WASHINGTON – American diplomats’ failure to anticipate the Taliban’s eventual takeover of Afghanistan played a key role in causing the deadly chaos of the August 2021 US withdrawal from Kabul, Acting State Department Inspector General Diana Shaw told lawmakers Wednesday.
“The department simply was not fully prepared for the full range of challenges encountered,” Shaw told the House Oversight Committee. “And the critical question, of course, is why?”
To find the answer, the watchdog’s office launched an independent review of the US embassy in Kabul, the results of which Shaw said will be published in the coming weeks.
Until now, congressional probes into the bugout have largely focused on the Pentagon’s failures.
In a preview of the findings, Shaw said the embassy’s strategy to tamp down diplomatic alarm over what could happen to the US-installed government once American troops departed Afghanistan after two decades left officials unwilling to make contingency plans.
The report also found that the lack of planning contributed to the military leaving behind tens of thousands of US allies — as the State Department still faces a massive backlog of visa requests from Afghans who helped Americans during the decades-long war, Shaw said.
“The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program for which the Department of State is primarily responsible, still has more than 152,000 SIV applicants in Afghanistan undergoing processing as of last month,” she said.
“While the events of August 2021 have passed, as oversight professionals and as legislators here today, we must grapple with the ongoing ramifications of those events.”
In just 11 days, the Taliban overthrew the democratic government that senior US officials had been so confident would prevail even without American troops on the ground.
Facing a hostile new government, embassy officials were forced to shut down in-country operations while simultaneously scrambling to process the more than 120,000 Americans and US allies who were evacuated in a little more than two weeks, Shaw said.
“We found that the embassy was not fully prepared to evacuate the number of people it ultimately did,” she said.
“This was due in part to the embassy lacking clearly defined eligibility criteria for the evacuation and using unreliable data about the potential number of evacuees.”
Though numerous federal reviews of the withdrawal faulted the intelligence community for not predicting that the Western-backed government would fall before US troops left the country, Shaw said the embassy in Kabul still should have planned for the possibility.
Instead, the outpost operated under the assumption that it would continue its business as usual in Kabul after the US completed its withdrawal, leaving diplomats unprepared to adeptly process the hordes of allies seeking asylum, Shaw said.
“As a result, communications with embassy personnel were unclear as to the timing and scope of a potential evacuation, leading to confusion and in some cases, inadequate preparation,” she said.
“In addition, we found that the embassy was not fully prepared to evacuate the number of people it ultimately did.”
Without that preparation, diplomats were powerless to help hopeful evacuees who flocked to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, overwhelming State Department and military personnel handling the pullout mission.
Ultimately, the situation became so stark that numerous Afghans fell to their deaths after attempting to cling to the sides of departing aircraft.
Others threw themselves into razor wire, opting for horrific suicide rather than risk capture, torture and execution by the Taliban.
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