On Afghanistan, Far Too Many Questions Remain Unanswered
Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified recently on Capitol Hill about the Biden Administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the first of what will hopefully be many hearings as Congress and the American people attempt to understand how this Administration oversaw such a humiliating debacle.
Unfortunately, Secretary Blinken’s testimony has left us all with more questions than answers, and it is clear that this Administration’s strategy continues to be flooding the media with obfuscation and half-truths until, they hope, the American people forget about their tragic blundering in Afghanistan altogether.
That’s why it is essential that we do not forget about Afghanistan in 2022 and 2024, and why we need to call out falsehoods from the Biden Administration as they come through in these hearings.
Take, for instance, Secretary Blinken’s choice to go back to an oft-repeated phrase of this Administration – that they inherited a deal, but not a plan. First and foremost, this Administration has demonstrated time and again that it will not adhere to policies and decisions made by the Trump Administration. Look no further than the Paris Climate Agreements, the Nordstream II pipeline, and negotiations with Iran to revive the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) for just a few examples.
Further, the repeated assertion that the Trump Administration had no plan is blatantly false. We had in place a plan for a gradual drawdown of troop levels contingent on the Taliban not attacking American troops or American interests. If the Taliban did anything – anything – that threatened American lives, the Trump Administration would have hit them, hard. The Biden Administration chose not to do this until it was too late, and the strike they did eventually undertake, we now know, was entirely ineffective – it only ended up killing civilians, including seven children. The truth is that President Biden and Mr. Blinken inherited an orderly plan for a drawdown, based on firm conditions for keeping our people safe. They ripped up that plan and turned it into a chaotic rush for exit. And people died.
Secretary Blinken also insisted that the Biden Administration will continue to hold the Taliban “accountable” for “prevent[ing] terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten the United States or our allies, including Al Qaeda and ISIS-K.” But the Biden Administration has done no such thing thus far – rather than hold the Taliban accountable and impose costs on it, this Administration has given the Taliban everything they want. The Administration left Bagram Air Force Base early, before American civilians were even close to being evacuated. We took vital air support away from the Afghan army, crippling their ability to fight the Taliban effectively. President Biden has insisted that the Afghan army was unwilling to fight, but this Administration will not admit that it pulled out an essential element of support before the fight was over. That isn’t holding the Taliban accountable, that’s hanging your allies out to dry and then blaming them for not wanting to fight.
In his testimony, Secretary Blinken also asserted that “we continue our intensive diplomacy with Allies and partners,” and that from the moment President Biden made his decision, NATO was united in their support of the withdrawal. But the facts do not seem to square with such assertions. On Tuesday, August 17, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that President Biden had “not yet spoken with any other world leaders” regarding the Afghanistan crisis, at a time when the Taliban had just taken over Kabul, and effectively the entire country.
In Germany, Armin Laschet, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most likely successor, called the execution of the withdrawal “the greatest debacle that NATO has experienced since its foundation.” In the United Kingdom, the nation which has committed the most troops to Afghanistan after the United States, numerous members of Parliament expressed their anger and frustration with our actions. It took Biden 36 hours to respond to a phone call from Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This is not leadership, and it certainly is not “intensive diplomacy.”
Sec. Blinken also stated that “there is nothing that strategic competitors like China and Russia…would have liked more than for the United States to . . . remain bogged down in Afghanistan for another decade.” But this debacle of a withdrawal is exactly what they want – China, in particular, has already made overtures to the Taliban and will likely seek to bring Afghanistan into its Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, China and Russia alike can point to this disaster and say, “Look what happens when you trust America.”
To this point, the Biden Administration has mistakenly conflated criticism of the manner of their withdrawal with criticism of their decision to withdraw, period. The Trump Administration had decided to withdraw as well. But we prevented the Taliban from taking over the country even as we reduced our military footprint, used to deterrence to keep members of the American military safe, and we kept terrorist organizations in check by holding the Taliban to their promises. Conversely, the Biden Administration abdicated its responsibilities and unilaterally withdrew our military forces in order to have them all out by 9/11 for a photo-op. They did this before evacuating American civilians as the security situation deteriorated on the ground; and judging by the response of world leaders, they did it without consulting our allies as well. Such gross incompetence is not defensible, and leaders in Congress need to take the initiative to continue to expose the Biden Administration’s many mistakes.
At the ACLJ, we are demanding answers to many of these questions in an effort to hold the Biden Administration accountable. The ACLJ’s Government Accountability Project has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of the Biden Administration over its complete failure in the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the humanitarian nightmare it created. If Biden’s team refuses to respond (which we have come to expect from this Administration), our legal team will be ready to file yet another lawsuit. It is time to hold the Biden Administration accountable.