U.S. official: Biden's handling of Afghanistan evacuation


WASHINGTON, Aug 16 - The anger and frustration at U.S. President Joe Biden's handling of evacuations from Afghanistan https: www.reuters.com World Asia-Pacific Talibans-rapid advance-across Afghanistan - 2021 -- 08 - 10 are mounting among administration officials, lawmakers of both parties and advocacy groups.

As U.S. diplomats collapsed inside the airport, thousands of desperate Afghans thronged Kabul airport where five people were killed on Monday, prompting the military to temporarily suspend flights to clear the airfield.

In a televised address on Monday, Biden acknowledged there were concerns about why Afghans had not been evacuated earlier, but said his administration was discouraged to do so by the Afghan government at the time.

Part of the answer was some Afghans didn't want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country, Biden said.

But five U.S. officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity that weeks before the Washington-backed Afghan government collapsed, the U.S. military wanted a bigger role in helping to evacuate Afghanistans who were at risk because they worked for the United States. The officials believe that a more ordered withdrawal would have occurred.

The more difficult part was how can we do more.? Another official said the administration had waited too long for military personnel to respond.

In response, a senior administration official cited comments on Monday by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who said Biden's team has been engaged for months in extensive scenario planning and was ready for this challenge.

Despite the government's rapid collapse, Sullivan said the embassy was located safely and swiftly and that, We are now focused on getting people out safely and quickly.

There were also issues with intelligence, with one assessment last week saying Kabul would not be isolated for the next 30 days at least.

A person familiar with the situation said the Biden administration was behind the curve as things deteriorated in Afghanistan. Every decision was too late and the source said in response to events that made the subsequent decision obsolete.

Local embassy employees left at home for weeks were left to make their own way back to the airport, the source said, adding that emails were sent on Sunday after sporadic gunfire to remain in their houses or some other safe location.

The pandemonium hampering the evacuations prompted some embassy officials to raise concerns that there was an insufficient number of US troops to secure the airport, reflecting poor planning and intelligence failures, said the source.

The source and another U.S. official told Reuters that the administration so badly misjudged the situation that the State Department flew a regular rotation of diplomats into Kabul last Tuesday after the Taliban advanced toward the capital.

Democrats and Republicans also weighed in with criticism.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops should have been carefully planned to prevent violence and instability, and to ensure that the hard-fought progress gained over the past two decades — particularly when it comes to Afghan women and girls — would not be lost, said Tom Carper, a U.S. senator from Biden's home state of Delaware & fellow Democrat.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an opponent of Biden's withdrawal decision, said it was unlikely that the American personnel and at-risk Afghans could be evacuated by Aug. 31 - Biden's deadline for a full withdrawal. Graham said that 'artificial' deadline 'will likely result in thousands of Afghans who have helped to avoid slaughter being left behind for slaughter.

In April, Biden announced that he would be withdrawing the remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan as part of a 2020 deal with Taliban under former President Donald Trump.

Military officials recommended against it, but some officials said they felt their views had been heard and the American public was ready to end America's longest war.

However, the events of the past week have replaced resigned acceptance with anger.

Frustrated, disbeliefed and disgusted today, said a military official who served in Afghanistan.