Afghanistan fell while Biden vacationed, exposing intelligence failures and policy missteps

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Analysts and officials continue their months-long struggle to understand what went so wrong so fast to enable the Taliban’s rush to complete power in Afghanistan.

As overnight reports depicted harrowing scenes from a besieged Kabul, analysts and officials continue their months-long struggle to unpack what went so wrong so fast to enable the Taliban’s rush to complete power in Afghanistan. 

Prominent among those attempting to deconstruct the unfolding humanitarian and military disaster was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who reportedly blamed the Afghan National Army on Sunday.

“You can’t buy willpower, and you can’t buy leadership,” Austin said during a virtual meeting with U.S. national leaders, according to Fox News. Others who joined Austin on two calls included Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley; and members of the House and Senate, the outlet reported. 

Austin told the House he was “beyond disappointed” that Afghan forces offered scant resistance to Taliban forces around the country, according to the report.

Whatever the cause, it was clear this weekend that U.S. intelligence grossly miscalculated the speed at which the Taliban would rout the country or how easily Afghan soldiers would sell out to Taliban offering money. President Joe Biden left for vacation on Thursday with no inkling Kabul was about to fall within 72 hours. 

And the Pentagon and State Department were scrambling into the wee hours of Monday morning to gain control of the Kabul airport so it could accelerate evacuations that were slated for later in August.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. U.S. intelligence said it was possible Afghanistan would collapse within six months after the U.S. troop withdrawal, but falling before the U.S. could even evacuate was not on most radars, a fact Blinken acknowledged Sunday.

“We’ve seen that that force has been unable to defend the country, and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated,” the secretary of state conceded.

By Susan Katz Keating

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