Afghan Evacuation Hours Before Taliban Blitzed Kabul, Doc Reveals
10:32 GMT 02.02.2022 (Updated: 10:51 GMT 02.02.2022)
Taliban* militants took control of the Afghan capital on 15 August, weeks after capturing their first major city and just over four months after President Joe Biden announced that Washington would be withdrawing from the country after nearly 20 years of war and occupation. The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse took officials by surprise.
Less than 24 hours before Taliban fighters entered Kabul, the Biden administration was still tinkering with the basic details of how to evacuate US officials and personnel and the tens of thousands of Afghans who had assisted the US during its 19+ year war in Afghanistan, an internal memo first published by Axios has revealed.
The document, dated 14 August 2021 and summarising a meeting of senior administration officials, concluded that US Embassy personnel, US citizens, government contractors, CIA “priority partners”, Afghan special immigrant visa applicants would be given preference for evacuation.
The State Department was asked to “immediately stand up a communications/manifest team” to contact eligible individuals, and to “identify as many countries as possible to serve as transit points.” The Pentagon was instructed to provide the capacity to evacuate at least 5,000 people per day. The National Security Council was asked to hold another meeting on 15 August “to address the question of whether foreign nationals who are immediate family members of US citizens in Afghanistan can be brought to the continental United States, or will require additional screening and vetting.”
The State Department and the Department of Defence were also asked to “begin planning transit processing” and to “coordinate manifests for onwards travel” to US military bases, with the DoD expected to “assess current capacity and additional time needed to increase it.”
The leaked memo shows the apparent disarray in Washington over the speedy rate of the Taliban’s advance across Afghanistan. The militants had captured their first city only on 6 August, took 18 of 34 provincial capitals by 11 August, and advanced on Kabul on 15 August, with the US and NATO-trained, armed and financed security forces showing almost no resistance and shattering amid the blitz.
Just two days before the capital fell, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby continued to assure reporters that Kabul was “not right now in an imminent threat environment.” Days before that, Kirby urged the Afghan security forces to step up and use its US-provided ground and air capabilities, as well as nominal superiority in numbers over the Taliban, to step up and “use those advantages.”
After Kabul fell, the Biden administration cut a deal with the Taliban to evacuate US personnel, citizens and Afghans who assisted the US and NATO during the war.
The Kabul airlift ran from mid-to-late August, during which time over 122,000 people were airlifted abroad, among them 75,000 Afghan evacuees who were taken in by the US. The airlift was marked by scenes of panic, including horrific images of people falling to their deaths while trying to grab on to US transport planes taking off, and a suicide terror attack on 26 August attributed to Daesh (ISIS)** which claimed the lives of over 180 people, including 13 US troops.
Late last year, The Intercept revealed that members of a CIA-sponsored commando team accused of execution-style killings of civilians were given priority for evacuation. Last week, Sputnik reported on documents released by the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had personally approved the evacuation of dogs and cats out of the country over people.
* The Taliban is sanctioned by the United Nations for terrorist activities.
** A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.