by Jonathan Swan and Hans Nichols at Axios
Leaked notes from a White House Situation Room meeting the day before Kabul fell shed new light on just how unprepared the Biden administration was to evacuate Afghan nationals who’d helped the United States in its 20-year war against the Taliban.
Why it matters: Hours before the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s capital on Aug. 15, 2021, senior Biden administration officials were still discussing and assigning basic actions involved in a mass civilian evacuation.
- Outsiders were frustrated and suspicious the administration was having plenty of meetings but was stuck in bureaucratic inertia and lacked urgency until the last minute.
- While the word “immediately” peppers the document, it’s clear officials were still scrambling to finalize their plans — on the afternoon of Aug. 14.
- For example, they’d just decided they needed to notify local Afghan staff “to begin to register their interest in relocation to the United States,” the document says.
- And they were still determining which countries could serve as transit points for evacuees.
The big picture: President Biden was determined to end the country’s involvement in its longest war, and last April he announced his plans to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021.
President Trump had previously cut a deal for a U.S. withdrawal by May 2021.
- Biden’s approval ratings still haven’t recovered from the chaotic scenes of those final moments, with Afghans falling to their death from military transports and a suicide blast that killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans outside the gates of Hamid Karzai airport.
- The Atlantic reported this week that thousands of vulnerable Afghans remain stuck in bureaucratic hell, terrified the Taliban they fought for years will hunt them down.
- Later this month, Congress will name members to a bipartisan, 12-person commission that will study the war and issue a report similar to the 9/11 Commission.
The details: Axios obtained the NSC’s “summary of conclusions” for a meeting of the so-called Deputies Small Group.
It assembles top aides to various Cabinet members, and usually lays the groundwork for Deputies’ or Principals’ sessions, or works out practical details for executing decisions already made by their bosses.
- The document regarded “Relocations out of Afghanistan,” and the meeting was held from 3:30-4:30pm on the afternoon of Aug. 14, Washington time.
- At that moment, Taliban fighters were descending upon Kabul.
- The meeting was chaired by National Security Council official Liz Sherwood-Randall and included senior officials across multiple agencies, including Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Between the lines: The meeting notes highlight how many crucial actions the Biden administration was deciding at the last minute — just hours before Kabul would fall and former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would flee his palace in a helicopter.
Action items decided in meeting included:…Continue Reading