Thirteen American troops, twelve Marines and a Navy corpsman, have been killed in the explosions at Kabul airport on Thursday as the U.S. “rescue” operation spirals downward.
It is neither temperate nor judicious to look for excuses for the behavior of the Biden administration. It does little good either to fulminate.
But lagging advice on how to stop the bleeding is uninteresting at this point. President Biden made that clear with his very late appearance for a press conference Thursday evening. He is obviously not in a condition of sufficient mental competence now to change the course of this cataclysmic failure to enforce American interests.
This post will not be a synoptic summary. It will focus, for want of time, on two major errors committed by the administration in the last couple of days.
One is the information many will have seen that the Biden administration has given to the Taliban. The report is from Thursday afternoon; the claim by Politico is that “U.S. officials in Kabul gave the Taliban a list of names of American citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies to grant entry into the militant-controlled outer perimeter of the city’s airport.”
Politico cites an unnamed defense official with this blunt reaction: “Basically, they just put all those Afghans on a kill list. It’s just appalling and shocking and makes you feel unclean.”
CENTCOM didn’t comment, but Biden did in response to a question at his Thursday press conference: “There have been occasions when our military has contacted their military counterparts in the Taliban and said this, for example, this bus is coming through with X number of people on it, made up of the following group of people. We want you to let that bus or that group through.”
That’s as bad an answer as simply acknowledging that Politico’s version of the same fatal error is correct.
But it’s odd to have the president answering a question of such specificity, and merely … answering it. It’s as if Biden was sent to do his subordinates’ jobs for them. The question is something State or Defense should have fielded, if the administration’s only purpose was to give an answer. From the president, given the obvious implications of such actions, we have the right to expect prior cognition of the obvious, followed by a policy statement that adds context or signals U.S. intent or interests, and how they are served by such an apparently ill-conceived communication to the Taliban.
The point of being a sovereign nation with the most powerful military on the planet is that we don’t have to hand lists to the bloodthirsty Taliban and ask them to honor our requests. We should be in the position, rather, to enforce the order of our choosing in the streets of Kabul until we get as many people as we choose out of Afghanistan on our say-so.
That’s why all the endangered people should have been evacuated before we drew down to a force of some 600-1,000 troops capable of doing no more than defending – for some limited but shrinking time – a security perimeter inside Hamid Karzai International Airport. Trying to reconstitute the security conditions in Kabul prior to the troop withdrawal is impossible without a much larger operation than we are engaged on.
Note that the Politico report indicates the list was turned over some time back; i.e., apparently days ago. The list could well have made it much easier for the Taliban to identify and track down targets. It’s probable that the Taliban have been compiling such lists for months, but this puts in perspective numerous social media reports from the previous 10 days about the Taliban going through neighborhoods unerringly identifying Afghans and hauling them away. At a minimum, giving the Taliban lists of our proteges would put those named at the head of the line for the culling.
The other error is something that appears to be an error, assuming it was in fact information leaked by U.S. officials to the Wall Street Journal. According to WSJ (paywall), the CIA has launched “clandestine” operations to “rescue Americans in and outside Kabul.” Says WSJ, “The missions are using American military helicopters but under the control of the CIA, a typical arrangement in such operations.”
WSJ continues: “The air and ground operations are considered perilous under the current circumstances in the country as the U.S. has begun to assign priority on evacuating Americans over Afghans who are at risk.”
Well, no kidding. That’s why you don’t provide information to the media so they can write feature articles about it.
The WSJ report refers to a “congressional source” who described U.S. special forces operating with allies to evacuate citizens from the respective nations, as well as U.S. green card holders and Afghan allies.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is also quoted alluding to the threat to Kabul airport. Articles quoting Schiff tend to indicate collaborative leaks from a Democratic administration, and Democratic staffers on the hill.
Perhaps the reason for the leak was to signal reassuringly that unheralded rescue operations are going on. Whatever the reason, and let us say charitably that it was that, this was extremely stupid and operationally counterproductive. If the “clandestine” operations have escaped identification up to now, the Taliban have been given a key to recognizing them. Track one, and the Taliban can then start identifying and interdicting them all.
*Update*: Then there’s this. We’ve got (admittedly foolish, but harmless) Americans incarcerated for months awaiting trial for misdemeanor trespassing charges, but we’re sharing intelligence with the Taliban as if they’re trusted partners in airport security.
That’s it. There is no need to say a great deal more. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.