US State Department report reveals shortcomings before Afghanistan withdrawal

The US State Department has released the Afghanistan After Action Review (AAR) report, which details the US government’s leading to a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taliban swept across the country in August 2021.

The release of the report on Friday comes more than a year after the completion of the 90-day review of the evacuation, highlighting numerous shortcomings of the US decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan and the precarious consequences it had for stability in the country.

According to the report, “The decisions of both President Trump and President Biden to end the US military mission in Afghanistan had serious consequences for the viability of the Afghan government and its security.”

The report further reveals that “The AAR team found that during both administrations, there was insufficient senior-level consideration of worst-case scenarios and how quickly those might follow.”

Despite concerns over the Biden Administration’s mitigation plans for military support and warnings of high levels of risks in the withdrawal process, the report reveals that the Administration failed to effectively manage the crisis, and subsequent decisions for complete withdrawal played a significant role in the mayhem and violence that unfolded.

Additionally, the report highlights that President Biden’s decision in April 2021 to proceed with the withdrawal under a new deadline of September 11 exacerbated the difficulties faced by the Department in mitigating the loss of crucial military enablers.

The report asserts, “Critically, the decision to hand over Bagram Air Base to the Afghan government meant that Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) would be the only avenue for a possible noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO).”

Furthermore, the report underscores the significant confusion and mismanagement during the withdrawal process, with the Biden Administration lacking an urgency plan in the event of Kabul collapsing sooner than predicted.

The report highlights, “The Department’s participation in the NEO planning process was hindered by the fact that it was unclear who in the Department had the lead. A major challenge facing NEO planning was determining the scale and scope of the operation, especially in terms of including at-risk Afghan nationals, their prioritization, and the duration of their evacuation.”

Moreover, the report indicates that senior US officials “had not made clear decisions regarding the universe of at-risk Afghans who would be included by the time the operation started, nor had they determined where those Afghans would be taken,” which significantly added to the challenges during the evacuation.

As the Taliban approached the outskirts of Kabul, the report suggests that the Biden Administration’s chaotic communication, characterized by constantly changing policy guidance and public messaging from Washington, contributed to confusion and overlooked crucial facts on the ground.

Despite managing to evacuate over 120,000 people to safety, the US left tens of thousands of others behind, including those who had assisted the US over the past two decades. A suicide bombing at the Kabul airport in late August 2021 claimed the lives of 170 civilians and 13 US military personnel.

According to one senior US commander, better preparedness and a more orderly evacuation could have been achieved if policymakers had paid attention to the indicators of what was happening on the ground.