Kabul, Afghanistan is still in a very chaotic state. Although the Taliban fighters have thus far not stopped American civilians from reaching the airport, they are setting up more and more checkpoints in the city. They have reportedly turned away Afghans looking to flee the country.
Earlier this week, President Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley addressed the situation of thousands of American personnel and Afghan civilians trying to reach the airport to get out.
Two points of President Biden and General Milley are noteworthy. Both mentioned that no one foresaw the complete collapse of the Aghan regime. Milley said on Wednesday that “there was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse” of the Afghan government and Afghan National Army (ANA).
That, while open for debate, is simply not true. The Pentagon ignored any naysayers when it came to the Afghan Army. Instead, it always painted a rosy picture of the Afghan military’s prowess when fighting the Taliban. Back in June, SOFREP had reported that many analysts were predicting a rapid collapse of the Afghan government in as little as three months.
Intelligence Assessments Differ, But the Warnings Were There
The intelligence community was split on the Afghan Army. The Defense Intelligence Agency and other Pentagon intelligence groups were optimistic while the CIA was much more pessimistic.
Nevertheless, any disagreement within the military was dismissed.
One general officer was even sent to Africa for questioning ANA’s capabilities. Retired Brigadier General Don Bolduc, who was the Commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan, had said as early as 2005 that the ANA was not a force that would fight.
Speaking with the Washington Examiner, Bolduc had said that the Afghan military was wracked by poor leadership, soldiers going AWOL or outright deserting, and an overall poor performance.
“I submitted reports from 2005 to 2013 on how incapable the Afghan National Police and military were,” Bolduc said. “We knew their capacity to fight the Taliban without support was just not there. It was not there. They could not defeat them.”
“We had been reporting on how bad the military was, how incapable it was. They had poor morale, and they refused to fight in a firefight against other Muslims, regardless if they were Taliban or al Qaeda. Some of our casualties were because of this. They would stop fighting, and we would come out to get them to do their job and we would get shot,” he added.
The Village Stability Operations program that Bolduc helped get off the ground was working but the Obama administration shut it down and turned over the responsibility to the Afghan Army.
“This is going to be a disaster in the rural areas, and we need to do a couple more years,” Bolduc said at a meeting at the time attended by General Milley, Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough, and NATO commander General Joseph Dunford. They did not take his assessment particularly well. Soon afterward, Bolduc was re-assigned to Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA). Bolduc penned a column for SOFREP back in February highlighting the flawed strategy and spoke on the SOFREP podcast about this as well.
In the end, the Afghan army didn’t fight at all. It either surrendered to the Taliban or just fled leaving behind hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. equipment. But the indications were certainly there.
US ‘Incapable’ of Evacuating American Civilians to Kabul Airport
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Austin acknowledged that the U.S. does not currently have the capability to safely escort Americans in Kabul to the city’s airport for evacuation.
“I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul,” Austin said, in a rather stunning admission. Rather, the State Department said that it is relying on the agreement with the Taliban to safely withdraw Americans.
General Milley said that “we’re going to work that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we’re gonna get everyone that we can possibly evacuate — evacuated. And I’ll do that as long as we possibly can — until the clock runs out or we run out of capability.”
That italicized portion of his statement has ominous connotations; perhaps he just misspoke.
But while the 5,000 American troops remain rooted at the airport, French, British, Canadian, and Australian special operations troops were going into Kabul and evacuating their citizens and in some cases Americans.
While President Biden doubled down on the assertation that the American government and military had “prepared for every scenario,” the fact remains that the administration was ill-prepared for this. Knowing that the State Department’s vetting for Afghans who worked for the U.S. takes a year or more, why didn’t the administration intensify efforts to get them and U.S. diplomats out quicker?
Milley said that the time for after-action reviews would come later and their focus now is getting everyone out safely. But the question now is will those after-action reviews consist of more gaslighting from the administration?
Trump Administration’s Plan
Another interesting story surfaced on Thursday as Defenseone spoke with former Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller. told Patrick Tucker that the U.S. never saw a total withdrawal as inevitable and that the Trump administration planned on leaving behind a special operations counter-terrorist contingent.
In the Defense One article, Miller said that “The whole policy strategy going forward was ‘Ghani is going to have to deal with the Taliban.’ And it wasn’t going to be a 50-50 split between the Afghan government and Taliban. We knew that. It was going to be 75-25 [majority Taliban], and then you flip this thing into an interim government,” he said.
Why wasn’t this discussed with the incoming administration? And if it was, why are we now hearing about this for the first time?
The situation in Afghanistan continues to be a monumental disaster and General Milley is correct in saying that the focus has to be getting everyone out quickly.