• December 1, 2022

White House defends Afghanistan exit after Army report says it was slow to act

 White House defends Afghanistan exit after Army report says it was slow to act


The White House pushed back on charges that it was slow to evacuate Americans and allies from Afghanistan last summer, repeating the claim that the country fell unexpectedly to the Taliban as U.S. forces ended the two-decade mission.

Responding to testimony from military leaders about the weeks leading up to Kabul’s fall, President Joe Biden’s press secretary said planning for an evacuation had started months before under the guidance of the military and the president’s national security advisers.

“Earlier in the summer, we prepositioned U.S. forces to be ready to facilitate … an evacuation, if needed, of our embassy there,” Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday. “That is fact in terms of what was planning, what was done at the time, and that in advance of that, that required months of planning with contingencies planned for.”


This occurred “through the national security team and through the military team,” she said.

She also insisted that the Afghan forces fell with a speed no one could have predicted.

“There wasn’t an anticipation the Afghan national security forces would fall as they did or as quickly as they did,” she said. “That was not anticipated by anyone.”

The Army launched an investigation in the wake of an Aug. 26 suicide bombing outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, which killed an estimated 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service members. In interviews, U.S. military commanders said Biden’s top national security and State Department advisers resisted pressure to move quickly, endangering lives. The Washington Post obtained the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

One account suggested that Biden’s national security advisers were unwilling to speed the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan, fearing that a hasty exit could prompt political reprisals.

On Aug. 6, a National Security Council official said an evacuation would suggest “we have failed,” Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Farrell Sullivan told Army investigators, according to the paper. “In my opinion, the NSC was not seriously planning for an evacuation,” he added.

Sullivan had sought weeks earlier to prepare for evacuations from the airport but was not allowed to talk about it with allies other than the U.K.

Another interview detailed how a top military official “was trying to get the ambassador to see the security threat for what it really was.” As the smaller districts began toppling to the Taliban, “the embassy needed to position for withdrawal, and the ambassador didn’t get it.”

The report probes the willingness of senior diplomats and Biden’s closest aides to listen to the military at a critical juncture in the drawdown.

Psaki, facing repeated questions on the report, said the president’s advisers were meeting regularly to discuss security in Kabul as the United States prepared to leave the country and that measures were in place to gauge the risks.

“We were pressing our system hard on whether we were meeting previously established tripwires that would require us to adjust operations at Embassy Kabul,” she said, explaining that “the NSC led that process and convened regular interagency discussions.”

Biden has faced criticism from members of Congress in both parties over the chaotic drawdown, with some saying the president was unprepared for the Taliban’s takeover. An airlift of some 100,000 people from Kabul still left Americans and Afghan allies in the country.

Biden has defended the process, arguing that some fallout was inevitable given the scale of the operation.

“There was no way to get out of Afghanistan, after 20 years, easily,” he said during a recent news conference. “Not possible no matter when you did it. And I make no apologies for what I did.”


Biden also reiterated that the deaths of 13 service members in the final days of the exit were inevitable under the circumstances.

“I have a great concern for the women and men who were blown up on the line at the airport by a terrorist attack against them,” the president said. “But the military will acknowledge — and I think you will, who know a lot about foreign policy — that had we stayed and I had not pulled those troops out, we would be asked to put somewhere between [20,000] and 50,000 more troops back in.”


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