A top U.S. general reportedly warned the Taliban to stay out of Kabul or risk an American airstrike during the final weeks of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The threat never materialized as the Taliban conquered the city the next day, according to NBC News. The United States was left controlling Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport while security of the city was left to the Taliban.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, met with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar as the terror group surrounded Kabul, preparing for a final push to topple the Afghan government. McKenzie warned Baradar that should a Taliban force come within 20 to 30 kilometers of the city, the militants would be hit by U.S. airstrikes, according to the report.
Baradar acknowledged McKenzie’s threat and pointed out that some Taliban fighters were already within the designated strike zone and asserted that those fighters would not be moving. McKenzie explained that the U.S. mission was to evacuate U.S. citizens and allies from Kabul before the American military made its final departure from the country.
“The next day, Taliban fighters rolled into Kabul, and no U.S. warplanes bombed the insurgents, the three senior defense officials said,” NBC News reported.
In August, The Washington Post reported that McKenzie and other top U.S. military officials struck a deal with the Taliban to allow the terror group to control Kabul if the militants left Karzai under U.S. command until President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. forces. The report offers an explanation as to why McKenzie’s threat never materialized and the U.S. allowed the Taliban to march unmolested into Afghanistan’s capital. The Post reported at the time:
In a hastily arranged in-person meeting, senior U.S. military leaders in Doha — including McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command — spoke with Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban’s political wing.
“We have a problem,” Baradar said, according to the U.S. official. “We have two options to deal with it: You [the United States military] take responsibility for securing Kabul or you have to allow us to do it.”
Throughout the day, Biden had remained resolute in his decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan. The collapse of the Afghan government hadn’t changed his mind.
McKenzie, aware of those orders, told Baradar that the U.S. mission was only to evacuate American citizens, Afghan allies and others at risk. The United States, he told Baradar, needed the airport to do that.
On the spot, an understanding was reached, according to two other U.S. officials: The United States could have the airport until Aug. 31. But the Taliban would control the city.
The Pentagon announced an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan on August 30 after the final plane carrying U.S. service members took off from Karzai. The United States withdrawal grew increasingly chaotic in its final days. A lapse in city security let through ISIS-K terrorists that launched an assault on one of the airport’s main gates, killing 13 U.S. servicemembers and nearly 200 Afghan civilians.
The U.S. carried out drone strikes on two purported ISIS-K targets in response; however, one of the drone strikes mistakenly killed an Afghan aid worker and nine members of his family, including seven children in what the Pentagon acknowledged was a “tragic mistake.”