In June, President Joe Biden was visited by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani. He expressed concerns about the U.S. plans to evacuate citizens ahead of troop withdrawal.
According to a senior administration official, Ghani expressed concern that an planned large-scale airlift of U.S. citizens as well as Afghan nationals who have helped the U.S. sends a disconcerting signal and undermines confidence in his government’s ability to fight the Taliban.
According to the official, Biden and his advisors listened and decided in mid-July to continue with civil evacuations. However, they decided to partially hide the beginnings of their departures using commercial aircraft and to delay the use of larger military aircraft capable of carrying more people.
Biden’s closest advisers now admit that it was a mistake.
The Afghan government defenses folded quickly, allowing the Taliban to seize control of the capital on Aug. 15 during an 11 day blitz across the country. The Biden Administration is now rushing to fly thousands of Americans and Afghans to safety. According to a U.S. official, Biden sent William Burns, CIA Director, to Kabul on Monday to discuss U.S. evacuation efforts as well as his intention to stop terror cells operating in Afghanistan following the U.S.’s departure.
Although thousands of Americans have left the country, the Administration doesn’t know how many are still there. Biden has stated that he will extend the deadline of Aug. 31 for a complete withdrawal if the evacuation fails to be completed. This means they have only seven days to evacuate the remaining Americans from Afghanistan.
This is a huge test for an Administration still reeling after the Taliban’s quick takeover. The stakes are high. Biden’s ham-fisted handling of the withdrawal has already undermined U.S. credibility with allies. Biden’s presidency will be remembered for the way it handled the withdrawal. The fate of thousands of American lives is at stake.
Leon Panetta, who was Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama and CIA Director, says that President Biden’s key objective right now is to be able complete the evacuation of all U.S. citizens and Afghans. “If we fail to fulfill that commitment, it will further undermine our credibility,” Panetta said.