US left Afghanistan evacuation decision to ‘last minute’ scramble: report – Doha News

A year since the takeover, the US and NATO continue to deflect any blame over the horrors Afghanistan witnessed during the invasion of the country. 

The US Joe Biden administration delayed decisions to evacuation civilians from Kabul to the last minute before the Taliban takeover, the Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee revealed on Sunday.

The report’s findings were first made public in an interview with Rep. Mike McCaul, the top Republican at the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “Face the Nation.”

“There was a complete lack and failure to plan. There was no plan and there was no plan executed…I think the State Department probably didn’t have the resources it needed to carry out an evacuation of this size and enormity,” said McCaul.

“There are many sins if you will,” he said.

Released a day before the one-year mark of the fall of Kabul, the report found that the US could have prevented the chaos at the Hamid Karzai International Airport. At the time, hundreds of thousands were hopping on flights to flee the Taliban rule.

Witnesses on site said the US had fired gunshots in the air to clear the way for its personnel as civilians latched onto airplanes amid dangerous attempts to leave the country.

“I think the State Department probably didn’t have the resources it needed to carry out an evacuation of this size and enormity; they had 36 consular officers at HKIA trying to process hundreds,” he said.

According to the report, the military was supposed to begin planning the civilian evacuations in April. Media reports stated that the order came four days before Biden set the new date for the troop withdrawal as 11 September instead of 1 May, per the 2020 Doha Agreement. 

In the announcement of the revised date, Biden said the withdrawal would be unconditional and without a peace plan, despite 20 years of instability caused by the US invasion.

The decision also fuelled ongoing tensions between the US and the Taliban, with the latter refusing to hold talks with Washington despite months of negotiations facilitated by Qatar.

“The problem was the White House and the State Department putting their head in the sand, not wanting to believe what they were saying, and therefore not adequately planning,” said McCaul.

Biden administration responds

Refuting the statements, National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told Axios that the report was “riddled with inaccurate characterisations, cherry-picked information, and false claims.”

“We did extensive contingency planning throughout the spring and summer of 2021 and pre-positioned troops in the region, which enabled us to facilitate the evacuation of more than 120,000 people,” said Watson.

The White House also blamed the former Donald Trump administration for not preparing the evacuations of Afghans and for its “flawed deal” with the Taliban, referring to the Doha Agreement.

“When we took office, the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 2001, former President Trump had released thousands of Taliban fighters from prison, and we had the smallest number of US troops on the ground,” said the White House.

It was not until 14 August, a day before the takeover, when the National Security Council weighed out the prioritisation of evacuations from Afghanistan. A decision at the time was to place transit hubs in countries, including Qatar.

The Gulf state was at the forefront of the evacuations and managed to provide a safe transit for at least 70,000 Afghans and foreigners. The evacuations carried by Doha were described as history’s largest airlift of people.

During the last-minute evacuations, 1,450 Afghan children were transported from Afghanistan without a parent or a guardian, the report found. 

According to the report, more than 800 US citizens were also left behind despite the Biden administration claiming the figure was 100-to-200 at the end of the troop withdrawal on 31 August.

The Washington Post reported that 84 US citizens remain in Afghanistan as of last month.

The latest report comes amid efforts to hold the Biden administration to account for what has been described by rights activists and groups as “a hasty withdrawal”.

In September last year, the US Senate grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken following a second day of interrogation from Republican lawmakers.

Defending Biden’s decision, Blinken said that the US had already prepared itself for the “worst-case scenario” in the country during the spring and summer. 

The plans focused on the evacuation of members at the US embassy in Kabul within a 48 hour period while controlling the airport. 

An internal State Department memo released on 31 July had also warned of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul and collapse of the former Afghan government as Blinken declined to hand the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a copy of the documents.

Responding to a question on why the 31 August deadline for the withdrawal was not extended to process the SIVs, Blinken said the US “took some risks” in delaying the initial 1 May deadline.

A year since the takeover, the US and NATO continue to deflect any blame over the horrors Afghanistan witnessed during the deadly invasion of the country. 

Numerous reports by rights groups continue to point to crimes committed by the foreign forces, from torturing civilians to raping women.

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