President Biden would love to forget Afghanistan and the many bad decisions he and his team made before, during and after his precipitous withdrawal of American troops from that country. Unfortunately for him, the facts — and his failures in that debacle — keep coming back to bite him.
For Mr. Biden, his Afghanistan disaster is a recurring nightmare. The latest recurrence began with media reports on the results of the Army’s investigation into the Aug. 26, 2021, deaths of 13 U.S. servicemen in a terrorist bombing at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai airport. Eleven Marines, a Navy corpsman and an Army special forces soldier, were murdered in that incident.
The 2,000-page report blames the Biden administration for failing to see how quickly the Afghan government would fall, for its indecisiveness during the Taliban’s advance on Kabul and for the failure of senior administration officials to even understand what was going on.
On Feb. 10, Mr. Biden told an interviewer that because what the report says does not comport with what he was told as the events unfolded, he rejected its account of events and the conclusions it reached.
Mr. Biden’s rejection of the report won’t make it go away. That’s because the report, despite what the president said, matches almost perfectly with the concurrent reports of how Mr. Biden’s plan was badly conceived and then faithfully executed even as it fell apart, leaving hundreds of U.S. citizens, thousands of Afghan allies and billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment under the Taliban’s control.
In April 2021, Mr. Biden announced — without consulting our NATO allies who had troops serving in Afghanistan — that we would pull all our forces out by Sept. 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. On July 8, he said that we “… did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States. We achieved those objectives.”
Thanks to SEAL Team Six, Osama bin Laden is dead. But, as events have shown, the rest of Mr. Biden’s statement was utterly false. The terrorist threat has not been degraded, and Afghanistan has already become a safe haven for many Islamist terrorist networks from which they can mount attacks against the U.S.
In that same speech, Mr. Biden also said that it was “highly unlikely” that the Taliban would overrun Afghanistan. Less than five weeks later, it did just that.
The Army investigative report contains compelling evidence that Mr. Biden and his team of naifs were confused and unable to deal with events as they unfolded rapidly.
Navy Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time of the withdrawal, reportedly told investigators that “… if policymakers had paid attention to the indicators of what was happening on the ground,” then military commanders would have been able to better prepare a more orderly operation. Rear Adm. Vasely also said, according to the report, that the White House’s inattention to the Taliban’s swift advances undermined the military’s ability to control events.
It’s not rocket science to conclude that Mr. Biden’s withdrawal plan was poorly conceived. The first thing that should have been done is to evacuate U.S. civilians, including embassy staff. After that, as much equipment as possible would be withdrawn, and then — after those other tasks had been completed — the troops would be withdrawn. Mr. Biden’s plan required those tasks to be performed in exactly the reverse order.
The military wanted to use Bagram airfield for the evacuations. CENTCOM commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told The Washington Post, “Everyone clearly saw some of the advantage of holding Bagram, but you cannot hold Bagram with the force level that was decided.” The decision on force level was made in the White House.
The Army report implies that generals and admirals on the spot didn’t object strongly to the plan or the bad decisions Mr. Biden and his team were making. Instead of telling Mr. Biden — and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken – that their plan would result in the disaster that unfolded, even as it did, they did what they were told to do. The disaster is as much the fault of the admirals and generals who carried out a plan which they knew wouldn’t work instead of doing their duty and resigning instead.
The Afghanistan debacle Mr. Biden and his team created was the direct result of their political beliefs and inexperience. None of them, including Mr. Biden, have the education or the experience to prepare them to deal with such situations. Their approach was that of the faculty lounge lizards whose ideas are based not on history or knowledge of the enemy and the nation he operates in but only on what they have read or debated among themselves.
Mr. Biden and his team of faculty lounge types are busy making other terrible mistakes ranging from their panic on Ukraine to Mr. Biden’s obsessive pursuit of renewing former President Barack Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran. If Mr. Biden continues on the path they have set, history may not record the Afghanistan debacle as his worst mistake.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”
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