Colossal incompetence: Biden officials completely unprepared for fall of Afghanistan, leaked memo shows
It's not huge news that the Biden administration was a colossal failure on Afghanistan, or that Joe Biden still thinks there's nothing to apologize for.
What's news now is the colossal incompetence that went on inside that administration as Afghanistan was collapsing, according to a leaked memo that Axios got hold of:
Leaked notes from a White House Situation Room meeting the day before Kabul fell shed new light on just how unprepared the Biden administration was to evacuate Afghan nationals who'd helped the United States in its 20-year war against the Taliban.
Why it matters: Hours before the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan's capital on Aug. 15, 2021, senior Biden administration officials were still discussing and assigning basic actions involved in a mass civilian evacuation.
- Outsiders were frustrated and suspicious the administration was having plenty of meetings but was stuck in bureaucratic inertia and lacked urgency until the last minute.
- While the word "immediately" peppers the document, it's clear officials were still scrambling to finalize their plans — on the afternoon of Aug. 14.
- For example, they'd just decided they needed to notify local Afghan staff "to begin to register their interest in relocation to the United States," the document says.
- And they were still determining which countries could serve as transit points for evacuees.
It's nasty stuff.
The group involved here, known as the "deputies small group" of lower-level officials in charge of this operational planning, didn't know what they were doing. Apparently, they hadn't even started thinking about evacuating Afghan translators and collaborators until the day the capital fell. Their "Relocations out of Afghanistan" meeting began at 3:30 P.M. on August 14 and ended a mere hour later, the same day the Taliban was marching into Kabul in triumph, flashing their flags, waving their captured rifles, and riding in stolen American military vehicles.
They were a little slow on the uptake, and in any case, they didn't give this issue much attention at all. They had no idea whom they needed to get out of there. They had no idea where to take them for stopovers. In the end, they transported people who couldn't get visas the normal way, while the actual allies, and a lot of Americans, were simply left behind, out of sight, out of mind, no problematic "optics" for Team Biden, which is the only thing they cared about.
I don't see anything at all on the issue of abandoned and stolen U.S. military equipment, some $85 billion's worth, making the Taliban the most armed-up military outside the U.S. It may be that they never got around to that at all.
While these slow Joes were getting their act together on the evacuations, the other Joe, the Big Guy, Joe Biden, was even more out of it. He was refusing to take phone calls from our allies, including Ally Number One, Britain, and its prime minister, Boris Johnson, who tried to get through multiple times. Little did he know, Biden had better things to do on his five-day vacation at Camp David. His secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was also vacationing — in the croquet-loving preppie seersucker-suited Hamptons, being a man of priorities and all.
Axios notes that they had plenty of warnings about how south the whole thing could go, well before the disastrous August 14–15 weekend:
- "I kept being told by people in the [White House] the thing they were most concerned about was the optics of a chaotic evacuation," said Matt Zeller, a former CIA officer who contacted administration officials in February 2021 about protecting Afghans who worked with the Americans. "They treated us like we were Chicken Little. They didn't believe the sky was falling."
- "On the 13th of July, we offered to work with them to help evacuate our partners," Zeller added. "We all saw this disaster coming before the inevitable occurred. They didn't get back to us until Aug 15, the day Kabul fell."
They really were sure they were dealing with normal people in trusting the Taliban not to attack the capital and imagining that nobody would really want to get out of Afghanistan as they did. This, despite the fact that in the preceding weeks, regional capital after regional capital was falling to the Taliban. I noticed the emerging chaos on Aug. 8 and wondered if there was a plan. On Aug. 14, the very day that the memo meeting Axios cited took place, I wondered again if there was a plan and wrote this for AT:
Third, what's going on with the refugees, many of whom have collaborated with the U.S. and have legitimate reasons to flee. Anybody plan for that? Biden announced his pullout in April and apparently nothing was done. According to this piece here, Biden officials are scrambling to find some, any, country that can take some of them at least temporarily, starting with the 80,000 in the Kabul perimeter with obviously more outside. They're trying to muscle Albania and Kosovo into taking them, while Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, have all said no. Putin's Russia might have been a good place to put them, given Russia's spacious land and its huge Central Asian population, but Biden blew up that bridge earlier with his insults to Putin, he apparently never planned for that. Meanwhile, the refugees are desperate, given that they are crowded into broiling hot Kabul with no housing, no food, no services. Some are threatening to set themselves on fire if they don't get papers. And in reality, they should be shown mercy, these are real refugees, not people in designer clothes with cash to pay smugglers in a quest for a bigger benefits package. No planning, nobody home.
I am not an Afghanistan specialist and don't pay much attention to Afghanistan affairs, but it turned out the Bidenites paid even less. To them, a withdrawal of U.S. troops (before civilians) would all go swimmingly, there would be no "Saigon-style" trouble, all Joe needed to do was beg the Taliban not to take over the embassy, and Joe would have his 9/11 closure speech to boost his poll numbers. For Joe, it was always all about the optics.
Instead, it was the biggest military disaster the U.S. has ever experienced, a national humiliation, a message to Russia and China about U.S. leadership and military readiness, and a grotesque wholesale defeat impossible to conceal from the television cameras. Unless there's a victory somewhere, somewhere else, which would necessitate a very unpopular war, this global view is not going to change any because everybody saw it. In the span of a few days, Joe squandered the perception of U.S. military invincibility, which was a tremendous tool for projecting U.S. power abroad, and instead turned the U.S. into a huge exclamation mark for incompetence, a butt of global scorn, still ringing like a bell from hell from us.
Worse still, Biden fired no one, signaling his satisfaction with this turn of events, and after that brazenly told the outraged American people, "I make no apologies" and have " no regrets." "I can still stand," he yawped at that news conference, before offering to do push-ups.
The incompetence isn't something that came and went with the news cycle. It still has consequences.
Axios links to an Atlantic piece that ran a day earlier about how bad it was for the translators as Biden and his staff crowed about the war's end:
But the war wasn't over — not for Afghans, not even for some Americans.
A week after Biden's speech, a group of refugee advocates — many of them veterans of the 9/11 wars — released a report on the dire situation of the thousands of Afghans who'd worked at great risk for the United States during its two decades in their country. In 2009, Congress had created the Special Immigrant Visa to honor the service of qualified Afghans by bringing them to safety in the U.S. But the SIV program set up so many procedural hurdles — Form DS-230, Form I-360, a recommendation from a supervisor with an unknown email address, a letter of employment verification from a long-defunct military contractor, a statement describing threats — that combat interpreters and office assistants in a poor and chaotic war zone couldn't possibly hope to clear them all without the expert help of immigration lawyers, who themselves had trouble getting answers. The program, chronically understaffed and clogged with bureaucratic choke points across multiple agencies, seemed designed to reject people. Year after year, administrations of both parties failed to grant even half the number of visas allowed by Congress — and sometimes granted far less — or to meet its requirement that cases be decided within nine months. By 2019, the average wait time for an applicant was at least four years.
They didn't even start their planning until Aug. 14, and by then, it was too late for them. They are still on their own, and word is out about the worth of America's word to its allies and collaborators. You can bet we won't get many more after this one.
The Bidenites never even got started on planning for their welfare as they insisted on pulling out of Afghanistan at any price. No wonder veterans of that war are heartsick. No wonder Afghanistan is now a hellhole and America's name is mud. That's Joe Biden's legacy now, that's his monument, and he's culpable. He ought to be impeached for this, which unfortunately is unlikely. For those of us who are left, at a minimum, it must not be forgotten.
Image: Screen shot from NBC Nightly News via YouTube.