The lead-up to the second anniversary of the U.S.’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan was peppered with some surprising stories in the usually Democrat-friendly mainstream media, with headlines like “Biden administration struggling with how to mark anniversary of chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal” and “2 years on, Afghanistan withdrawal continues to cast pall on Biden administration” from outlets such as CNN and ABC News. These struggles and palls, however, were nowhere to be found in President Biden’s official statement on “the Second Anniversary of Ending the Afghanistan War.” His pro forma comments from August 31 mention the withdrawal itself only in passing, citing the “resolve and bravery” of those involved, and touting the evacuation of approximately 120,000 people. The previous day, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked whether the president plans to commemorate “the events and the people who were killed and left behind as that happened.” Jean-Pierre directed reporters to a perfunctory statement released by the president on the anniversary of the Abbey Gate bombing in Kabul on August 26, 2021, which briefly honored the memory of the 13 service members who died without mentioning their names.
For those who read Kabul: The Untold Story of Biden’s Fiasco and the American Warriors Who Fought to the End, this attitude will come as no shock. The surprise bestseller by Jerry Dunleavy and James Hasson paints a portrait of a president who was as unconcerned with the disaster he was precipitating as he currently is with forgetting about it. It also details a shocking and appalling culture of political callousness and pigheadedness that continued apace even as the calamity unfolded in real time before the eyes of world. The scope of the danger and human tragedy was not only foreseen and ignored by those at the top but was also exacerbated by uncaring bureaucrats, by repeated false and contradictory assertions from administration officials, and, above all, by Joe Biden’s ego.
Dunleavy (formerly with the Washington Examiner) and Hasson (a retired Army captain) start off by showing us the groundwork that was laid out for the impending disaster. They chronicle decades of poor geopolitical acumen by Biden, of whom former defense secretary Robert Gates wrote: “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” They explore the misguided and often baffling diplomatic efforts with the Taliban in the lead-up to and during the withdrawal. They provide a wealth of intelligence and open-source reports that all added up to a singular conclusion: The Afghanistan withdrawal plan was hasty, dangerous for U.S. forces and allies, and would leave the Afghan population as a whole in a deeply perilous state. But this patently obvious conclusion was not drawn by the administration that implemented the withdrawal.
The book zooms in on the situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, to which U.S. forces had retreated for the final evacuation, abandoning to the Taliban their far more defensible stronghold at Bagram Air Base. Absurdly, the U.S. also struck a deal with the Taliban to assist in providing security at the airport—despite widespread evidence of ties between its Haqqani Network and the Islamic State Khorasan group (ISIS-K). The suicide bomber who struck Abbey Gate at the airport on August 26, ISIS-K member Abdul Rahman Al Logari, had been released from imprisonment at Bagram by the Taliban just days before the attack. In addition to killing 13 U.S. service members, the suicide bombing killed nearly 200 Afghans in the throng crowding the gate in a desperate attempt to board a plane out of the country. Despite numerous independent confirmations of the bomber’s identity, U.S. officials still refuse to name him to this day, apparently fearing that his affiliation and the circumstances of his release would reflect negatively on their conduct.
Kabul’s harrowing account of the bombing is made even more infuriating when considered alongside the book’s narrative about the preceding weeks. For instance, U.S. and allied intelligence repeatedly warned of ISIS-K activity after the fall of Kabul on August 16, culminating in a warning issued by U.S. diplomats to Americans in Kabul to leave the area around the airport because of credible threats only hours prior to the attack. A Marine sniper interviewed for the book said his team had even spotted the bomber in the crowd but received no authorization to fire on him. “To this day, we believe he was the suicide bomber,” the sniper said. “Plain and simple, we were ignored.”
Kabul shows how aware those at the top were of the increasing danger to U.S. forces and Afghan civilians. Despite endless administration claims that they were prepared and ready to complete the withdrawal leading up to and during the final days of August, the reality was starkly different. Troops arriving at the airport to support the withdrawal effort found themselves needing to hot-wire abandoned vehicles, bring their own food and water, and place first-aid mannequins in guard towers to disguise their lack of manpower. They were also hampered by ridiculous restrictions on operations as a result of Covid measures imposed on troops. Vaccine mandates left units without key members, such as a surgeon for one medical unit at the airport; he was unvaccinated and therefore left behind to provide “support from Bahrain.” Soldiers were forced to wear cloth masks in blazing heat while wearing 60 pounds of gear, and quarantine and contact-tracing rules made manpower management a nightmare. Covid protocols had also led to horrendous backups in processing Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan allies at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in the months prior.
The complete breakdown of evacuation efforts also led to a surreal reality in which veterans’ groups and networks found themselves forced to spring into action independently, using connections and assets secured through private financing to run extraction operations and get allies and their families to the airport. Without the valiant efforts of these groups, many more would have been abandoned to the Taliban.
And still, many were abandoned to the Taliban. The administration concluded on August 17 that there are as many as 15,000 Americans remaining in Afghanistan. Despite evacuating only 6,000 of them by the time the last U.S. military aircraft departed the airport, administration officials repeatedly touted their success, claiming again and again that only 100 to 200 Americans who actually wanted to leave still remained in the country. Officials were never forced to reconcile these statements with the information that more than 900 Americans were later extracted between September 2021 and March 2022. Hundreds more found their way out via nongovernmental clandestine operations run by former Special Forces and intelligence operatives and financed by wealthy private individuals. Many others are still there to this day.
With the U.S. gone, the Taliban was left to pursue its restoration of an Islamist theocracy to Afghanistan, which it did with brazen vigor. But the book’s final parts lay bare the larger geopolitical fallout. In the face of American weakness and failure, Vladimir Putin was emboldened to move forward with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, while Xi Jinping increased China’s efforts to insert itself into Afghanistan via his Belt and Road Initiative and to ratchet up Chinese actions and rhetoric regarding Taiwan. The authors present a grim warning on future tragedies that the Biden administration’s conduct may have already wrought.
Dunleavy and Hasson close by doing what Biden has never done. They name the 13 victims of the Abbey Gate bombing: Marine Lance Corporal David L. Espinoza, Marine Sergeant Nicole Gee, Marine Staff Sergeant Darin Taylor Hoover, Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Christian Knauss, Marine Corporal Hunter Lopez, Marine Lance Corporal Rylee J. McCollum, Marine Lance Corporal Dylan R. Merola, Marine Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui, Marine Corporal Daegan W. Page, Marine Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo, Marine Corporal Humberto A. Sanchez, Marine Lance Corporal Jared M. Schmitz, and Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak. The authors urge us to not look away, to not forget, and to not ignore the looming dangers to come.
In a very real sense, this book stands as a monument. It is a monument to those who tragically lost their lives in the suicide bombing on August 26; to the resourcefulness, quick thinking, and dedication of the troops on the ground at Hamid Karzai International Airport; and to the veterans’ groups and networks that worked tirelessly and voluntarily to rescue as many people as they could. But it also serves as a monument to the failure of senior officials to heed multiple warnings in the months leading up to the withdrawal, and to the ultimate father of the preventable disaster—President Joe Biden.
Photo: Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps via AP
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