Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

Biden Abandons Us Citizens and Allies in Afghanistan

As the White House desperately attempts to turn the page on the botched execution of President Biden’s withdrawal order from Afghanistan, the State Department is still refusing to disclose just how many US citizens and permanent US residents holding green cards are still trapped in the country, unable to leave.

The Biden administration also refuses to answer any questions about its plans to rescue the tens of thousands of Afghans who assisted US forces during the 20 years they were there, and who are now marked for reprisals and being hunted by the Taliban.

Ironically, President Biden had reset the withdrawal deadline to August 31 to enable him to boast on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that he had personally ended America’s longest war. But the badly botched way in which the Biden administration executed the withdrawal made it clear that after 20 years, the US military had accomplished nothing. It was leaving Afghanistan with the Taliban once again in control of the country. They are also still closely allied with other Islamic terrorist groups, including the remnants of al Qaeda, still intent on attacking US targets around the world.

Instead of being able to bask in the public glory of having kept his withdrawal promise, Biden was forced by his plummeting job approval numbers to try to change the subject. Three days before the 9/11 anniversary, Biden declared an economic war on an estimated 80 million Americans by threatening to have them fired from their government or private sector jobs unless they agree to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

But Biden’s latest damage control effort is doomed to fail, as his reckless and irresponsible withdrawal decision and its execution are now being exposed as a fiasco from beginning to end.


Nine days after the last US military plane left Afghanistan on August 31, a Qatar Airways commercial jetliner took off from the Kabul airport carrying an estimated 200 evacuees to Doha in Qatar. According to State Department spokesman Ned Price, they included 10 US citizens and 11 green cardholders. They also included Germans, Hungarians, Canadians, Italians, as well as people from the Netherlands, Ukraine, and Great Britain, and many Afghans who had worked for the Americans over the past 20 years. Many held dual citizenship.

One of the passengers was Irfan Popalzai, 12, who said his family lives in Maryland. When he boarded the flight with his mother and five siblings, he told a reporter, “I am an Afghan, but you know I am from America and I am so excited” to leave.

The Kabul airport was badly damaged during the final days of the US evacuation, and required extensive repairs by technicians brought in from Qatar and Turkey to make it ready to resume international commercial airline flights. By the time the Qatar Airways evacuation flight took off, the new rulers had removed former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s name from the airport, and redecorated its passenger terminal with several Taliban flags and a banner which declared, “The Islamic Emirate seeks peaceful and positive relations with the world.”

The rescue flight from Kabul had been arranged through negotiations between US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and the foreign minister of the new Taliban government. Khalilzad had previously represented the US government during its peace talks with the Taliban.


Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the Biden White House National Security Council, tried to put the best possible face on the first evacuation flight to leave since the withdrawal deadline. In a statement, she said that the United States had “facilitated the departure of US citizens and lawful permanent residents” on the flight, which was the result of “careful and hard diplomacy and engagement. She added that the Taliban “have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort,” calling it “a positive first step,” and insisting that the US government would continue its efforts to bring out those left behind.

A second civilian airliner left Kabul the next day for Qatar, carrying 19 American citizens among a total of 158 passengers. Other foreign passport holders included French, Dutch, British, Belgian, and Mauritanian nationals.

Horne also revealed that an additional group of two US citizens and 11 permanent US residents also left Afghanistan that day “via overland passage to a neighboring country.”

However, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also announced that further flights of refugees from Afghanistan to the United States had been temporarily suspended at the request of the CDC, because four Afghans who had recently arrived in the United States had been diagnosed with measles.


At the same time, six chartered airliners had been waiting at the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for more than a week to evacuate another 1,000 people, but their departure was being held up by the Taliban as well as State Department red tape. According to Congressman Michael McCaul, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Taliban was holding the planes and those trying to escape hostage in an effort to pressure the White House into formally recognizing their government.

The planes at Mazar-i-Sharif had been chartered by two non-profit US-based organizations — the Nazarene Fund, which assists Christians and other persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East, and Ascend, a group that had worked to help young Afghan women through athletic training.

Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat US senator from Connecticut, was supporting the evacuation effort, and issued a sharp rebuke saying that he was “deeply frustrated, even furious at our government’s delay and inaction” in helping the planes leave Mazar-i-Sharif.

“There will be plenty of time to seek accountability for the inexcusable bureaucratic red tape that stranded so many of our Afghan allies,” Blumenthal added. “For now, my singular focus remains getting these planes in the air and safely to our airbase in Doha, where they have already been cleared to land.”

In response, a spokesman for the State Department told a reporter that the government was aware of “a small number of Americans who we believe are seeking to depart from Mazar-i-Sharif with their families. We have been assured that all Americans and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave and [we] intend to hold the Taliban to that commitment.” The spokesman also denied that those waiting to leave were being held by the Taliban as hostages.

At a news conference in Doha, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that US officials are “not aware of anyone being held on aircraft or any hostage-like situation Mazar-i-Sharif. . . It’s my understanding that the Taliban has not denied exit to anyone holding a valid document, but they have said those without valid documents, at this point, can’t leave.”


The current effort to rescue Americans and other foreigners still trapped in Afghanistan, and to save the Afghans now marked for death for helping the Americans, is being led by small groups of American veterans, including some members of Congress, who once served in Afghanistan and now feel honor-bound not to leave their friends and former comrades-in-arms behind.

Taliban officials and spokesmen have repeatedly claimed that both foreigners and Afghan citizens who can present proper international travel documents would be permitted leave, but in practice the Taliban have thrown up various bureaucratic obstacles to their departure, except for the Qatar Airways flights from Kabul. In addition, many Afghans either were unable to obtain the needed American paperwork before the Kabul embassy closed, or felt compelled to destroy their papers to avoid being labeled by the Taliban as American collaborators.

Those trying to rescue those stranded in Afghanistan have bitterly complained that the State Department has not been cooperative in identifying those Afghans who have applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) and should therefore be permitted by the Taliban to leave the country.

These activists also claim that the vast majority of the estimated 118,000 Afghans who were flown out of Kabul airport by the US before the August 31 withdrawal deadline did not have proper SIV documents, and were never properly screened before being allowed to board their flights. The activists are now asking why the State Department granted those people instant permission to leave Afghanistan without documents before August 31, but is now refusing to do the same for those left behind. They are also accusing the State Department of thwarting, rather than assisting, the privately sponsored evacuation efforts.

At his Doha news conference, Secretary Blinken admitted that many of the Afghans who were airlifted from Kabul before August 31, to be temporarily housed at various US military bases, are only now having their security backgrounds checked, after the fact. He explained that normal vetting procedures for SIV status, which can take 18 to 24 months, were waived at the time as part of the “effort to get as many people out as fast as we can while we had the [Kabul] airport functioning.”


According to Chad Robichaux, an ex-Marine and co-founder of Save Our Allies, a coalition of military veterans and former special operators who served in Afghanistan, many of the American citizens now waiting to leave Afghanistan on private chartered planes were rejected by US authorities at the Kabul airport before the August 31 deadline.

Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer for the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, said that it is unreasonable for the State Department to demand that Afghans seeking to leave the country produce documents showing that they worked for the US government in light of reports that the Taliban has been “shooting people on the spot with US phone numbers in their cellphones. Carrying the documents could be a death sentence for them.”

She also rejects as a cynical exercise in semantics the State Department’s denial that its talks with the Taliban about permitting those stuck at Mazar-i-Sharif to leave are hostage negotiations. “If it’s not a hostage situation, it’s an extortion situation,” Shea told a reporter for RealClearPolitics.

Markwayne Mullin, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, says that the State Department rejected his suggestion that they negotiate with the Taliban to allow one of the six planes waiting at Mazar-i-Sharif take off carrying only those who carried US passports or verified SIV travel papers, even after he volunteered to assist with the documentation. He also accused the State Department of trying to take credit for the successful overland escape from Afghanistan of a four-member family of American citizens from Texas, after US embassy staff at the Kabul airport were instructed by their superiors not to help that family leave the country before the August 31 deadline.

The non-profit groups trying arranging the evacuation flights also say that the official State Department estimate of about 100 Americans remaining in Afghanistan who want to leave is far too low. They also deny State Department claims that it is “in direct contact with virtually all of them.”


In fact, according Katherine Schuette, who works for the Tem America rescue operation, many of the American citizens or green card holders stayed behind after August 31 because they had Afghan spouses and family members they had wanted to bring out with them and who should have been allowed to leave. “We’re talking about parents of American citizens, brothers and sisters of American citizens, and it’s not that easy to say, ‘Leave your families behind,’” Schuette said. “We still believe people are being turned away that should not be turned away.”

The Washington Post reported the story of an Afghan interpreter for the US military who had already resettled in the United States and became a naturalized citizen. During the final days of the US withdrawal, he voluntarily returned to Afghanistan to rescue his stranded female relatives after they could not get inside the Kabul airport.

After he arrived, he and his family were turned back again and again by Afghan security guards at the Kabul airport gate because their names were not on the approved list they had been given by the Americans. Time was running out, but his family members did have the necessary travel papers to get through the Taliban checkpoints and legally leave the country. After missing the last American plane to leave the Kabul airport, the interpreter and his family drove for 10 hours to reach the Mazar-i-Sharif airport on the night of August 31. They were even able to board the chartered airliner waiting on the tarmac. But at the last minute, the Taliban refused to allow the plane to take off, so they were stuck in the country and had to go into hiding.

Last week, the interpreter was contacted by a US official who told him he and his wife could get out of the country via an alternate escape route to Uzbekistan, but he would have to leave behind his other female relatives, including his mother-in-law, who is a California resident and green card holder. “No, this is unbelievable,” the interpreter angrily responded. “I’m going to stay with them until you guys figure out something [else].”

Another Afghan who was waiting for permission to leave from Mazar-i-Sharif told an AP reporter that he had worked for 15 years as an interpreter for the US military. After the Afghan government fell, he had tried to avoid capture by the Taliban by moving from hotel to hotel with his wife and eight children until he ran out of money.

The interpreter said he was one of many former US employees who had received State Department approval for a special immigrant visa during the last weeks of the American military presence in Afghanistan. But after the US Embassy closed when the Taliban took Kabul on August 15, it became impossible for him to get the visa stamped into his passport, which he needed in order to leave the country.

“I’m frightened I will be left behind,” said the man, whose name was withheld for his safety. He also said he doesn’t trust Taliban assurances that they will not take revenge against him and the other Afghans who worked for the Americans.

“No, never,” he said. “I never believe them, because they are lying.”


Afghanistan war veteran Matt Zeller, who founded the organization No One Left Behind to help Afghans who supported American troops to get out of the country, said the closure of the embassy in Kabul meant that, “For all intents and purposes, these people’s chances of escaping the Taliban ended the day we left them behind.”

According to an estimate by a similar US veterans’ organization called War Time Allies, at least 20,000 qualified special US visa applicants remain in Afghanistan. Together with their immediate family members, they total more than 80,000 people seeking to leave the country in order to escape Taliban reprisals.

In addition, there are tens of thousands of other Afghans who worked for US-funded economic development programs or American civilian contractors over the past 20 years, which does not qualify them for SIV entry status. They have no hope of gaining permission from the Taliban to legally leave the country under the current terms of its agreement with the US.


Meanwhile, the Taliban have consolidated their hold over the country. They set up an interim government in Kabul composed largely of former Taliban fighters who had been captured and held in detention at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. They were released in 2014 by the Obama-Biden administration in exchange for the return of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who had abandoned his post while on duty in Afghanistan.

The new interior minister is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is on the FBI’s most wanted list. The FBI and the State Department are offering a total reward of $15 million for his arrest as a “specially designated global terrorist.” His father founded the Haqqani network, which was responsible for attacks on US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and is listed by the US government as a foreign terrorist organization. His uncle, Khalil Haqqani, is the new acting Taliban minister for refugees. The State Department is offering a $5 million reward for the senior Haqqani’s capture, because he “acted on behalf of al Qaeda and has been linked to al Qaeda terrorist operations.”

The Haqqani network was formed during the mujahideen war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. It was founded by Sirajuddin’s father, Jalaluddin, a famed commander and CIA asset who forged a close alliance with Osama bin Laden and other Islamic fighters who arrived in Afghanistan to help local fighters drive the Soviets out.

After the Soviets left, the country descended into civil war. In 1996, the elder Haqqani helped the Taliban seize control of the country for the first time, and then served as a Taliban cabinet minister and provincial governor. After the US-led invasion defeated the Taliban regime in 2001 and installed a pro-Western Afghan government, the Haqqanis became an integral part of the insurgency against the occupying US-NATO coalition forces.

According to the US National Counterterrorism Center, the Haqqanis then became “the most lethal and sophisticated insurgent group targeting US, Coalition and Afghans forces.” Over the past two decades, their high-profile attacks included a June 2011 assault on Kabul’s Intercontinental hotel, two suicide bombings against the Indian embassy, and a day-long assault on the US Embassy in Kabul.

The Taliban government has formally objected to the US continuing to “blacklist” their new interior minister and his family network of terrorists, claiming that doing so violates the 2020 peace agreement it negotiated with the Trump administration.

A UN report published in June described the Haqqani network as the “primary liaison between the Taliban and al Qaeda. It called Sirajuddin Haqqani a brutal insurgent commander known for dispatching suicide bombers who’ve killed or maimed hundreds of civilians. The report also expressed the belief that he is “a member of the wider al Qaeda leadership, but not of the al Qaeda core leadership.” Ironically, his duties as the new interior minister include overseeing Afghanistan’s police, intelligence, and other security forces, and combating terrorism.

The Taliban’s new interim government features a total of 14 cabinet members who are currently under international sanctions for their terrorist activities, including acting Prime Minister Muhammad Hassan Akhund and acting Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar.


Meanwhile, there has been violence in various parts of the country since the collapse of the government of former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.

The Taliban claimed last week that they had defeated a rebellion by a militia in the northern province of Panjshir, following other reports that the Taliban fighters, as a reprisal, had already killed eight civilians in the province.

The day before the first evacuation flight to Doha, Taliban forces cracked down on a protest in Kabul, detaining several Afghan journalists and severely beating two of them. The Taliban Interior Ministry later accused those participating in street protests against their rule of “harassing people and disrupting normal life. All citizens are informed that for the time being, they should not try to hold demonstrations under any name or title,” the statement said.

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, demanded at a media briefing that the Taliban “immediately cease” using force against peaceful protesters. Demonstrators “across various provinces in Afghanistan over the past four weeks have faced an increasingly violent response by the Taliban, including the use of live ammunition, batons, and whips,” she added.

Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary general’s envoy to Afghanistan, told the Security Council last week that there were “credible allegations” that reprisal killings have been carried out against members of the former Afghan government’s security forces, despite Taliban pledges of amnesty for soldiers and government officials. “We have received reports of members of the Taliban carrying out house-to-house searches and seizing property, particularly in Kabul,” she added.

The composition of the Taliban’s new interim government and its brutal actions since taking over Afghanistan a month ago belie the initial public relations effort by its leaders to portray themselves as a kinder, gentler Taliban 2.0. The Afghan people already know that the Taliban haven’t changed, and harbor no illusions about what lies ahead for them under their renewed rule.


The leaders of the Biden administration must understand this too. Yet they are still trying to convince the skeptical American public that the botched withdrawal was a success after all, and that the Taliban can be trusted to keep their word to separate from al Qaeda and allow the US citizens and their Afghan friends who were left behind to leave.

Thanks to an estimated $80 billion worth of American weapons and equipment that Biden left behind, today the Taliban are much stronger than they were before the 9/11 attacks, and, at least on paper, are now one of the most powerful military forces in that part of the world.


China, on the other hand, announced that it will send the Taliban around $31 million worth of aid, and welcomes Taliban statements related to government formation and international cooperation, particularly on terrorism.

There is every indication that both China and Russia will now try to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan and the region created by the poorly planned and badly executed US withdrawal. NATO coalition partners in Afghanistan were surprised and angered by the withdrawal fiasco, and it has badly damaged America’s reputation as a reliable ally.

President Biden’s Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, told reporters that the US is closely monitoring whether the Taliban will allow al Qaeda to once again attempt to use Afghanistan as a staging ground for launching attacks against the United States. But it is hard to imagine any circumstances under which Biden would send the US military back into Afghanistan.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said separately that both countries have been closely monitoring the new Taliban government and were disappointed by its actions so far. They are also under no illusions about the kind of leaders once again in charge of Afghanistan.

The botched withdrawal also significantly weakened US military capabilities and influence in the region. Even more dangerous, it will no doubt tempt the leaders of other rogue states, such as Iran and North Korea, to further test Biden’s presidential mettle and competence.


For Biden, there had never been a question about the necessity for a complete withdrawal of US military forces from Afghanistan. He had made up his mind that it was the right thing to do back in 2009, when as vice president, he was one of the few voices in the Obama White House opposing the proposal of US military leaders to mount a brief surge of US troops in Afghanistan to break the back of the Taliban resistance, similar to the successful surge of US troops that President George W. Bush had ordered in 2007 that broke the back of the insurgency in Iraq.

Biden tried to persuade Obama that no amount of additional US troops would enable the Afghan forces to defeat the Taliban. He urged Obama to reduce the number of US forces in Afghanistan and concentrate them on the more limited mission of preventing the country from ever being used again as a base for a terrorist attack on the US homeland.

Obama rejected Biden’s advice and ordered the troop surge, which, in the end, failed to defeat the Taliban. Biden was convinced that his advice to Obama to pull US troops out of Afghanistan had been right all along, and that as president, nobody would stop him from carrying it out.

Soon after he entered the White House, Biden ordered a high-level administration review of US policy in Afghanistan by his military and foreign policy advisors, but his mind was already made up. Biden was just going through the motions to justify his determination to get the remaining US troops out of Afghanistan.


Ironically, as president, Biden did not follow the advice he had given to Obama in 2009 to leave just enough US troops in Afghanistan to keep it from being used a terrorist base. In fact, President Trump had already achieved that goal. The 2020 peace deal he had reached with the Taliban ended their deadly attacks on the small US military force propping up the Afghan security forces. The military situation Biden had inherited from Trump in Afghanistan was stable. American soldiers were no longer under attack, and the Taliban were being kept at bay by the small but effective US military presence.

Despite his later claims to the contrary, Biden was under no real obligation to fulfill Trump’s promise in his deal with the Taliban to remove all of the remaining 2,500 US troops from the country by May. If he had wanted to, Biden could have easily broken that promise, by truthfully claiming that the Taliban had not lived up to their end of that deal either. Instead, Biden would later use Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban to give him political cover when the US troop withdrawal he had insisted upon blew up in his face with the sudden collapse of the Afghan military.


Biden would later claim that the key strategic mistake in the US withdrawal plan, abandoning the Bagram air base, was a decision made by his military advisors. But Biden had made that decision inevitable by his insistence on reducing the size of the US military presence to just a few hundred troops, which were not enough to provide adequate security for both the Bagram air base and the US Embassy in Kabul.

Earlier this summer, Biden publicly assured the American people that he had full confidence that the US-trained-and-equipped Afghan security forces were far superior to the Taliban fighters and could easily keep them at bay long after the last US forces had left.

On July 8, Biden said during a White House press conference that it was highly unlikely that the Taliban would rapidly overrun the country. He angrily denied a reporter’s suggestion that the withdrawal from Afghanistan would result in news pictures like the ones from Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1975, of US military helicopters carrying out a last-minute rescue of personnel from a surrounded and besieged US Embassy in Kabul. He also promised the American people that no US citizens would be left behind in Afghanistan after the last American military plane had taken off from the Kabul airport.


But we now know that Biden was well aware of how vulnerable the Afghan government actually was. In mid-July, 23 State Department officials in Afghanistan sent an urgent cable to their superiors in Washington warning that the withdrawal would lead to a catastrophe.

On July 23, Biden had urged the Afghan president Ashraf Gahni, in a private phone conversation, to paint a more optimistic picture of the security situation on the ground in his public statements than they both knew to be the case. Gahni fled the country on August 25, leading to the fall of Kabul. He is now living in exile, and denies accusations that he absconded with millions of dollars “belonging to the Afghan people.” Ghani also claims that fleeing the country “was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her six million citizens.”

Even after it became apparent that the Afghan government had collapsed, Biden insisted that he had to go through with the withdrawal on schedule to make sure that no more American troops would be killed there. Then an ISIS-K suicide bomber triggered a blast at a gate to the Kabul airport which killed 13 US servicemembers — the first US casualties in the country for more than a year.

In the wake of the fatal bombing at the Kabul airport on August 26, President Biden promised that the U.S. military would seek out and punish the terrorists responsible. On August 27, the U.S. military carried out a drone strike which was said to have killed two “high profile” ISIS-K targets. On August 28, the U.S. military carried out a second drone strike against what it believed was a terrorist who was preparing to launch another bombing attack on the Kabul airport.

However, reports by the New York Times and the Washington Post claim that the second attack had actually killed Zemari Ahmadi, an Afghan civilian who worked as an electrical engineer for a U.S.-based nonprofit organization called Nutrition and Education International. The U.S. military thought that Ahmadi had been driving around in a car to visit an ISIS-K safe house and collect explosives for another attack on the airport. In fact, he was collecting cannisters of water to bring home to his family, and the house that he visited belonged to the U.S. organization he worked for. The drone which hit his car not only killed Ahmadi, but also 7 Afghan children who were playing nearby and two other adults.

When asked about the reports claiming that the drone struck the wrong target, killing 10 innocent Afghans, including Ahmadi, a Pentagon spokesman said that the U.S. military was still investigating the incident.

Biden had also promised he would bring to safety, as part of the US withdrawal, the thousands of Afghans who had been assisting US troops over the past 20 years. But the shocking pictures of Afghan civilians clinging to one of the last US military cargo planes while on its takeoff roll on the Kabul airport runway was dramatic evidence that Biden had no intention of keeping his word.

Even those who continued to support Biden’s decision to go through with the withdrawal were deeply embarrassed and unable to deny the sheer incompetence of its botched execution.

At the start of a Senate hearing this week, at which Secretary of State Blinken tried to defend the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Bob Menendez, the Democrat chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “The execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed. This committee expects to receive a full explanation of the administration’s decisions on Afghanistan since coming into office last January. There has to be accountability.”


Biden had repeatedly lied. When those lies were exposed, he blamed others for his fatal decision to stubbornly stick with the arbitrary withdrawal date he had set, regardless of its disastrous consequences. He blamed President Trump for tying his hands by making the peace deal with the Taliban. He blamed his generals for giving him bad military advice. He blamed the US citizens who were left behind for failing to leave the country when they still could. He blamed the media for portraying the hasty US military exit as a catastrophic failure, while Biden insisted on describing it as an “extraordinary success.”

In doing so, Biden not only undermined what little remained of his credibility as president, but also the credibility of Press Secretary Psaki, Secretary of State Blinken, and the US military commanders who were forced to follow orders to publicly defend Biden’s indefensible policies and lies.

The consequences are now clear in Biden’s plummeting job approval ratings. He is clearly incompetent, and only eight months into his presidency, Biden is already being treated as a lame duck.

Some Democrat party leaders have already publicly conceded that they will lose majority control of the House following the 2022 midterms, probably by a landslide. Many Democrats are also now looking beyond Vice President Kamala Harris for viable alternative 2024 presidential candidates. Finally, political leaders of both parties are now deeply worried about what is likely to happen to this country during the next three years of Biden’s presidency.



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