The day before Kabul fell to the Taliban last August, a White House Situation Room meeting found senior Biden administration officials were still disorganized about how to evacuate Afghan nationals who were aiding the U.S. in its war against the Taliban, leaked notes reveal.
Axios, discussing the leaked notes, reported:
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.
A document titled, “Summary of Conclusions for Meeting of the Deputies Small Group” showed that a meeting regarding “Relocations out of Afghanistan” was held from 3:30-4:30 p.m. on the afternoon of Aug. 14, while Taliban fighters were arriving in Kabul. The meeting was chaired by National Security Council official Liz Sherwood-Randall and included Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Actions to be taken “immediately” included, “State will work to identify as many countries as possible to serve as transit points. Transit points need to be able to accommodate U.S. citizens, Afghan nationals, third country nationals, and other evacuees.”
It also said, “Embassy Kabul will notify LES [locally employed staff] to begin to register their interest in relocation to the United States and begin to prepare immediately for departure …”
NSC spokesperson Emily Horne defended her agency to Axios, saying, “While we’re not going to comment on leaked internal documents, cherry-picked notes from one meeting do not reflect the months of work that were already underway.”
She added, “Earlier that summer, we launched Operation Allies Refuge and had worked with Congress to pass legislation that gave us greater flexibility to quickly relocate Afghan partners. … It was because of this type of planning and other efforts that we were able to facilitate the evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans, legal permanent residents, vulnerable Afghans and other partners.”
Mark Jacobson, deputy NATO representative in Afghanistan for former President Barack Obama, told Axios: “That so much planning, prioritizing and addressing of key questions had not been completed, even as Kabul was about to fall, underscores the absence of adequate interagency planning.”
“This is especially surprising given the depth of experience on Afghanistan and contingency operations at that table,” he added.
In mid-December, President Biden suggested that he would be willing to lose his presidency over how he conducted the United States’ disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
CBS News correspondent Rita Braver said to Biden, “This has been a hard year. I mean, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. You know that various things that you’ve done have gotten a lot of criticism. You’ve had a hard time getting the other side to work with you … don’t you ever feel discouraged about this?”
“No,” Biden claimed.
“And doesn’t that criticism get to you? And how does Dr. B help you through that?” Braver asked solicitously.
“Well, you know, I guess it should get to me more,” Biden answered, before resorting to his time-honored claim he was giving his “word as a Biden,” saying: “But look: one of the things we did decide, and I mean this, my word as a Biden, I know what I’m willing to lose over. If we walk away from the middle class, if we walk away from trying to unify people, if we start to engage in the same kind of politics that the last four years has done? I’m willing to lose over that.”
“You mean, you’re willing to lose your presidency?” Braver asked, seemingly shocked.
“My presidency, that’s right,” Biden trumpeted. “Because I’m gonna stick with it. There’s certain things that are just, like for example Afghanistan. Well, I’ve been against that war in Afghanistan from the very beginning. We were spending $300 million a week in Afghanistan, over 20 years. Now, everybody says, ‘You could have gotten out without anybody being hurt.’ No one’s come up with a way to ever indicate to me how that happens. … And so, there are certain things that are just so important.”