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As the US and allies are leaving Afghanistan they seem to leave behind quite a lot of persons who struggle to leave Kabul.

I am wondering why this is happening since leaving Afghanistan became clear as early as in April 2021. There were several months sufficient to establish a visa mechanism for NATO collaborators, journalists, and their families (who are in danger now), so they are able to leave Kabul before the Taliban reach it.

Why this apparent lack of preparations for the civilians surrounding NATO presence in Afghanistan?


A few minutes ago a similar question was asked by a journalist at the press conference and President Biden (transcript yet to come) indicated the failure of the Afgan military to defend Kabul was to blame about this situation. Unfortunately, this was the last answer and quite in a rush, so no further details were provided.

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  • @divibisan You are right. I am also more interested in the persons being affected by the rush as this seems way more impactful than leaving military equipment.
    – Alexei
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 16:28
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    To clarify one point, the U.S. commitment to leave Afghanistan by April 2021 was made in February 2020 in an agreement between President Trump and the Taliban leadership. President Biden pushed the deadline back an additional four months. Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 17:15
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    full text of the Doha accord is at state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/… 4 pages, not particularly difficult to interpret, and matches @jeffronicus : feb 2020 + 14 months is what it says. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 5:04
  • Also, please note that the question is tagged NATO and that, to my knowledge, Canada, Germany and the UK's government at least are all facing the same questions about botched repatriations of their Afghan helpers. Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 5:30
  • The conditions set by the Trump team in the document linked by @Italian were fully missing from Biden's summarizing of the event. In yesterday's speech, he continued to point finger at the "previous administration" for the decision to leave Afghan. Yes, under Trump's watch, the US may face another stretch of the fight until the Taliban or whoever has control of Afghanistan has fullfilled the requirements set in the accord.
    – r13
    Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 21:38

4 Answers 4

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In the absence of a more solid explanation, Rachel Maddow's show on 8/20 went into details about how the Trump administration had slow-walked and sabotaged the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Afghans helping the US military. This reporting builds off of comments by Olivia Troye, who was counterterrorism and homeland security advisor to Mike Pence (until she resigned late in the term). Troye claimed that Mattis and many people in the pentagon sent memos and notices to the Trump administration — memos she in her capactity received — asking to prioritize the SIV program, urging the administration not to lower the acceptance quotas, and similar. Mainly she accuses Steven Miller of gutting the system at Homeland Security and the State Department so that anyone who tried to work on the SIV program lacked the manpower and resources to accomplish anything of significance.

I mean, a judge ruled that the persistent delays in handling these visa requests broke federal law, though there's no indication that the Trump administration changed their practices after that ruling.

That still leaves the question of why the Biden administration didn't do more to ramp the process up in the last few months. I'm sure it wasn't a priority in the first hundred days — which were consumed with stemming Covid and providing economic relief — and it's likely (as others have said) that the administration did not expect the Ghani regime to collapse more or less without a fight. I suppose time will tell...

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    Can you elaborate a bit more about the sabotage of the visa program referred to on that show? Just summarizing the main points / linking to some references used in the show helps make it less of a link-only answer.
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 0:46
  • @JJJ: Yes, but I'll have to go back and rewatch it to be detailed. Will revisions later this evening suffice? Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 0:48
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    Sure, wasn't sure if you were going to. When it's more background info then it's fine to just leave a link but since this seems an important part of your answer I think it's interesting to include. :)
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 0:54
  • @JJJ: Ah, I'm sooooooo misunderstood...! 😄 Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 2:25
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    Frankly, I doubt there was any immigration program Trump didn't reduce or slow down... (maybe the one for supermodels--even there I doubt he's made an exception because he's "already got his". A quick search confirms that suspicion nytimes.com/2016/08/17/us/politics/…) Commented Aug 25, 2021 at 14:07
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Frankly questions such as this aren't usually answerable until decades have passed and the archives of the internal deliberations in the administration are made available for historians to study... and even then historians may disagree.

Now, if you want an educated guess: the administration probably believed its own story that the Ghani government won't fall quickly: the official line was even that fall was "not inevitable". Various numbers I've read is that they were expecting it to last six to 12 months or so... That would have given them more time to sort out bureaucratic stuff like this.

The Soviet-backed regime of Najibullah managed to outlast the Soviet troop withdrawal 3 years (it actually only fell after Moscow stopped supplying it with ammunition and fuel), so American "hubris" that their ally would manage at least 6 months was perhaps somewhat excusable...

FWTW, some quotes in this direction:

Another Pentagon official interviewed by AFP said that diplomats had tried to speed up the visa process — but the process was too long and complicated under the circumstances.

The Biden administration assumed that the US embassy in Kabul would remain open and that the Afghan government would retain control of the country for months after the US withdrawal, he said.

[...]

But by mid-June the administration still did not consider an evacuation necessary and favored the granting of special visas — a process that can take up to two years.

It was only at the end of June that the White House raised the possibility of evacuating the Afghan interpreters before the end of the military withdrawal, and asked for the Pentagon’s help.

A crisis cell was then set up to organize the reception of Afghan refugees on US bases as they waited for their visas to be issued.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said that, when the administration realized that the situation was “quickly evolving,” it launched what Operation Allied Refuge, which he described as “a gargantuan US effort not only to process, adjudicate and to grant visas to so-called Special Immigrants but to actually bring them to the United States with a massive airlift operation.”

He said 2,000 Afghans have been brought to the US through the airlift so far [August 17].

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Agree as per Fizz's answer that we won't know for a while.

However one likely consideration would have been the effect on ANA morale to expedite visa and evacuation procedures ahead of time, before it was clear the ANA could not hold.

If high-risk/high-rank Afghans had been known to have been pre-processed and/or pre-evacuated, that would have sent a clear signal to ANA troops that they were not expected to win. By mid-July the point was obvious to all anyway but that would not have been a desirable message to send in April.

Remember that NATO was, at least publicly, counting on ANA to be able to stabilize and hold the line. Prepping an evacuation ahead of time doesn't inspire confidence. Having a - secret - contingency plan in place, just in case, would have been good however.

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Telling eveyone who is a none Taliban member and has useful skills for running a government that they can move to the USA due to it being so unsafe for them to remain would have directly resulted in there being no other government option for Afghanistan then the Taliban.

On so many levels taking action assuming the Taliban would take over would have made it even more likely for the Taliban to quickly take over.

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  • In hindsight while wearing my prescription retrospective glasses seems a pretty dumb motive for not starting the process sooner // probably was a factor in the decision making though.
    – Pelinore
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 17:30

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