As the old saying goes “a successful operation has a thousand fathers, but a failed one is an orphan.” 

Congress has been frustrated thus far in getting to the bottom of the Afghanistan withdrawal fiasco as the Pentagon and the State Department continue to deny responsibility and point fingers at each other.

Senior officials from the Pentagon and State Department are doing their best to pass the buck in Congressional hearings about the events.

“When the State Department is here and we asked them a question they say, ‘Well, you have to ask the Defense Department that,'” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) during a recent hearing. “And now today, again, Defense Department people are before us. And the question was asked and the answer… was, ‘Well, you’ll have to ask the State Department that.'”

“I object to the continuation of that,” Senator Wicker said. 

Back in September, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, during a closed session with senators, blamed the State Department, saying officials “waited too long” to order the operation.

However, two senior State Department officials told Politico that Milley never pushed for an earlier evacuation in the days before Kabul fell.

The timing of the Afghan evacuation is at the heart of the dispute between administration officials about exactly who recommended what — and when. The Defense Department is saying that it urged State to begin the evacuation soon, while the State Department says that the military never objected to its withdrawal timeline.  

“There is a lot of finger-pointing taking place right now, and I think we’ve got to learn what worked and what didn’t,” Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), said to The Hill in a statement.

“I would try to take the politics out of it,” he added. “How did we get Afghanistan so wrong after 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars of investment?”

 

Did the Pentagon Agree to the Evacuation Plan?

82nd Airborne Paratroopers withdrawing Afghanistan
Paratroopers assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division return home from recent deployment to Afghanistan on Fort Bragg, NC, September 6, 2021. The 82nd Abn. Div. aided in security and evacuation operations during the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan in August. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Kulani Lakanaria/49th Public Affairs Detachment)

In a meeting on August 12, members of the Biden administration’s national security team recommended to the president that the U.S. close down its embassy in Kabul as soon as the troops left.

The initial plan was to keep the U.S. Embassy open, but with the Afghan military and government collapsing quickly the decision was made to close down the embassy and evacuate its personnel. 

In spring 2020, General Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had urged the administration to close the embassy at the same time the troops would withdraw. However, Miller’s advice was dismissed. Miller had insisted that the troops left behind couldn’t adequately protect the embassy without help from the Afghan army.

By August 12, the situation was already at a critical juncture. Just three days later, the Taliban entered Kabul setting off the frenzied process of closing the embassy and destroying all sensitive information.

General Mark Milley Privately Blamed the State Department for the Disorganized Evacuation of Afghanistan

Read Next: General Mark Milley Privately Blamed the State Department for the Disorganized Evacuation of Afghanistan

All embassy personnel had then to be shuttled 3.5 miles to the Hamid Karzai International Airport. That was no small feat, as there were thousands of Americans and even more Afghans, who were affiliated with the U.S., looking to flee the Taliban.

The State Department insists that on August 6, there was a table-top exercise with senior leaders from the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council, the intelligence community, and the U.S. Central Command to go over plans for a possible non-combatant evacuation (NEO). The plan involved keeping embassy staffers on the ground past the military withdrawal date. According to the State Department, no military representative in attendance objected to it.

Accurate information regarding the withdrawal plans and any investigation into the actions of the government have further been thwarted by partisan politics in Congress. 

It is doubtful that the people will hear any answers on the debacle surrounding the Afghanistan withdrawal anytime soon. 

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