White House Resisted Pentagon's Attempts to Prepare 'Orderly' Afghan Evacuation, US Commanders Say

© REUTERS / US ARMYU.S. Soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, prepare to board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to leave Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 30, 2021
U.S. Soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, prepare to board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to leave Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 30, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.02.2022
The August 2021 evacuation of diplomats, military and civilians from Afghanistan was widely criticised by both the US president's opponents and allies as chaotic and, even more importantly, incomplete.
The US military deployed in Afghanistan had tried to start preparations for the evacuation weeks before the fall of Kabul on 15 August 2021, but faced resistance from the White House and the local American embassy, according to sworn testimony from several Pentagon commanders unveiled by The Washington Post via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The 2,000-page-long report was written as a result of an investigation of the deadly suicide bombing at Kabul airport on 26 August – the pinnacle of the chaos that accompanied the US evacuation from Afghanistan. The attack claimed the lives of 13 servicemen guarding the airport and 170 Afghan civilians – who were hoping to leave the country in the face of the Taliban* takeover.
This chaos and the much-criticized decision to leave behind those who failed to make it to the airport within two weeks since the start of the troop pullout might have been avoided, the report suggests.

The US military had the chance to be "much better prepared to conduct a more orderly" evacuation, top American commander on the ground Navy Rear Admiral Peter Vasely said in his testimony. He added that policymakers did not pay "attention to the indicators of what was happening on the ground".

In the middle of July 2021, a month before the fall of Kabul and weeks ahead of the first signs of the imminent collapse of the government, Brigadier General Farrell J. Sullivan, a senior Marine officer involved in planning the evacuation, attempted to organize the distribution of supplies for 5,000 evacuees at the Kabul airport. However, his efforts were soon thwarted, as he was only allowed to discuss the evacuation with British officials and no one else.
Several US officers have provided various reasons that could explain the White House's refusal to discuss the evacuation in advance. Sullivan said that a National Security Council official, whose name is not mentioned in the report, told attendees at a 6 August government meeting that the US carrying out an evacuation would signal "we have failed".
"In my opinion, the NSC was not seriously planning for an evacuation", Sullivan said.
A group of US military leaders, whose names were redacted out of the released report, said that administration officials feared that the preparation of the evacuation would raise alarm, prompt other governments to withdraw from Afghanistan and thus speed up the fall of Kabul's regime.

Stubborn US Diplomats

A change in the US attitude toward evacuation came only on 12 August, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan called acting US ambassador to Afghanistan Ross Wilson and asked him to speed up the evacuation, the report said. Kabul fell to the Taliban three days later.
In the weeks preceding that order, Wilson and the US embassy had been strongly opposing preparing the withdrawal plans as per the US military officials' proposals, the report clarifies. According to The Washington Post, the disagreement between the two "appears to have gone back months".
Navy Rear Admiral Peter Vasely, who became the US commanding officer in Afghanistan in July 2021, was warned by his departing predecessor General Austin Miller that the embassy would object to even a partial evacuation. Ambassador Wilson insisted on maintaining the diplomatic presence, arguing that it was the only way to preserve US influence in the country.
"[Vasely] was trying to get the Ambassador to see the security threat for what it really was. The embassy needed to position for withdrawal, and the Ambassador didn’t get it", a military official, whose name was redacted out of the report, said in the testimony.
In the following days, the US would evacuate some 124,000 people by 31 August, and US President Joe Biden would paint it as a great success. However, his critics, opponents and even some allies disagreed: numerous Afghans who had helped the NATO forces and who had counted on relocation to the US as per prior agreements were left behind at the Taliban's mercy, as well as several Americans, according to media reports.
Commenting on the release of the report on the evacuation's preparations, chief of the US Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie brushed off suggestions by fellow servicemen that the withdrawal could have been organised better. McKenzie admitted in an interview on 8 February that the evacuation had its shortcomings, but he insisted that it had its bright sides.

"Remember, what did happen is we came together and executed a plan. There are profound frustrations; commanders, particularly subordinate commanders, see very clearly the advantages of other courses of action. However, we had a decision, and we had an allocation of forces. You proceed based on that. [...] when the president makes a decision, it’s time for us to execute the president’s decision", McKenzie said.

*The Taliban is an organisation under UN sanctions for terrorist activities
To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала