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8 Apr 2023
Ian Hanchett

NextImg:NPR: White House Deflecting, Denying Things 'Any Air Breather Watching TV' Could See on Afghanistan, We Haven't Learned Lessons

On Friday’s “NPR Politics Podcast,” NPR National Desk Reporter Tom Bowman and NPR White House Correspondent Asma Khalid slammed the Biden administration’s Afghanistan report as a largely “political document” that is designed to avoid accountability, stated that the Biden administration is denying obvious reality, and said that the government has not made adjustments based on the lessons of the withdrawal.

Khalid said, [relevant remarks begin around 9:30] “I’m just struck, in reading through the summary that the White House released yesterday, of how much that document seems to be a political document. It’s seeking to punt — maybe you could say justify — what happened, but not really accept any accountability. … It’s largely about blaming the previous administration for not adequately planning what went on.”

Bowman stated that while the Trump administration lowered troop levels to a degree where the U.S. couldn’t really do anything, “The problem is they don’t talk about the problems the Biden administration had. Now, the military told the State Department, you should start removing people — start moving Afghans and start removing American civilians in May, because that’s the agreement that was reached with the Taliban, the U.S. had to leave by May. They should have started earlier on. And if you read the document, it’s like, well, we had discussions with interagency for months. They didn’t start removing people until August, really when the whole place started falling apart.”

He continued, “And then Kirby basically says, I didn’t see any chaos. Any air breather watching TV could see the streets clogged with people, thousands of people, their families, their belongings, holding up documents that showed they worked with the Americans, even hoisting their children over the wall so the American military could grab them and bring them to safety. It was completely chaotic. They should have started moving people out much, much earlier in the spring. They failed to do that.”

Later, NPR White House Correspondent Tamara Keith asked, “So what they are saying is that lessons have been learned, that this report may not be totally satisfying to everyone, but lessons have been learned and absorbed. Tom, have lessons been learned and absorbed? Has the U.S. military or State Department or apparatus of U.S. defense adjusted based on what happened there?”

Bowman responded, “Not that I see. And they say, with Ukraine, for example, we started moving people out fairly quickly, but that’s apples and oranges here. Ukraine is nothing like what you saw in Afghanistan, again, when you saw thousands of people trying to get out. It was chaos. And also, if you read the report, it said, well, we thought we would have plenty of time, that the Kabul government wouldn’t fall for maybe a year or two. Anybody that’s spent any time in Afghanistan talking to people, as I did, knew that once the Americans started pulling out, the whole thing would fall apart. The Afghan Army was never any good. They had a commando force that was quite good. But everyone knew — anyone who knew anything about Afghanistan knew that country would fall very rapidly. And it did, in the spring and into the early summer, and the Biden administration didn’t move fast enough.”

Khalid added, “I hate to be the cynic that looks at everything through a political lens, but there really wasn’t any sense of accountability here. And to your point about the Taliban very quickly taking over, you hear the White House saying that no agency predicted that that would happen.”

Bowman responded, “That’s rubbish. The best-case scenario I heard was the Taliban would take over the entire country, including Kabul, by October. So don’t give me this one-year, two-year thing. Nobody thought that was going to happen. The real problem, if you’re stepping back here, isn’t about the withdrawal. It’s about 20 years spent in Afghanistan. And there [were] never any real hearings on this, never any oversight hearings like you had during Vietnam with the Fulbright hearings. Why is the U.S. in Afghanistan? What is it trying to accomplish? You never had those serious hearings. It was always some general coming in and saying, I’m heading off to Afghanistan. It’s getting better by the day. The Afghan forces are getting better. Again, it was a fiction. And no one — the Democrats and Republicans on the Hill — nobody wanted to own this thing.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett