Biden administration Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin laid the blame for the “chaotic” evacuation of American civilians, green card holders, and Afghan citizens with special immigrant visas (SIVs) at the feet of the Biden administration State Department in his testimony to Congress on Wednesday.
Pentagon officials also labeled the scene “chaotic” themselves, telling members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that while they were able to offer their “input” to the State Department, they were ultimately in Afghanistan to serve a separate mission and that the military evacuation and the civilian evacuation were handled by two different teams of people.
The civilian evacuation, of course, made headlines across the globe, as thousands of Afghan residents, Americans, and SIVs, swarmed Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in a mad dash to leave the country before coalition forces withdrew, leaving the Taliban in charge.
The U.S. government has struggled to explain why hundreds of Americans were reportedly left behind when U.S. forces left Afghanistan, and the State Department, especially, has been reticent to give hard numbers on how many Americans remain in or near Kabul, and how many Afghans still require evacuation.
Austin told Congress Wednesday that the blame for the confusion lies squarely with the State Department, particularly the decision to delay beginning evacuations and move slowly in the days before the president’s self-imposed August 31st deadline.
That was a “State Department call,” Austin said.
“We provide an input, as I said in my opening statement, to the State Department,” he added, noting that the State Department was being “cautioned” by then-president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, that “if they withdrew American citizens and SIV applicants at a pace that was too fast, it would cause a collapse of the government that we were trying to prevent.”
Ghani, of course, left in a private aircraft just as the Taliban entered Kabul, leaving a power vacuum.
“We certainly would have liked to see it go faster or sooner,” Austin said in response to questions. “But, again, they had a number of things to think through as well.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, also seemed to slough off responsibility for the civilian evacuation.
“I just want to be clear – we’re talking about two different missions,” Milley told members of Congress. “The retrograde of troops…that is complete by mid-July, and that was done, actually, without any significant incident. And that’s the handover of 11 bases, the bringing out of a lot of equipment — that was done under the command of Gen. Miller.”
“Noncombatant evacuation operation is different,” Milley said. “Noncombat operation – that was done under conditions of great volatility, great violence, great threat.”
“That’s a different operation,” he added. “And I think, that, in the first two days as we saw, were not only chaotic, but violent and high-risk.”
A suicide bomber, who made it past Taliban checkpoints to an HKIA gate where the U.S. military was processing evacuees, managed to kill more than a hundred people, including 13 U.S. soldiers.