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The aftermath of Biden’s dishonorable Afghanistan exit is still unfolding

It’s been two years since the shameful U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan. 

The families of the 13 marines slain during the evacuation remain without answers. Millions more Americans suffer from the guilt and moral injury caused by the Biden administration’s callous failure to take any responsibility for its poor decision-making.

The Taliban have erased Afghan women and girls, disappearing them behind a veil of gender apartheid. And the response from the allegedly gender positive Biden administration? Appeasement and dissembling, all the way down. 

The administration is now conducting high-level meetings with the Taliban geared towards the normalization of relations. It is sending millions in taxpayer-funded humanitarian assistance diverted to Taliban coffers” Biden officials have also released a deeply disingenuous State Department after-action report that repeats self-congratulatory claims of success while placing the blame for the debacle on everyone except themselves. 

Adding insult to injury, the State Department cynically released the unclassified version of the report on the Friday evening of the July 4th holiday weekend, expecting the media to help them bury their shame.

The U.S. Department of State After-Action Review on Afghanistan — riddled with half-truths and omissions, simultaneously boastful and defensive — is perfectly emblematic of the Biden administration’s non-policy on Afghanistan. 

The report, like the recent U.S.-led meetings with the Taliban, is like a message from an alternate reality. It repeats the assertion that the evacuation was a success, glossing over the reason it was necessary in the first place. It offers a defensive paean to State Department staff for their “tireless” efforts on behalf of the American and Afghan people, with little regard for reality or the thousands they thoughtlessly abandoned to the Taliban. 

It fleetingly acknowledges the 13 American servicemembers lost on August 26 — the largest loss of American life in Afghanistan on a single day in more than a decade — while ignoring the myriad intelligence and operational failures in Kabul, Doha and Washington that put these men and women in harm’s way.

Congressional attempts to investigate decision-making in the run-up to August 2021 have been thwarted by the administration, which cooperated under the threat of a congressional subpoena. Even then, the administration restricted members of Congress’ access to internal documents and correspondence. 

A recent Gold Star forum hosted by House members publicly illustrated the depth of the pain the families continue to endure due to the administration’s malfeasance. Rightly, the families want answers. Legislative remedies — including the Taliban Sanctions Act in the Senate — remain in committee, yet another example of the U.S. government’s failure to hold anyone accountable, including the Taliban.

Similar to the Benghazi debacle, the Biden administration seems intent on obscuring responsibility, avoiding accountability and learning the wrong lessons. After-action reports from both events offer a litany of excuses instead of pinpointing the root causes of failure and offering sensible, realistic reforms to avoid repetition. 

In the case of Afghanistan, the excuses range from the impact of COVID-19 to the failure of Congress to confirm presidential appointees to vague references to inter-agency coordination problems. The report faults Americans who chose to stay in or travel to Afghanistan despite “clear and consistent messages” (in the form of routine consular and State Department warnings) for their lack of clairvoyance, contradicting the administration’s line that no one could have predicted the speed of the Taliban’s takeover and the Afghan government’s collapse. 

Intelligence and analytic failures are used to justify demands to devote more resources to protecting U.S. diplomats who already spend most of their time cosseted in fortress embassies and were never at risk during retrograde because they were the first to be evacuated.

But most outrageous is the blame laid at the feet of officials and private citizens, some of whom were veterans, who stepped up to help during the evacuation. According to the State Department, “Responding to [their] demands often placed Department employees at even greater risk and hindered the effort to move larger groups of people out.” 

What those “risks” exactly were is unclear, considering that State personnel were safely behind the razor wire of Hamid Karzai International Airport. 

Many dedicated civil and foreign service officers worked around the clock those two weeks, and some for much longer, performing their jobs in a professional and competent fashion. 

But it is unconscionable for political leaders who made objectively bad decisions to instrumentalize those officers in an effort to besmirch lifesaving voluntary private evacuation efforts. Likewise, this effort at posterior covering seeks to paper over bureaucratic and political roadblocks that regularly stymied private assistance to individuals whom U.S. authorities could not or would not help. This private effort was tragic because of its necessity and uplifting because of its spontaneity — a fact that should have been acknowledged rather than disparaged or ignored.

The after-action report continues a long-running pattern of avoiding the underlying failure of Afghanistan policy. The fact is President Biden and his national security team, including Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, Jake Sullivan and Mark Milley — willfully ignored the advice of not only Afghan government officials, civic leaders and human rights defenders but also their own commanders and advisors

This pattern continues today as U.S. special envoys on Afghanistan travel to Doha to meet with Taliban representatives without preconditions or a serious policy framework in place. Afghan leaders, especially women, have condemned these meetings as another foolish step toward normalization. This view is echoed by the Taliban, which is successfully bending the international community to its will. Instead of privileging the Taliban in the service of its fiction of a policy, the administration should learn to listen to the Afghan people and accept the reality that the Taliban is not a suitable partner or governing entity.

Like Vietnam, the consequences of Afghanistan are still reverberating today and will continue to haunt both President Biden and U.S. credibility. More than 100,000 eligible special immigrant visa applicants remain in Afghanistan awaiting evacuation. Tens of thousands of priority refugee applicants remain in limbo around the world, and millions of Afghan women have been relegated to the dark ages. 

Here at home, the impact is more somber. Calls to the Veteran Crisis Line are at an all-time high. This is not a coincidence; calls “surged” after the fall of Kabul. 

Yet another inconvenient fact and tragic legacy of Joe Biden’s Afghanistan debacle.  

Amb. Kelley E. Currie is an international human rights lawyer and former U.S. State Department senior official. 

Amy K. Mitchell is a former senior advisor for the Office of Global Women’s Issues and a former senior government official at the Departments of State and Defense. Views represented in this piece are solely those of the authors.

Tags Afghan refugee resettlement Afghanistan withdrawal Afghanistan–United States relations Joe Biden Negotiations between the Taliban and the United States Politics of the United States Taliban takeover

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