Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Inside Biden's Controversial Decision to Abandon Bagram

At Politco, "‘Speed equals safety’: Inside the Pentagon’s controversial decision to leave Bagram early: The administration didn't second-guess its decision to rapidly withdraw from Afghanistan. Lawmakers are fuming":

On a rainy day in early May, weeks after President Joe Biden announced the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, senior leaders from across the government gathered in the basement of the Pentagon for a broad interagency drill to rehearse the withdrawal plan.

During the exercise, top Pentagon leaders including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley stressed the need for American troops to get out of the country as quickly as possible to protect against renewed Taliban attacks.

“All of them made the same argument,” said one defense official, who was in attendance at the drill on May 8, and whose account includes previously unreported details. “Speed equals safety,” the person said, referring to the message conveyed by the military leaders.

The military brass had done a remarkable 180. For the first four months of 2021, as the White House reviewed the withdrawal timeline inherited from the Trump administration, Austin and Milley, as well as senior military commanders, urged Biden to leave a few thousand troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. Both were overruled. Once that happened, the Pentagon embraced as quick a withdrawal as possible, including from Bagram. And the Pentagon stuck to that approach through the beginning of July, regardless of the conditions on the ground.

The remnants of the U.S. military at Bagram left in the dead of night on July 1 handing off the base to Afghan commanders who complained they weren’t even notified of the departure.

“They just decided they lost the argument, and OK fine let’s get the heck out of dodge,” said one former senior defense official.

At every stage of the withdrawal, the White House went along with the Pentagon’s recommendations, accepting a timetable that ended up going faster than Biden laid out in the spring. When the Taliban started to sweep through northern Afghanistan in the summer, different plans were discussed but never altered. The priority for the Pentagon was to protect U.S. troops and pull them out, even as diplomats and Afghan allies stayed behind.

By early August, when it was clear Kabul would fall sooner than expected, the American military presence was down to fewer than 1,000 troops. It was too late to reverse course.

None of the civilian officials who were at the May 8 meeting at the Pentagon questioned the military’s rapid drawdown plan, according to multiple officials. Those attendees included national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his deputy, Jon Finer; CIA Director William Burns; Samantha Power, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development; Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the ambassador to the United Nations. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was not present, but was represented by his deputy, Brian McKeon. Besides Austin and Milley, other Pentagon officials included Gens. Frank McKenzie and Austin Scott Miller, the commanding generals of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, respectively, who joined via secure video.

The internal withdrawal debates and plans are at the heart of the congressional inquiry into the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban...

Still more.

Previously: "Senators Question Milley and Austin on End of War in Afghanistan (VIDEO)."