Fall of Kabul caught US State Department by surprise, report finds

After Action Review on Afghanistan instructs department to strengthen its ‘crisis preparedness’

Afghans scramble to leave Kabul after the Taliban takeover on August 15, 2021. AFP
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The speed at which the Taliban stormed back to power in August 2021 caught the US State Department by surprise, an internal report, released on Friday, showed.

“The sudden departure of President [Ashraf] Ghani from Kabul and the fall of the city to the Taliban happened with a speed that caught almost all close observers by surprise,” the After Action Review on Afghanistan stated.

The review found that the State Department had failed to adequately plan for a worst-case scenario and was caught flat-footed when the Taliban rolled into Kabul on August 15 with almost zero resistance, triggering a massive US-led evacuation.

In the weeks after the fall of Kabul, the US evacuated an estimated 124,000 people, but the process was chaotic and hindered due to a lack of staffing, the report found.

“The timing of the crisis during the height of summer turnover season thus made everything more difficult for those involved,” the report states.

As the situation deteriorated on the ground, the report found that State Department officials became inundated by calls from “government agencies, Congress and the public inquiring about individual cases mostly with regard to at-risk Afghans” – something the report called “challenging”.

Among the many recommendations was a need for the department to better plan for “worst-case scenarios” and to improve “crisis management capabilities”.

The review levelled blame at both the Donald Trump and Joe Biden administrations.

“The AAR team found that during both administrations there was insufficient senior-level consideration of worst-case scenarios and how quickly those might follow,” the report said.

The Biden administration has been roundly criticised for its handing of the withdrawal. Thirteen US troops were killed in a suicide attack outside Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 26, along with 170 Afghans, the final tragedy in America's two-decade war in the country.

Republicans have repeatedly attacked the administration over the withdrawal, though Mr Biden has defended his actions.

Kabul airport blast during US military withdrawal from Afghanistan – video

Footage shows moment of Kabul airport blast during US military withdrawal from Afghanistan

This image from a video released by the Department of Defense shows the explosion, behind he two U. S.  Marines in the foreground, by a suicide bomber at Abbey Gate outside Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug.  26, 2021, in Kabul Afghanistan.  The military investigation into the deadly attack during the Afghanistan evacuation has concluded that a suicide bomber, carrying 20 pounds of explosives packed with ball bearings, acted alone, and that the deaths of more than 170 Afghans and 13 U. S.  service members were not preventable.  (Department of Defense via AP)
Updated: June 30, 2023, 8:47 PM