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Pentagon was furious with the White House and diplomats over the Kabul evacuation, new report says

An Army report details how senior White House and State Department officials failed to understand the rapid advance of the Taliban on Kabul and lays out frustration among senior military officers that troops were put in greater danger because of political decisions. 

Initial plans included using both Kabul’s international airport and Bagram airbase for the operation, but the latter had to be abandoned because there were too few troops to protect it. 

After refusing to heed warnings about the Taliban advance, an officer described finding the embassy in meltdown in mid-August after militants had seized the capital, with some staff ‘intoxicated and cowering in rooms.’ 

And the 2000-page report repeatedly says planners were unable to react to conditions on the ground, but instead had to do what they could with 3000 troops.  

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Marine Gen. Kenneth ‘Frank’ McKenzie, chief of U.S. Central Command, said he was ‘not surprised’ commanders had different opinions about how the evacuation could have gone better. 

There ‘might have been other plans that we would have preferred,’ he told the Washington Post on Tuesday, ‘but when the president makes a decision, it’s time for us to execute the president’s decision.’

U.S. Marines provide security and check evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, on Aug 21 during the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies

Responding to a 2000-Army report into the Kabul evacuation, U.S. Marine General Frank McKenzie said there might have been preferred plans 'but when the president makes a decision, it’s time for us to execute the president’s decision'

Responding to a 2000-Army report into the Kabul evacuation, U.S. Marine General Frank McKenzie said there might have been preferred plans ‘but when the president makes a decision, it’s time for us to execute the president’s decision’

The Afghan withdrawal, during which 13 U.S. personnel were killed in a suicide attack, has cast a long shadow over the presidency of Joe Biden, after his decision to withdraw ended in chaos

The Afghan withdrawal, during which 13 U.S. personnel were killed in a suicide attack, has cast a long shadow over the presidency of Joe Biden, after his decision to withdraw ended in chaos

His comments lay bare the frustration of commanders who felt their hands were tied by a White House that had already made up its mind on how to depart.

‘There are profound frustrations; commanders, particularly subordinate commanders, they see very clearly the advantages of other courses of action,’ he said.

‘However, we had a decision, and we had an allocation of forces. You proceed based on that.’ 

The internal report was obtained by the Washington Post through a freedom of information request.

It was launched in the aftermath of the Aug. 26 suicide attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport, which killed 13 American service personnel and more than 170 Afghans.

As well as outlining the critical decisions taken to secure the airport, it also reveals violence experienced by US forces during the operation. 

And it lays out military frustration at what officers said was resistance from the State Department and White House to prepare the evacuation of embassy personnel and Afghan allies weeks before Kabul’s fall. 

Navy Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, the most senior commander on the ground during the operation, told investigators that personnel would have been ‘much better prepared to conduct a more orderly’ if ‘policymakers had paid attention to the indicators of what was happening on the ground.’

Failing to spot the Taliban’s intention to complete a rapid military takeover, he said, undermined proper preparations.  

Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, prepares to board a C-17 cargo plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, as the final American service member to depart

Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, prepares to board a C-17 cargo plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, as the final American service member to depart

During the second half of August 2021, more than 120,000 people were flown from Kabul

During the second half of August 2021, more than 120,000 people were flown from Kabul

Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, said McKenzie's response on the advantages of Bagram - and why it was not used - was revealing

Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, said McKenzie’s response on the advantages of Bagram – and why it was not used – was revealing

Officials told investigators that planning within the Pentagon had begun by presuming that Bagram, about 30 miles north of Kabul, would be part of the operation, secured with the help of Afghan government forces.

But that idea was then dropped to using just the capital’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.

‘Everyone clearly saw some of the advantage of holding Bagram,’ McKenzie told the newspaper, ‘but you cannot hold Bagram with the force level that was decided.’

Military analysts said his comment was revealing.

Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, said: ‘Translation: the number of troops in Afghanistan dictated strategy and tactics, not the actual situation on the ground.’

Republicans also seized on the report to accuse Biden of dereliction of duty.      

‘A secret Army report shows Joe Biden & the White House utterly unprepared for and derelict in the withdrawal from Afghanistan – but Senate Democrats still refuse to hold oversight hearings,’ said Sen. Josh Hawley on Twitter.

‘Only “closed door” briefings, away from the public. It’s pathetic.’

At the same time, military officials faced pushback from diplomats about preparing for an evacuation, said the report.

Ross Wilson, the acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, wanted to maintain a diplomatic presence and said the U.S. could not preserve influence without an embassy, according to Vasely.

The Taliban was making rapid gains – taking as many as 10 districts a day, according to an unnamed official, who said: ‘The embassy needed to position for withdrawal, and the ambassador didn’t get it.’

Administration officials also expressed concerns that sounding the alarm would trigger panic, the rapid departure of other nations and the collapse of the government in Kabul.

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Farrell J. Sullivan said dealing with the embassy was ‘like pulling teeth’ until early August, when the reality hit home.

And a meeting with a National Security Council official on Aug. 6 prompted him to say that, ‘the NSC was not seriously planning for an evacuation.’

Once the Taliban took control of the city, U.S. troops reportedly went room to room in the embassy on Aug. 15 telling people to get ready to leave.

An investigation into the attack on Kabul airport found that the US dead and wounded were close to the canal where the bomber detonated his explosives, and had clustered together to search potential evacuees. The worst hit were standing on a wall overlooking the canal

An investigation into the attack on Kabul airport found that the US dead and wounded were close to the canal where the bomber detonated his explosives, and had clustered together to search potential evacuees. The worst hit were standing on a wall overlooking the canal

An Army officer from the 10th Mountain Division told investigators that some diplomatic personnel were ‘intoxicated and cowering in rooms,’ and others were ‘operating like it was day-to-day operations with absolutely no sense of urgency or recognition of the situation.’

That allegation was denied by an administration official. ‘Were there any truth to it, we presumably would not be learning of it six months after the fact,’ the official said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the airlift was a ‘historic achievement’ but admitted that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had said it was ‘not perfect.’  

‘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,’ he told the Washington Post. 

‘We will take those lessons learned, and apply them, as we always do, clearly and professionally.’

Last week the Pentagon revealed the results of its investigation into the airport suicide bombing. It said the attack was carried out by a lone suicide bomber, and was not a complex attack – with gunmen and a bomb – as previously thought.  

The attack brought a tragic conclusion to the hurried U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and has cast a long shadow over the Biden administration ever since.

Briefing reporters on their findings, investigators said the explosion sent 5mm ball bearings through a packed crowd and that the attack could not have been prevented. 

But they also said British, American and Taliban representatives had discussed closing the Abbey Gate – where the blast happened – just 36 minutes before the attack.

They kept it open because there were still evacuees trying to get to the airport. 

And the investigators released never before seen footage of the moment the bomb exploded and drone video of the immediate aftermath.


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