The Biden State Department did not have clarity on who was in charge of coordinating the department’s role in the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, a report released on Friday found.
A State Department after-action review team found fault with both the Biden and Trump administrations for contributing to the chaos of the August 2021 military withdrawal, which left the Afghan government vulnerable to collapse and contributed to a massive effort to evacuate thousands of Americans and allies afterward, the report shows. While the U.S. military had contingency planning for an evacuation of Kabul in place “for some time” ahead of when the withdrawal was ordered in August in 2021, the State Department’s participation in the operation “was hindered by the fact that it was unclear who in the Department had the lead.”
Investigators interviewed more than 150 current and former State Department officials involved in the investigation, whose identities are concealed in the 21-page unredacted version, confirming what many observers, Republicans and Democrat alike, perceived to be a debacle.
The Biden administration failed to mobilize and position the personnel required to conduct a smooth evacuation, in part due to a lack of experienced senior leadership and coordination between last-minute task force structures established throughout the department, according to the report.
There was an “insufficient senior-level consideration of worst-case scenarios,” the report says, without assigning blame to any one individual.
After Biden’s decision in April 2021 to proceed with the Trump administration’s withdrawal plan by a new deadline of Sept. 11, the U.S. military “moved swiftly” to protect American troops. The Pentagon’s actions constricted evacuation operations to Hamid Karzai International Airport
The administration thought to establish a stay-behind force to ensure “critical security,” but did not finalize plans by the time of the withdrawal, the report found. State Department leaders ignored warnings from some that evacuation planning should be conducted with more urgency, even as the Taliban closed in.
It also criticized the Trump administration for a “relative lack of an interagency process in the Trump administration and the intense interagency process that characterized the initial period of the Biden administration.”
By the time of the evacuation, officials had not determined how many Afghans considered at risk of persecution from the Taliban would be included, or where they would stay once out of the country, according to the report.
Constantly changing guidance from Washington further impeded efforts to airlift 125,000 Americans and Afghan partners after the capital city fell, according to the report.
“What this report reveals is that in crises that are longer duration, that are particularly complicated, that occur at a large scale, that impact populations well beyond the official American community, we haven’t over time had the appropriate structure and resources available to provide that foundation, a steady, constant set of capabilities that we can draw on when we’re suddenly confronting something at scale,” a senior State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity, according to The Washington Post.
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