The US State Department did not adequately prepare for the possibility of a swift collapse of the Afghan government as part of its planning for the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, an internal review has found. The US government announced it would complete its withdrawal by September 2021, expecting the US-backed Afghan government and security forces to remain in power and continue peace negotiations with the Taliban.
However, as the US withdrawal progressed, the government quickly collapsed, and then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country in August 2021 as the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul. This led to a chaotic final evacuation of US and Afghan personnel from Kabul airport. The two-week evacuation was marred by the deaths of at least 175 people when NATO troops indiscriminately opened fire on crowds of civilians gathered outside the airport after an ISIS suicide bomber blew himself up.
Al-Jazeera notes that the State Department After Action Report (AAR) issued on June 30 said the decision by US President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan after over 20 years of occupation had “serious consequences” for the viability of the US-backed Afghan government.
“Those decisions are beyond the scope of this review, but the AAR team found that during both administrations, there was insufficient senior-level consideration of worst-case scenarios,” the review said.
The report specifically criticized the State Department for failing to set up a crisis-management task force soon enough to cooperate with the Pentagon in the case of an evacuation. “Establishing such a task force earlier would have brought key players together to address issues related to a possible [evacuation],” the report stated.
Further, “Naming a 7th-floor principal … would have improved coordination across different lines of effort,” that report said, referring to the State Department’s top floor where Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senior diplomats have offices.
The review also blamed the Trump White House for failing to address a backlog of applications for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which allows Afghans that might be in danger of retribution by the Taliban for working with foreign occupiers, to emigrate to the US.
The review also repeated previous claims by the Biden White House that Trump did not adequately plan for the departure of US troops after it reached a deal with the Taliban to withdraw troops by May of 2021, a deadline Biden postponed. Biden and State Secretary Antony Blinken have faced harsh criticism due to the chaos that accompanied the withdrawal.
Blinken was recently subpoenaed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) to release classified cables from July 2021, in which staffers from the US embassy in Kabul warned that the defeat of the US-trained Afghan army was “imminent.”
Reporter asks Biden to react to today's report that his admin botched the Afghanistan withdrawal:— Greg Price (@greg_price11) June 30, 2023
"Remember what I said? I said al-Qaeda wouldn't be there. I said we'd get help from the Taliban. What's happening now? What's going on? Read your press. I was right." pic.twitter.com/JfwhYv3Sy5
However, despite the broad condemnation of the troops’ withdrawal, less attention was paid to the collapse of the Afghan economy. The NATO-funded Atlantic Council think tank noted that “the Afghan economy began spiraling shortly after the Taliban takeover” due to US actions, including imposing “sanctions, the freezing of central bank assets, and removal of foreign aid.”
The US and a coalition of its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 as part of the so-called War on Terror, in which the neoconservative-led Bush Administration sought to invade seven countries in West Asia within five years.