December 8, 2023

Sec. State Blinken ordered this review of the department’s response to the Afghanistan withdrawal. The result is critical of both President Trump and President Biden saying they failed to plan appropriately for the withdrawal.

The report is sharply critical of the U.S. government’s handling of the most serious evacuation crisis since the fall of Saigon. It says President Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, each failed to appreciate how a U.S. military pullout would affect the Afghan government’s stability, and that standard summer diplomatic rotations in the weeks ahead of Kabul’s collapse left the U.S. evacuation in the hands of personnel who in some cases had been in the country for only a few days or weeks…

The United States exit from Afghanistan, capped by a chaotic and deadly two-week evacuation from a single airfield in Kabul, pulled more than 120,000 people from harm’s way in an extraordinary airlift effort spearheaded by the U.S. military.

But tens of thousands of others who had assisted the American war effort over 20 years were left behind in an effort marked throughout by chaos and violence, including a gruesome suicide bombing, a botched U.S. drone strike that killed 10 innocent people, and surging crowds that resulted in some people being trampled to death.

The focus on Trump’s decisions seems like a pretty clear attempt to spread the blame given that the disaster on the ground happened months into the Biden administration. The Post also notices the convenient timing of this report.

The report is certain to embolden those most critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis, which left Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban, cost the lives of scores of Afghans and at least 13 U.S. service members, and sent the president’s approval ratings tumbling. The timing of the report’s release — with little notice ahead of a long holiday weekend — also is likely to draw anger from those who have said the administration has tried to downplay scrutiny of its actions two years ago.

CNN also seems to think the timing looks odd.

The report was publicly released more than a year after the 90-day review of the evacuation was completed and includes findings around the tumultuous final weeks of the US presence in Afghanistan, as well as a number of recommendations for improvement moving forward.

A senior State Department official did not explain why it had taken so long for the report to be published, nor why it was released before a holiday weekend, saying they would not discuss questions related to “process.”

Even the NY Times smells a rat in the timing of this.

The rollout of the report had clear hallmarks of a calculated effort to mute its public impact. It was released on the Friday afternoon ahead of the July 4 holiday, as many in Washington were beginning vacations, and a background briefing for State Department reporters began minutes after the report was circulated to them, limiting their ability to ask detailed questions about its findings.

Gee, I wonder why they waited a year until a Friday afternoon before a holiday (and after a major Supreme Court decision). It’s a complete mystery why this happened now.

The Times notes that the report also seems ready-made to defend the administration from critics.

The report repeats assertions made by Mr. Blinken and others that few U.S. officials had foreseen how quickly the Afghan military and government would collapse and notes that close observers “apparently including the Taliban itself” agreed.

“That said,” it adds, “as security conditions in Afghanistan deteriorated, some argued for more urgency in planning for a possible collapse.”

In mid-July 2021, nearly two dozen Kabul-based American diplomats sent Mr. Blinken a cable through the department’s “dissent” channel urging that evacuation flights for Afghans begin in two weeks and that the administration move faster to register them for visas.

That cable has become a focal point for congressional Republicans critical of the administration’s handling of the withdrawal. Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee threatened to hold Mr. Blinken in contempt of Congress when he initially refused to provide the memo to his committee.

I skimmed through the declassified portion of the report released this afternoon and was surprised by how much praise it offers the department. The executive summary is just three paragraphs. Here’s the 2nd one.

With the sudden collapse of the Ghani government and the Taliban’s entry into Kabul on August 15, 2021, the Department of State confronted a task of unprecedented scale and complexity. Working with other U.S. government agencies, partner nations, and Afghan allies, Department personnel helped coordinate and execute a massive humanitarian airlift and evacuation from a dangerous and often chaotic environment in barely more than two weeks. The stress, demands, and risks of the situation are hard to exaggerate and placed tremendous burdens on the Department’s personnel and its crisis response structures. Overall, the Department’s personnel responded with great agility, determination, and dedication, while taking on roles and responsibilities both domestically and overseas that few had ever anticipated.

Not a lot of criticism in that paragraph. If all you knew about what happened was what that, you might think it was a big success. Here’s the conclusion of the report.

We end this After Action Review where we began, with praise and admiration for our colleagues throughout the Department. We have made a series of recommendations for ways in which we think the Department could better prepare for future complex crises, but in the final analysis, there is no substitute for the smart, hard-working, dedicated professionals that the Department could count upon in this crisis. We should be proud of what they and their partners in uniform accomplished during this evacuation and what they continue to do to help U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover.

I’m not saying it’s a complete whitewash dumped on a holiday weekend but it’s pretty close.