US move to Taliban request could have stopped troop withdrawal chaos

WASHINGTON – The United States made a fatal mistake last year when rejected the Taliban’s offer to allow US troops to secure Kabul during their failed withdrawal, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee argued in a report released this week.

After the Western-backed Afghan government collapsed on August 15, 2021, Taliban officials told top US military officials they would stay out of Kabul if the US agreed to secure the city, “telling the Americans, ‘we want the here, ‘” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in the 115-page report.

Instead, the US refused, opting to have Taliban fighters provide security in the city, something former senior defense officials told McCaul’s team “would have allowed the US military to avoid relying on the Taliban to secure the outer perimeter” of Hamid Karzai International Airport. the center of evacuation efforts.

Security forces investigate the aftermath of a bomb blast that killed 3 outside a bakery on Nawi Sarak Road, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Security forces investigate the aftermath of a bomb blast that killed 3 outside a bakery on Nawi Sarak Road, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
MARCUS YAM/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“[That was] a task the Taliban proved incapable of performing, leading to the ISIS-K attack that killed 13 US service memberswounded an additional 45 US service members and killed 160 Afghans,” the report says, referring to the August 26 suicide bombing outside the airport.

Allowing the US and its allies to secure Kabul could have prevented bottlenecks and agglomeration of hopeful evacuees outside the airport, McCaul argued, adding that processing centers could have been set up far from airport gates and prevented frequent closures caused by crowds.

That overcrowding ultimately made the airport an ideal target for the Abbey Gate terror attack, according to the report.

“The chaos at the gates and the inability of the Taliban to control the perimeter meant that US military personnel were in close proximity as they searched for the evacuees, placing them in a more vulnerable situation that was exploited by the bomber, contributing to the high number of victims”, says the report.

Even if the bombing could not have been prevented, McCaul said the death toll could have been significantly reduced had the United States not relied on the Taliban to provide security outside the airport perimeter.

“The lack of planning on the part of the Biden administration and its refusal to accept the Taliban’s offer to secure Kabul during the [mission] directly led to the bombing being so deadly,” McCaul said in the report.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, told Congress in September last year that he rejected the Taliban’s offer to allow US troops to secure the city because he “didn’t have the resources to do that.” mission”.

Representative Michael McCaul
Representative Michael McCaul said allowing the United States and its allies to secure Kabul could have prevented the crush of evacuees, ultimately making the airport an ideal target for an attack.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

“That’s not why I was there; that was not my instruction,” McKenzie said.

While McKenzie told Fox News on September 4, 2021, that securing Kabul would have required an additional 15,000 to 20,000 US troops on the ground, the report argued that those numbers were “based on the need to fight the Taliban for control.” from the city”.

“It likely would not have been necessary given that it was the Taliban leadership who asked the United States to secure the city,” McCaul wrote.

Fewer US troops would have been needed if the United States had asked its NATO allies to contribute to the effort, according to the report. However, the administration of President Biden I didn’t tell the allies of the offer, British officials told investigators “despite the UK reportedly exploring establishing an international stabilizing force for Kabul without the US.”

An unnamed senior defense official also told Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the military did not create plans for the United States to take over Kabul because they believed the White House would have “prohibited [them] to consider such an offer,” according to the report.

That point was supported by consistent statements from the administration before and after the evacuation ended on August 30, 2021.

Relatives of a victim killed in the bomb attacks at the entrance to Kabul airport take part in the burial on the outskirts of Kabul.
Relatives of a victim killed in the bomb attacks at the entrance to Kabul airport take part in the burial on the outskirts of Kabul.
MARCUS YAM/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
A plane takes off as Taliban fighters secure the outer perimeter, along the US-controlled side of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A plane takes off as Taliban fighters secure the outer perimeter, along the US-controlled side of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
MARCUS YAM/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“Our goal has never been, and the president has been very clear about it, to have a military presence to control Kabul,” then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on August 31.

Despite the violence and chaos of the evacuation, Biden has repeatedly defended his decision to lean on the Taliban to secure Kabul.

When asked if he thought it was a mistake to relinquish responsibility for outer perimeter security at the airport to the Taliban, President Biden [on Aug. 26] says, ‘No, I don’t,’ while continuing to emphasize that it is in the Taliban’s ‘interest’ to cooperate in the evacuation,'” McCaul wrote, “even though the US government knew at the time that such cooperation it was no longer a reality.”

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