Aug 17 , 2021
As the world watched Taliban fighters steamroll Kabul Sunday, cementing the end of the U.S.-backed government there, we were all left pondering how the hell top brass could have been so wrong in their repeated assertions that Kabul would not fall.
Biden ignored (or misrepresented) key intelligence assessments which consistently informed policymakers that the Taliban could overwhelm the country and take the capital within weeks; essentially a repeat of the 1975 fall of Saigon, when helicopters evacuated diplomats from the U.S. embassy's rooftop as NVA stormed into the South Vietnam capital.
The Taliban, or "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," announced they entered Kabul soon after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. This set off a rush to the airport and a rapid evacuation of the U.S. embassy by a fleet of military helicopters guarded by AH-64 Apache attack helicopters orbiting the once-impenetrable Green Zone. President Joe Biden rushed to move in thousands of U.S. troops to evacuate American officials still in the capital. Leaders were told by the military it would take no time at all for the Taliban to take everything," an anonymous U.S. intelligence official told ABC News. "No one listened."
A senior congressional official who asked not to be named in order to discuss sensitive briefings disclosed that intelligence officers warned the U.S. leaders about a swift and absolute victory by the fundamentalist Taliban militants who held power in Kabul during the late 1990s up until after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The intelligence community assessment has always been accurate; they just disregarded it,"
In May, the U.S. special envoy leading talks with the Taliban leadership in Doha, Qatar, had also told the House committee that fears about a total fall of the Afghan government were misplaced."I personally believe that the predictions that the Afghan forces will collapse right away -- they are not right," said Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. "We will help, we are helping them now. We will help them. This is our commitment."
Now, thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. military or fought side-by-side with American forces -- including those still in the pipeline for special immigrant visas -- fear Taliban reprisals in occupied cities such as Kabul.
Also uncertain is the fate of American civil engineer Mark Frerichs, who has been held hostage by the Taliban since last year.
"What is happening in Afghanistan is not the result of an intelligence failure," former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell tweeted on Sunday. "It is the result of numerous policy failures by multiple administrations. Of all the players over the years, the Intelligence Community by far has seen the situation in Afghanistan most accurately."
Others wondered how Afghanistan's army could have collapsed in a matter of weeks, after the U.S. invested more than $80 billion in recruiting, training and arming them.
The Pakistani official said that his concern was not so much about a Taliban-controlled regime in Kabul, as it was about a civil war leading to a humanitarian crisis -- with millions more Afghan refugees potentially crossing the border into Pakistan.
"The Taliban should take their success with a grain of salt," the official said. "To take a city is one thing, but to hold it is a different ballgame."
"Our fear is not their victories," he added. "But setting up a system of governance is very difficult. They will make mistakes, too. The arrogance of victory will lead to that."