Grim intelligence assessments did not match Biden’s assurances on Afghanistan: report
Grim intelligence assessments of the Taliban’s growing power and of a faltering Afghan military over the last several months did not match President Biden’s public assurances that Afghanistan would not fall quickly once U.S. forces left the country, The New York Times reported.
Current and former American government officials told the Times that by July, many intelligence reports questioned whether Afghan security forces would be able to resist Taliban fighters and hold Kabul.
President Biden, however, said on July 8 that a Taliban takeover was “highly unlikely” and that there’s “going to be no circumstances where you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the United States from Afghanistan,” referring to the fall of Saigon in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War.
The repeated warnings call into question why the Biden administration wasn’t better prepared to handle the likelihood of the swift fall of Kabul and didn’t have a security protocol at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport as the United States moved to leave the country.
One assessment in July — which came as the Taliban were rapidly taking over major cities in the country —pointed out that the Afghan government was not prepared for a Taliban assault on Kabul, a person familiar with the intelligence told the Times.
Intelligence agencies also predicted that Afghan security forces were at high risk of falling apart should the Taliban take major cities.
The reports came after President Biden in April decided to pull U.S. forces from the country, when intelligence agencies predicted that the Afghan government could resist the Taliban for up to two years, administration officials said.
But by July, as the Islamic extremist group rolled through and took major sections of the country, intelligence agencies did not give an updated prediction of a Taliban takeover, one senior administration official said.
And a week before Kabul fell, the overall intelligence analysis was that a Taliban takeover was not unavoidable, the official added.
Intelligence officials admitted that their agencies’ assessments had become bleak in recent weeks and months.
Biden on Monday stood by his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, saying that officials “planned for every contingency,” while also acknowledging the situation descended into chaos “more quickly than we anticipated.”
Biden’s speech was his first public comment since the Taliban completed a stunningly swift takeover of Afghanistan on Sunday after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and militants took over the presidential palace in the capital city.
In just over a week, the Taliban went from winning control of its first provincial capital to taking over Kabul.
The swift takeover prompted scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport on Monday as desperate Afghans clamored to board U.S. military evacuation flights, images of which blanketed U.S. airwaves and social media. The pandemonium forced the United States to temporarily halt flights evacuating U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans and forced the U.S. military to deploy 6,000 troops to help secure the airport.
It is unclear whether an intelligence failure or decisionmaking in the Biden administration led to the breakdown in Kabul that began on Sunday.
Intelligence agencies for years predicted that the Taliban would ultimately regain control of Afghanistan, but the timelines for such a takeover varied and did not include a collapse in a matter of weeks.
The assessments from this summer did, however, question whether Afghan security forces would stand and fight after U.S. and coalition forces left.
And the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s annual threat assessment, released in April, said the Taliban “is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”
But there are often disagreements between intelligence agencies, with the CIA long wary of the training of the Afghan security forces while the Defense Intelligence Agency and those within the Pentagon have been more optimistic.
Military and intelligence assessments, for example, guessed that Kabul’s government could last at least a year before a Taliban takeover under the idea that the Afghan army would stay and fight.