National security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that the Biden administration would conduct a “hotwash”— corporate lingo for an after-action review — to discover what has gone wrong in Afghanistan, where the Taliban quickly seized control of the nation as U.S. forces withdrew after 20 years of military engagement.
Sullivan said the review would be “extensive,” but vowed it would not devolve into a “what-went-wrong,” finger-pointing exercise.
“We will take a look at everything that happened in this entire operation,” he said at a White House press briefing, adding that when such a review was complete, its conclusions would be made public. Additional details were not available, since, as Sullivan acknowledged, bringing the situation in Kabul under control remains the president’s top priority.
Biden admitted in a White House address on Monday that the collapse of the Afghan government “did unfold more quickly than we anticipated.”
Recriminations are to be expected, given how badly the American military and diplomatic establishment appear to have misjudged both how prepared Taliban appears to have been and the lack of preparation on the part of the Afghan National Army. Billions of dollars have been invested in training Afghan troops, seemingly for naught. Attempts to build a civil society in Afghanistan seemed to have proven equally fruitless, with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country over the weekend.
Former President Donald Trump has called on Biden to resign, although it was Trump who negotiated the terms of the withdrawal with the Taliban. Biden has defended ending U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, but critics argue that the conclusion could have taken place in a less disorderly fashion.
In an op-ed published in USA Today, a former Obama diplomatic official, Brett Bruen, called on Biden to fire Sullivan “and several other senior leaders who oversaw the botched execution of our withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Much remains unclear about the collapse of the Afghan government, which millions viewed on social media feeds and cable news programs over the weekend. Intelligence reports throughout the summer warned of violence and chaos, but Biden stayed the course. The integrity of the intelligence reports are likely to be scrutinized, including by members of Congress.
As the Taliban entered Kabul, Afghans with ties to U.S. military and reconstruction efforts fled toward Hamid Karzai International Airport, where they attempted to scramble onto American military cargo jets. How the Biden administration prepared for the evacuation of Afghans who could face retribution from the Taliban — not to mention 11,000 American citizens waiting to escape — is sure to also be part of any after-action review. Those evacuations remain the focus of American efforts.
Questions are also inevitable regarding military materiel, including Black Hawk helicopters, that the Taliban have seized. That equipment is unlikely to ever be returned. “We don't have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport," Sullivan admitted.
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