Afghanistan evacuations should have happened earlier, White House admits

Karine Jean-Pierre, John Kirby
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre listens as National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci/AP

Afghanistan evacuations should have happened earlier, White House admits

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The Biden administration acknowledged that it should have begun evacuations during the military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan sooner.

On Thursday, the administration released a 12-page unclassified summary of the after-action report on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which placed much of the blame of how it played out on the previous administration.


President Joe Biden had decided to uphold a deal President Donald Trump agreed to regarding withdrawing forces in 2021, though the current commander in chief pushed the withdrawal back to September. The Taliban launched an offensive against the U.S.-backed government and Afghan military in early August that was unexpectedly overwhelmingly successful.

Biden ordered a noncombatant emergency operation on Aug. 14, days after initially rejecting such a move, though the administration now believes it should’ve started sooner and has learned from that decision.

“We now prioritize earlier evacuations when faced with a degrading security situation,” the report said. “We did so in both Ethiopia and Ukraine. When the capitals of both countries were threatened, the President directed adjustments in the posture of the embassies by drawing down or evacuating embassy personnel.”

The local governments protested the decisions in both instances, but, by removing personnel before a potential threat, it “resulted in an orderly departure and enabled our teams to safely carry out critical functions remotely for nearly three months.”

Their orderly departure stands in stark contrast to the operation in Afghanistan. The remaining U.S. troops were conducting the evacuations from Hamid Karzai International Airport. Thousands of Afghans descended upon the gates of the airport for those two weeks until the troops ultimately left at the end of August, creating a chaotic and dangerous environment.

The summary noted that “approximately 70,000 vulnerable Afghans were evacuated by the U.S. Government to overseas Defense Department facilities for security screening, vetting, and the administration of public health vaccinations,” though roughly 124,000 people were evacuated in total.

The White House disputes the characterization that the situation at the airport was “chaos” because after a few days, the military had evacuation flights leaving Kabul on a more than an hourly basis.


“And so, for all this talk of chaos, I just didn’t see it, not from my perch,” National Security Council coordinator John Kirby told reporters on Thursday. “At one point during the evacuation, there was an aircraft taking off full of people, Americans and Afghans alike, every 48 minutes. And not one single mission was missed. So, I’m sorry. I just won’t buy the whole argument of chaos.”

He also credited the troops for their actions in conducting the biggest airborne evacuation of noncombatants in history.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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