Completed more than a year ago but only released Friday at the start of a holiday weekend, the State Department report called for reforms including appointing a single person in charge during future crises and insulating contingency planning from political considerations.
The so-called After Action Review was ordered by Secretary of State Antony Blinken after outrage over the chaotic scenes from Kabul in August 2021 as Taliban fighters quickly seized control following the end of the 20-year US military presence.
The report praised the end result of the evacuation — the pullout of 125,000 people, including 6,000 private US citizens, who were rushed out by the US military after it seized control of the international airport.
But it said that the operation faced a “major challenge” as senior officials in President Joe Biden‘s administration “had not made clear decisions” ahead of time about which at-risk Afghans to assist.
“Constantly changing policy guidance and public messaging from Washington regarding which populations were eligible for relocation and how the embassy should manage outreach and flow added to the confusion and often failed to take into account key facts on the ground,” it said.
The report, based on more than 150 interviews with current and former officials, noted that Biden inherited a backlog of visa cases from President Donald Trump‘s administration, which both agreed with the Taliban movement on the US withdrawal and staunchly opposed non-European immigration.
In line with a previous internal study, the report said that most US estimates predicted that the Western-backed Afghan government would keep control of at least Kabul “for weeks if not months.”
“Crisis preparation and planning were inhibited to a degree by concerns about the signals that might be sent, especially anything that might suggest the United States had lost confidence in the Afghan government and thus contribute to its collapse,” it said.
Among recommendations, the report called for the State Department to “insulate contingency planning and emergency preparedness from political concerns.”
It said that evacuation plans could be made routine, reducing the impact if news of such preparations were to leak out.
The United States recently was reported to be planning evacuation plans for a potential crisis in Taiwan.
A senior US official said that parts of the report remain classified, pointing to security risks.
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