The president believes that there is nothing he could have done to avoid chaos
Twenty years after 9/11, American intelligence is back in the pillory. Couldn’t you anticipate the collapse of the Afghan government? “There was no report that I am aware of that predicted that a military force of 300,000 men would evaporate in eleven days,” General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff, said Wednesday.
In that he is right. The speed at which the Ashraf Ghani government collapsed exceeded any forecast, because “there is no intelligence agency that is good at estimating the will to fight that the forces of a partner have,” justified James Clapper, National Director of Intelligence during the Obama administration. Only, no one expects an intelligence agency to set an exact date for the collapse of a country. “They draw different scenarios and the enemy takes advantage of the holes that we leave,” explained Congressman and former Marine Mike Gallagher, who served two shifts in Iraq.
Among 76 congressional veterans there is a feeling that the commander-in-chief is responsible for the humiliating retreat. Joe Biden does not accept any mistakes and blames Ghani for it, “because when you have the leader of the government getting on a plane and going to another country, you know what happened,” he told George Stephanopoulos in his first interview since the fall of Afghanistan. According to the president, “there was no consensus” among the intelligence reports, which anticipated the most likely time “by the end of the year,” Biden said.
In May, only 11% of the Afghan population lived under the Taliban regime, but as of June the outpost accelerated the pace. Various sources assure that the Intelligence launched the alert and was reducing the time it would take to take over the Kabul government. From two years from the US withdrawal, to 18 months, six months, one month and up to two weeks. The latter was discarded as tremendous. The most pessimistic feared that the Taliban 2.0 would make the capture of Kabul coincide with 9/11, but its militants did not wait to rejoice in that symbolism.
Before Biden announced his decision, the generals had recommended keeping the 2,500-troop contingent at the Bagram base. It seemed like a cheap price for life insurance that could prevent another terrorist attack in the US. “The basic question was, am I going to send your sons and daughters to fight the war in Afghanistan in perpetuity?” The president resisted during the interview. He could have waited for the Taliban to retreat for the winter. For that, he would have had to increase “with a demonized number of troops,” he argued, the contingent already decimated by the withdrawal plan and give up celebrating the end of that war during the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Faced with the option of having to defend the base with just 600 troops, General Milley preferred to strengthen himself at the Hamid Karzai International Airport to guarantee the evacuation, which has proven to be a fiasco.
Biden says he did not receive a clear warning of the impending debacle. The question of “what did the president know and when did he know it” has haunted all US leaders who have suffered the threat of impeachment since Nixon. If Benghazi was Obama’s Vietnam, Afghanistan is Biden’s. Congressional investigations to answer those guilty questions will not wait.