One year after President Biden announced the end of America’s war in Afghanistan, the administration has yet to release its after-action reports on the end of the U.S. military presence in the country and its chaotic non-combatant evacuation after President Ashraf Ghani’s government collapsed and the country fell to the Taliban.
The reports coming from both the Defense and State departments, which will examine the period between February 2020 and the U.S. withdrawal in August 2021, have been done for weeks but are still going through review and declassification.
Though the contents and conclusion of the reports are unknown, and it remains unclear if they will be released—all or in part—publicly, officials within the administration admit that there is very legitimate criticism of the planning for the U.S. withdrawal having come too late, particularly by the State Department.
The State Department’s report, which was led by retired career ambassador Dan Smith, is “classified so that it could draw from every appropriate original source material,” Spokesperson Ned Price said in an August 15 press briefing. Price also said “It is our hope and expectation that we will be able to release publicly elements of that report.”
Without saying whether the reports—or parts of them—may ever be made public, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Dr Colin Kahl told reporters on August 8, “I do think it’s an obligation for all of us to take a hard look not just in the final days of Afghanistan but 20 years of the conflict. That’s important to the Secretary of Defense, important to the White House, it’s important to members of Congress, and I hope, to the degree that it’s possible, we try to take that assessment out of politics and the desire to score points and really just to reflect on the lessons from America’s longest war.”
State Department Deputy Principal Spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters Monday that the department still did not have a timeline for releasing the report.
“We will be as transparent as possible with the report, consistent with classification and other considerations, and we hope to have an update to you all as soon as possible,” he said.
A U.S. defense official told CBS News on Wednesday that the Defense Department’s “classified review,” which is a separate document from the State Department’s review, is complete and has been turned into the Secretary of Defense, who is reviewing it.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also told reporters Wednesday, “We said that we’re going to do a comprehensive look once all the agencies have done their reviews. And so, it’s a process ongoing.”
The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee released an interim report on the Biden Administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in time for the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15. Rep. Michael McCaul’s report pins blame mostly on the State Department for failing to plan ahead of the impending Taliban takeover and the chaotic non-combatant evacuation operation at Kabul’s international airport, where crowds stormed its barricades, individuals clung to the wings of departing planes, and a suicide bomber killed 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.
NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the GOP report was “riddled with inaccuracies”, “advocates for endless war and for sending even more American troops to Afghanistan”, and “ignores the impacts of the flawed deal that former President Trump struck with the Taliban.”
Despite characterizing the Trump-era peace deal as “flawed,” the Biden administration ultimately decided to keep the withdrawal plan. The deal promised a timeline for the US troops’ withdrawal in exchange for Taliban guarantees to prevent the use of Afghan soil by any international terrorist groups or individuals and the beginning of peace negotiations between the Taliban and Ghani’s then-ruling elected government. The diplomatic agreement was conditions-based, and envisioned the creation of a new government that the Taliban would be part of.
But those intra-Afghan discussions were bogged down and the Ghani government was excluded from the U.S.-Taliban talks, there were clashes between the U.S. and Afghan governments over a promise to release Taliban prisoners, and Taliban fighters were continuing to attack and kill members of Afghan government forces. As diplomacy stalled, Taliban fighters advanced on the battlefield. Unwilling to extend the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan until conditions improved, President Biden decided to keep the Trump-era agreement and withdraw all troops.
President Biden last August blamed Afghan forces and their leadership for their own nation’s demise.
“What’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,” Biden said on Aug. 16, 2021, the day after Kabul fell. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”
– Margaret Brennan and Ellee Watson contributed reporting.