Army probe details frustrations with Biden administration over Afghan evacuation

An Army investigative report obtained by The Washington Post documented frustration among military personnel with the White House and State Department over the United States' evacuation from Afghanistan. 

The report, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, was ordered after the suicide bombing at the Hamid Karzai International Airport that killed 13 American military personnel on Aug. 26. It detailed the decisions made by U.S. military personnel assigned to guard the airport. 

The military would’ve been “much better prepared to conduct a more orderly” operation “if policymakers had paid attention to the indicators of what was happening on the ground,” Navy Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, who leads U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward, told investigators, according to the newspaper.

According to the report, military officials said planning for the operation began months earlier, and evolved from using Bagram Air Base and the Hamid Karzai airport to just using the airport.

Military officials said they wanted two weeks to evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, but on Aug. 12 Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan demanded the process move more quickly.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told the Post in an interview that he wasn’t surprised commanders felt the evacuation should have been handled differently. However, he said “we came together and executed a plan.”

“There are profound frustrations; commanders, particularly subordinate commanders, they see very clearly the advantages of other courses of action. However, we had a decision, and we had an allocation of forces. You proceed based on that,” he told the newspaper.

Asked about the report, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told the Post that the evacuation effort was a “historic achievement.”

“We are committed to, and are intensely engaged in, an ongoing review of our efforts during the evacuation, the assessments and strategy during the conflict, and the planning in the months before the end of the war,” Kirby told the newspaper. “We will take those lessons learned, and apply them, as we always do, clearly and professionally.”

Separately, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Todd Breasseale said, “Throughout this evacuation and in the months following – as we welcomed Afghans to begin their new lives in the United States, the U.S. government has led a coordinated and cohesive interagency effort. The Department of Defense is proud to have worked shoulder to shoulder with our partners at the Departments of State and Homeland Security, the intelligence community, and others in support of this historic mission.”

The Army referred questions on the article to Central Command, which had no comment when reached by The Hill. The Hill has also reached out to the White House for comment.

The U.S. officially withdrew from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, ending America’s longest conflict. In the process, more than 124,000 people were evacuated from the country — the vast majority of which were Afghan refugees.

A State Department spokesperson didn’t directly address the concerns from military leaders raised in the Post report when reached media, but said “we continue to improve resettlement processes, reducing the time Afghans spend at overseas facilities and ensuring more effective resettlement and integration.”

The spokesperson said the Trump administration had no plan to move Afghans out of the country when it committed to leaving by May 2021 and “purposefully” gutted the nation’s refugee resettlement program. The spokesperson further said the Biden administration took steps to improve the special immigrant visa process.

“As we prepared to leave Afghanistan, we pre-positioned military assets in the region that enabled us to execute one of the largest airlifts in history, facilitating the evacuation and relocation of 124,000 individuals,” the spokesperson added.

The report also revealed several instances of violence American personnel faced during the effort, according to the Post.

For instance, there was an exchange of gunfire after two Taliban fighters allegedly menaced a group of Marines and Afghan civilians, which left those fighters dead.

In another instance, seven people — one of which was part of an elite Afghan strike unit — fired on American troops. U.S. troops killed the strike unit member, and wounded six others.

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