U.S. intelligence agencies warned of the collapse of the Afghan military and government at the hands of a resurgent Taliban over the summer, as President Biden publicly downplayed the possibility of a government rout.
While Biden assured Americans on July 8 that the Afghan regime’s disintegration was far from inevitable, quieting fears of a “Saigon-like” foreign policy fiasco, previous intelligence reports indicated that Afghan security forces as well as the seat of government in Kabul were weakening and could falter, current and former American government officials told the New York Times.
A specific July report affirmed the increasingly vulnerable position of the capital to attack as the Taliban advanced across the country, capturing a chain of major provincial cities and towns, a person familiar with the intelligence informed the Times.
Immediately before the events of last week, the U.S. intelligence community was largely in agreement that the Afghan government could endure for at 90 days at most, providing at least some breathing room for an organized, efficient withdrawal of American boots on the ground. This prediction was already a downgrade from a spring assessment, however, which gave the Afghan regime two years to hold together.
An anonymous senior administration official shared with the newspaper that by July, as the situation started to deteriorate amid the Taliban’s steady territorial gains, the intelligence bodies did not indicate a clear prediction of Taliban takeover. The official specified that their assessments did not earn a “high confidence” rating, the agencies’ highest level of certainty. The official said that as late as a week before the Afghan army’s dissolution, the intelligence community still did not project the Afghan government’s imminent ouster.
While the intelligence agencies long expected the Taliban’s eventual triumph, presenting varying timelines, contingent on the Afghan military’s cohesion and motivation to continue the battle, they did not foresee a surrender in only a few weeks time, the Times said.
During an appearance on Fox News Monday, Republican Senator Ben Sasse suggested that administration officials were dismissive of his concerns about withdrawal during Intel committee briefings. He has said that for months, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have warned the Biden administration of the Afghan government’s potential collapse.
When a reporter asked National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during a press briefing Tuesday if the government disregarded information suggesting the Afghan regime would be overwhelmed amid the Taliban’s revival, he replied, “I’m not actually familiar with the intelligence assessments you’re describing.”
“The business of intelligence is not to say you know on Aug. 15 the Afghan government’s going to fall,” Timothy S. Bergreen, a former staff director for the House Intelligence Committee, told the Times. “But what everybody knew is that without the stiffening of the international forces and specifically our forces, the Afghans were incapable of defending or governing themselves.”
Also during the press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki echoed Biden’s comments Monday in acknowledging that the Taliban’s takeover and the subsequent chaos escalated quicker than the administration envisioned. “This did happen more rapidly than we anticipated,” Psaki said.
When the Taliban captured Kabul over the weekend, seizing the presidential palace that Afghanistan leader Ashraf Ghani had fled just hours earlier, people rushed to the local airport in droves, flooding the tarmac and clinging to plane tires, desperate to secure a spot on a departing U.S. jet. Due to the mayhem, which resulted in multiple civilian casualties and even an exchange of gunfire, the U.S. temporarily halted all flights Tuesday, leading many lawmakers and pundits to question how the U.S. lost control of the airport perimeter and boarding zone so rapidly.
Multiple C-17 planes and thousands of American troops have arrived in Afghanistan in the last 24 hours to evacuate U.S. citizens, Afghan collaborators, interpreters, translators, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants, and other personnel to safety.
Now that the Kabul airport has re-opened for military flight operations and limited commercial flight operations, Psaki confirmed that the United States’ priority now is to move out as many eligible people as possible from the country, prioritizing American citizens then assisting refugees and allies who fought alongside U.S soldiers to keep the Taliban at bay for two decades.
PHOTOS: The Fall of Afghanistan