The Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was defined by inept planning and poor decision making, causing significant and numerous failures throughout the process, according to a Senate report released Thursday.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the committee’s minority report on its investigation into the Afghanistan withdrawal last summer. Risch’s report holds top levels of the Biden administration in the White House, Department of Defense (DoD), and Department of State responsible for numerous failures during the operation that left as many as 9,000 Americans behind.
Biden announced the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in April and later self-imposed a timeline for operations to be completed by late August. According to the report, the administration “wasted” months before the National Security Council (NSC) began working in earnest on plans to evacuate tens of thousands of Americans, U.S. residents, and Afghan allies from the country.
Before launching a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO), “State did not officially reach out to regional partners until the middle of July, and DoD did not engage the Qatari government about using facilities there until the middle of August,” the report said. “Having wasted 115 days, the NSC did not conduct its first senior meeting to discuss the withdrawal until August 14 at 3:30pm, just hours before Kabul fell, when evacuations became life or death for Americans, Afghans, and U.S. military personnel.”
The report says that the Biden administration severely mislead the American public on the number of American citizens left behind in Afghanistan after military operations were completed. The report also says that American citizens are still trapped in the Taliban-controlled country more than five months after the military withdrawal concluded.
“On August 17, 2021, and at the height of evacuation efforts, senior State Department officials leading the evacuation task force indicated there were 10,000 to 15,000 Americans in Afghanistan, according to the F-77 report,” the report says. “By August 31, when the president ordered an end to evacuation operations, State and DoD had evacuated approximately 6,000 American citizens. Even taking the most conservative estimates from the F-77 report, this meant the United States left at least a few thousand people behind. “
“However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in September, asserted that only a ‘small number’ of American citizens, ‘approximately 100-150 remained in Afghanistan who still wished to depart. We are in very close contact with them and are assigning teams to each of the remaining Americans who wish to depart,’” the report states.
The report takes a critical view of the Biden administration’s decision to abandon Bagram Air Base and dozens of dangerous prisoners who were later set free by the Taliban. One of those prisoners later carried out a suicide bombing outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, killing 13 U.S. servicemembers and dozens of Afghan civilians. The report concludes:
People will debate for years to come about the “why” and “when” of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. This report has looked at the “how,” and it is clear the senior leadership of the Biden Administration failed to effectively plan, coordinate, and execute an orderly withdrawal and evacuation. From the beginning, the interagency and specific departments ignored the warning signs of a Taliban takeover and wasted away precious days of planning and evacuation. Only hours before the Taliban captured Kabul did the interagency decide to start the evacuation. This failure of leadership cost U.S. military personnel lives and has left tens of thousands behind to an uncertain fate under Taliban control. The Biden Administration squandered precious time, ignored intelligence and recommendations from people on the ground, and refused bipartisan support to give them the resources to succeed. In the process, the botched withdrawal has tarnished America’s reputation and credibility. A healthy sense of humility should guide the lessons learned and help to better prepare for future evacuations. Additionally, the work is not done in Afghanistan. American citizens, as well as tens of thousands of Afghan partners, including Special Immigrant Visa applicants, still await evacuation from Afghanistan and third countries. The military mission inside of Afghanistan may be over, but America’s work is not finished.